Oh, what??
May 5, 2010 1:38 PM   Subscribe

When did the word "what?" first appear as a repeated lyric in rap songs?

I like listening to rap music, and particularly enjoy the call-and-response style which tends to include the lyric "what?" a lot. The earliest instance of this that I've heard is in the song "It's Like That" by Run DMC, but I'm not a rap historian by any means. When did it first appear? Does it pre-date rap, to earlier call-and-response styles?
posted by smilingtiger to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not expert either. I remember my professor saying in jazz class that the call and response your talking about started with slave songs. I think it was incorporated in gospel and jazz music later, and eventually rap.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 1:42 PM on May 5, 2010

Rapper's Delight included a couple call-and-response-type lines: "Hotel, motel, what you gonna do today... Say what?" in 1979. I think that's at least tangentially related to the "what?" calls you're talking about. I don't know if there's much music that predates that and can still be called rap.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:59 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Does it pre-date rap, to earlier call-and-response styles?

If "what you say?" counts: James Brown, Ray Charles.
posted by iviken at 3:41 PM on May 5, 2010

I don't know if there's much music that predates that and can still be called rap.

The Sugar Hill Gang was a manufactured group built to commercialize the styles of the pioneers who were in the streets and at parties, actually doing the rapping. I didn't know that for the longest, but yep. I don't have a bunch of references at hand, but rap was rap long before Sugar Hill, and Sugar Hill just stole and imitated people. Hopefully Box or someone will come across this and provide more info.
posted by cashman at 9:35 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

"In retrospect it makes perfect sense that a no-name group using partly stolen rhymes - the very definition of a crew with no style - would have been the first to tap hip-hop's platinum potential.


Henry "Big Bank Hank" Jackson was a (DJ Kool) Herc follower and a Bronx nightclub bouncer who somehow became a manager for Grandmaster Caz and the rappers who became the Cold Crush Brothers. He was making pizzas in New Jersey to pay for Caz's sound system, and rapping along to a Caz tape one afternoon at the parlor, when Joey Robinson heard him and asked him to come to Jersey for an audition."

P. 129-130 of Can't Stop Won't Stop.

You could always hit up the boards at OldSchoolHipHop and ask there too.
posted by cashman at 9:47 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

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