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The Humpty Dance

The Humpty Dance

by Digital Underground

Lyrics

A'ight, stop whatcha doin' / 'Cause I'm about to ruin / The image and the style that ya used to / I look funny

Quick Thought

A 2010 University of Florida study showed that men are just as susceptible to body image issues as women.

Deep Thought

At the beginning of the 1990s, rap was getting pretty serious. N.W.A. and Public Enemy had mainstreamed gangsta and socio-political rap, respectively, and others like EPMD, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, and LL Cool J were adding their own contributions to these fields. Where did Digital Underground fit in, though?

Digital Underground's musical aims were to avoid comparison with their hip-hop peers. For one thing, N.W.A., Public Enemy, and all the others were already pretty good at doing their respective things. Another reason was that rap, particularly gangsta rap, was moving away from the black positivity that had been espoused by musicians like Parliament Funkadelic and James Brown, and Digital Underground wanted to stick with it.

By this time, listeners were getting used to the flashy, macho, and confrontational music that was quickly gaining on pop music's dominance (of course, it was also becoming mired in controversy over its explicit content). Shock-G, Digital Underground's founder, ultimately decided that the Underground's outlook, a funky synthesis of free love and higher consciousness, should also incorporate a body-positive aspect into their music, and that was long before the now-popular movements to transform individual and societal beliefs about weight, body image, and identity.

Though it sometimes takes center-stage as a prop, Humpty's Groucho nose and glasses symbolize physical imperfections that are often shunned by a beauty and celebrity-worshipping culture. When Humpty admits he looks "funny," he's asserting self-confidence and subtly referencing the 1960s Black is Beautiful movement, which held that natural African American features such as skin color, hair, or facial bone structure were not inferior to or less appealing than white features.

In fact, on Digital Underground's second album, Sons of the P, Humpty would release another single called "No Nose Job," which narrated the pressure surrounding him to get a nose that matched his newfound stardom. Humpty summed up the confidence in his body image on the track:

"They say the whiter, the righter
Oh yeah well that's tough
Sometimes I feel like I'm not black enough
I'm high yellow
My nose is brown to perfection
And if I was to change it would be further in that direction."

I get stupid, I shoot an arrow like Cupid / I use a word that don't mean nothin', like looptid

Quick Thought

You might try to refudiate the validitation of the grammaccuracy of looptid, but you would be misunderestimating the flexibility of neologisms and lexicons.

Deep Thought

Shakespeare isn't the only person who gets to make up words. It's not really out of the question for Humpty to actually identify something by calling it "looptid." Through poetic license (and liberal use of the parts of speech), Shakespeare created about 1,700 words that are still used in the English language today. Check it out. Yes, when a politician jumbles the meaning or form of a word, we laugh. And while we identify Shakespeare's language alterations with genius, the idea of neologisms (new words) is really pretty simple.

In his Course On General Linguistics, French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure discussed the basics of how language functions. These aren't the grammar rules you've gone over in school; Saussure was concerned with what words actually are, and in essence, they are nothing more than signs that point to things.

Think of the word "tree," and then think of the actual object that we call a "tree"—the object that's made of wood, branches, and leaves and provides shade on a hot summer day. Saussure explains that words like "tree" (and really, all words) are simply labels we give to objects to make sense of the world around us. Because there is linguistic cooperation between us all (we all agree to call that thing a "tree"), words can actually have meaning. Saussure called this science of words "semiology," from the Greek word semiosis, which means, "to mark." Every word is just a sign (a signifier) pointing to some object (the signified) we've agreed to identify in that way. Start using "looptid" for something; maybe it will be as big as "truthiness."

First I limp to the side like my leg was broken / Shakin' and twitchin' kinda like I was smokin' / Crazy whack funky / People say "Ya look like M.C. Hammer on crack, Humpty!"

Quick Thought

Crack cocaine releases high levels of dopamine, a chemical in your brain that makes you feel pleasure. Luckily, you can also release dopamine through exercise and dancing.

Deep Thought

There are a ton of songs about dancing—"Land of a Thousand Dances," "Twist and Shout," "You Should Be Dancin'," "Bust a Move," "The Macarena," "Dancing in the Street," and so on and on and on.

In 1990, M.C. Hammer was vying with Michael Jackson for the title of pop music's Dance King. Each performer had a distinct style. Michael Jackson was already a music legend whose signature dance moves were known worldwide, but M.C. Hammer was quickly gaining ground with his innovative dance choreography and elaborate stage shows. Hammer's style of dance was foundational for the San Francisco Bay Area movement called "hyphy" (short for hyperactive), which in any form, either rap, dance, or behavior, is to simply get crazy. Take a look at Hammer's video for his biggest hit, "U Can't Touch This,", and you'll see the influence of James Brown, the breakdance movement, and possibly an aerobics class.

Looking at Hammer, it's clear that Humpty's reference to his dancing is one of his big punch lines. After seeing Hammer's dance style, it's hard to fathom the next level of hyperactive, but Humpty's lyrics are simultaneously praising Hammer's obvious dance skills and happily accepting Humpty's own dance deficiencies. Humpty goes on to say that "no two people will do it [The Humpty Dance] the same;" the unifying factor is the enthusiasm, not the technical skill.

Black people… / White people… / Puerto Ricans… / Samoans, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump

Quick Thought

Shock-G, the leader of Digital Underground, knows a thing or two about diversity.

Deep Thought

Shock-G’s multi-racial make-up includes East Indian, Haitian, Jewish, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, and Trinidadian ancestry. It's possible that Humpty's final call out to different ethnicities is yet another subtle punch line, though, referencing 1986's monster hit, "We Are The World," written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Written to provide financial assistance to those affected by the 1984-85 Ethiopian famine, "We Are The World" went quadruple platinum and won three Grammy awards.

But it's also possible that Humpty is winking at Digital Underground's multiple personality disorder, because Shock-G actually is Humpty Hump, along with other "band mates" MC Blowfish, The Piano Man, Icey-Mike, Buttafly, Peanut Hakeem, and Digital Underground album artist, Rackadelic.

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