Back when I was in the ninth grade, there was an incredibly charismatic guy in one of my classes named Josh. To give you an idea of who Josh was, Josh was the type of guy who made teachers laugh, even as they attempted to lecture him angrily. He was the type of guy who endeared himself to you, even as he made fun of you. It was impossible not to like Josh. As a result of his popularity—and the frightening malleability of the minds of ninth graders—Josh wielded a great deal of influence over our class. If Josh laughed at a joke, we’d all laugh at that joke. If Josh wanted to mess with a teacher, we’d all mess with that teacher. If our parents were to ask us, “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you follow suit?” we’d probably take an extra second to ask, “Is the ‘friend’ in this scenario Josh?” before ultimately taking too long to answer. You get the picture.
One day, Josh showed up to class after an extended period of unexplained truancy wearing a pair of bowling shoes that he’d stolen from the local bowling alley. As he strolled into class, the entire class noticed that he was wearing bowling paraphernalia on his feet and erupted into laughter. Strangely, however, Josh never addressed his peculiar choice of footwear. He simply wore these bowling shoes day after day, until we eventually realized that he wasn’t doing some sort of absurdist bit, but rather trying to start a new trend.
After a couple weeks of wearing these shoes, Josh must have realized that no one was following in his footsteps (pun not intended), and he eventually stopped wearing them. Perhaps none of us wanted to risk theft, or it could have been that we were all concerned about the hygiene of rental footwear (I’m convinced that the spray they use at the bowling alley does nothing), but in either case, I learned a valuable lesson that day: there are certain things in life that even the most influential amongst us can’t make cool.
On a much smaller scale, Josh was to my ninth grade class what hip-hop has indisputably been to mainstream culture as a whole. Since the genre began accumulating popularity in the late 1970s, it has sunk its wide-reaching tentacles into all aspects of society, influencing everything from the art we consume, to the way we dress, to the way we think about issues as a whole. This isn’t necessarily a subject that needs to be rehashed, but at this point, hip-hop culture has become so thoroughly enmeshed within the mainstream that it’s impossible to determine where one ends and the other begins.
Notably, there are no aspects of society where this influence is more apparent than in our speech patterns. I can attest to this personally, having recently witnessed my 61-year-old, East Indian father nonchalantly ask me if I was going out to “chill” with my friends. Over the years, rappers have been responsible for inventing and popularizing countless words—“dope,” “swag,” “bling,” etc.—that have transcended hip-hop into popular vernacular at large. And yet, like Josh and his bowling shoes, there have been a large number of missteps (again, pun not intended) along the way. For every instance of a word like “homie” maddeningly finding its way into the dialogue of a Eugene Levy movie, another failed colloquialism exists somewhere in the zeitgeist, having never caught on because it was too confusing, too convoluted, or simply too ill-conceived to be widely appealing.
With this in mind, here are 10 of the most spectacularly underwhelming slang terms to have ever originated within hip-hop. Enjoy.
In 2015, when Drake dropped If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, I imagine that there was a temporary spike in Genius searches as people rushed to figure out what Drizzy was referring to when he claimed to be “Runnin' through the 6 with [his] ‘woes.’” If it was indeed Drake’s intention to popularize this word, he certainly complicated this task for himself by choosing a well-known word that already existed within the English language. Having never heard the word “woe” used in this context before, many people were left speculating that Drake had simply made a tonally-confusing banger about driving through his hometown with his sorrows—a reasonable enough hypothesis, given that this was a Drake song.
Adding to this confusion was the widespread notion that the word “woe” was actually an acronym, intended to signify the phrase “working on excellence.” Putting aside the problematic fact that this acronym sounds more like a Crossfit mantra than a Drake lyric, the broad circulation of this definition was confusing, given that it made no logical or grammatical sense when plugged into the actual lyric: “I was running through the 6 with my [working on excellences?]”
By the time it was widely understood that Drake was using the word “woe” as an abbreviation of the term “whodie,” meaning friend, the window of opportunity for this word to gain traction had closed. Drake had cut the legs out from underneath his own innovation by making it too difficult to determine what it meant without context. In doing so, Drake overlooked one of the most rudimentary tenets of communication: words are generally more effective when all parties involved in their exchange understand their meaning. In that sense, Drake’s usage of the word “woe” in 2015 was a lot like asking a toddler who has a problem with sharing why they possess such a “solipsistic” worldview.
In spite of having been used widely by many prominent figures in hip-hop—from Common to Dead Prez to Pimp C—the term “overstand” has never quite found its footing in the broader cultural discourse. I’d venture a theory that this is likely because the vast majority of people who use this word in day-to-day life are off-putting. Placing a great deal of emphasis on tasks like “keeping your third eye open” and “staying woke,” these are the type of people who you might find in incense-filled coffee houses, lamenting the consumption of swine, while counterintuitively voicing illogical displeasure at the prevalence of interracial relationships.
To paraphrase an entry on Urban Dictionary, the world’s leading resource on matters like this, the distinction between understanding and “overstanding” is like the distinction between knowing how to fix a car and possessing a broader awareness of the notion that cars are built with flaws intentionally so that we have to buy new ones more frequently. Herein lies the fundamental problem with the term “overstand.” I would not pay a mechanic a single dime for the services of “overstanding” how to fix my car.
I’ve long held the belief that JAY-Z’s song “Girls, Girls, Girls” has sidestepped any ire over its blatantly offensive lyrics simply by being so damn fun. Clever lines like “After 12 million sold / Mami's a narcoleptic, always sleeping on Hov” make us smile just enough to buffer any frustration caused by the unconcealed misogyny and racism of a song that is quite evidently a relic of a previous era. Among the most offensive lines of a song packed to the brim with challenging lyrics is this gem, tucked away at the end of the first verse: “I got this Indian squaw, the day that I met her / Asked her what tribe she with: red dot or feather?”
Obviously, there’s a lot to unpack here, but I want to talk exclusively about Hov’s usage of the word “squaw” and its lack of future significance within the culture. Discounting Isaiah Rashad’s song “4r Da Squaw” (as this is just an accented pronunciation of the word “squad”), “Girls, Girls, Girls” may have been the first and only time I ever heard the word “squaw” used in a rap song. In fact, it may have been the first and only time I ever heard the word “squaw” used in this context at all. I can’t say for sure, but I’d like to think that this speaks to the fact that Hov’s attempt to popularize this term was stifled by the offensiveness of the lyrics he surrounded it with.
As a general rule, I imagine that any attempt one makes to spark a trend will be less effective if it’s packaged within a borderline hate-crime. On second thought, however, that does seem to be a good description of how the alt-right popularized the Pepe the Frog meme. Uh, maybe 2017 isn’t so different from 2001 after all?
On A$AP Rocky’s second album, AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, there is a song called “Wavybone,” which features a posthumous verse from the late Pimp C. As I listened to this song for the first time back in 2015, I found myself taken aback as I heard Pimp utter the following stanza: “Now I'm puttin' em on the spot, I give a ho the blues / I'm touchin' on her cock, I put her on the block.” I rewound the song several times, thinking that I must have misheard the lyric. After several listens, I realized that it unmistakable that Pimp C was indeed saying the word “cock.” Given his homophobic history, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Pimp C’s newfound admission of sexual fluidity. As I googled the lyric later that day for clarification, I came across this L.A. Weeklyarticle, discussing a niche trend in hip-hop—going back to the days of 2 Live Crew—of rappers using the word “cock” in their lyrics to refer to vaginas.
On the one hand, reading this article clarified a lot—this verse was consistent with Pimp C’s monstrously primitive views on sexual orientation. On the other hand, it produced a whole separate set of questions. Most notably, I could not understand why any hip-hop artist, let alone mainstream ones like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, would use the word “cock” as a stand-in for “vagina,” particularly when there are so many other words that they could use THAT DON’T MUCH MORE COMMONLY MEAN "PENIS."
I’d like to believe that the rappers who participated in this trend did so as a subtle protest against the scourge of homophobia that permeates the hip-hop community. Unfortunately, however, there’s nothing about the remainder of their behavior that is consistent with this theory. My only remaining hypothesis is that that these rappers just really like using the word “cock” and they are determined to reclaim it. Why else would Pimp C—a rapper who once said the following about Ne-Yo: “Dick in the booty ass nigga, wearing all that Goddamn lip gloss at [his] video shoots”—include a lyric about “grabbing cock” in one of his songs? It would be like if someone who hated orange juice with pulp made it a point to say “mmm, pulpy” after every gulp they took of a pulp-free variety. Unless they just really liked saying the word “pulpy,” there’d be no reason for them to do it.
Prior to its eventual co-opting by Will Smith, there was a time when the word “jiggy” described an incredible era of hip-hop where Bad Boy Records, shiny suits, and opulence reigned supreme. In 1998, however, the song “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit it” was released, and the word forever became associated with something suburban soccer moms would say as a goof before engaging in rhythmically-deficient dancing.
Notably, in more recent times, there has been an attempt made by A$AP Rocky to bring this word back to its cooler origins. On the song “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2),” for example, he raps “Who the jiggy n---- with the gold links? Got me reminiscin' 'bout my old day. / Three 6, suck a n---- dick, no foreplay.” As you listen to his confident delivery on the song, you’re almost fooled into thinking that he’s successfully reclaimed this term from the soccer moms. And yet, much like a majority of his fashion choices, the word “jiggy” is one of the many things that A$AP Rocky can make cool, that the average person simply couldn’t.
Putting aside Rocky’s charisma, the attempt to reclaim the word “jiggy” was always going to be dead in the water. If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re going out with friends, act like you want to ask for their opinion on a serious issue, and then very casually ask them if they think your outfit looks “jiggy.” I guarantee that they’ll immediately start looking for your cop badge and then ultimately disown you as a friend.
The following is a clip from the 2003 surrealist film “Coffee and Cigarettes,” where RZA and GZA meet Bill Murray. It’s a bit peculiar but worth watching if you have the time:
As I re-watched this clip recently, I noticed a specific detail that had eluded me in the past. In this clip, RZA and GZA use the word “peace” interchangeably as a substitute for “hello” rather than “goodbye.” Noticing this detail was a bit like opening the floodgates because shortly thereafter, I began to notice that this is something that rappers actually do quite frequently. Countless album skits, vlogs, podcast appearances, etc. have begun with this tranquil salutation. Yet, for as ubiquitous as it is amongst rappers, I can’t think of a single time where I’ve heard someone start a conversation with this call for non-violence in day-to-day life.
Much like the word “cock,” I think it would likely only confuse people who have been conditioned to think that it means the exact opposite. I can very easily envision a scenario where someone walks up to their friend at a bar and greets them with “peace,” only for their friend to reply, “Wait, are you leaving? You just got here.”
Several Examples from Big L’s “Ebonics”
Before I proceed to slander a classic, allow me to first give credit to Big L where it’s due. “Ebonics” is a tremendous accomplishment in songwriting and I’m certain that a vast majority of this song is completely accurate to the time period and region in which it was written. Unfortunately, it ultimately falls victim to the same trap as many songs that follow a rigid theme: it contains a certain amount of filler. For proof of this, look no further than the line in the song where Big L explains that some people refer to their heart as a “ticker,” which isn’t so much an example of Ebonics as it is an example of slang that you might have heard in a 1930s detective movie.
Much like “ticker,” there are several other moments throughout this song where Big L attempts to pass off seemingly very niche terms as widespread slang that had been adopted by the culture as a whole. Take, for example, “Your bankroll is your poke, a choke hold is a yoke,” which sounds less like a serious study of AAVE, and more like something you’d hear in an improvised television show for children.
“Lick the wrapper”
Of all the colloquialisms on this list, I can confidently say that this innuendo, which originated in Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” is the only one that didn’t gain cultural traction simply because it was too gross.
It’s the type of metaphor that Lil’ Wayne is famous for—ones like “I remove my spoon and drink your juice”—that is somehow so much more vulgar than if he’d just said what he meant. “Lick the wrapper/rapper” was never going to make its way into the popular vernacular, mostly because everyone who hears it immediately feels like they need to take a shower.
“I’m on one”
DJ Khaled would probably be better suited to popularizing this phrase in 2017, but back when this song was released in 2011, there was no Snapchat upon which Khaled could speak directly to his millions of fans and explain the confusing context of the song’s chorus.
Months after it was released, hordes of people were still chanting the lyrics, “Fuck it, I’m on one,” and then immediately wondering to themselves, “on what?!” Any attempt to integrate this phrase casually into a conversation was ultimately burdened by this confusion. The few people who actually knew what it meant to be “on one” quickly grew tired of explaining it, and the people who didn’t know what it meant to be “on one” just wouldn’t say it.
Almost Every Hip-Hop Acronym Ever, Except Y.O.L.O. and C.R.E.A.M.
If the generally accepted purpose of an acronym is to shorten a series of words into a digestible pneumonic device, then it would seem that, for the entirety of hip-hop’s history, rappers have fundamentally misunderstood this fact. Throughout this history, rappers have rarely used acronyms to shorten anything, but rather to elongate words into convoluted phrases by way of an acrostic poem.
Here are a few examples:
- L.A.S.E.R.S. or Love Always Shines Everytime Remember 2 Smile
- T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. or The Hate U Give Little Infants Fuck Everybody
- B.I.B.L.E. or Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth
Studying these three examples, it’s easy to tell that a hip-hop acronym isn't so much a pneumonic device as it is a testament to the profound ability of rappers to unnecessarily reverse engineer solutions to problems that don’t exist. If all else fails in their music careers, maybe these rappers can put these acronyms on a resume and apply for jobs in Silicon Valley, where such skills are widely coveted.