(16) digital underground, "the humpty dance" TROUNCES
(16) gerardo, "rico suave" 189-20 and will play (1) right said fred, "i'm too sexy" in the first round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on Feb 12.
paul hurh on "the humpty dance"
“To hump, once a fashionable word for copulation”
—F. Grose, Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785.
“The Humpty Dance” is a song about outsized, clownish, unwarranted confidence. It’s the opposite of precision and practice, the opposite of slick and coordinated. It’s attempting a 360-degree airborne pirouette when you’re drunk and out-of-shape. It’s rolling through upper-crust Aspen in an 88 Olds with blown shocks and a steering wheel like the rudder of an eighteenth-century man-of-war. It’s a paean to “fuck it.”
At the center of this careening juggernaut of glorious misplaced ego is Humpty Hump himself, the outrageous assumed persona of Digital Underground front man, Shock G. Expressing that he’s “about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to,” Hump dismisses the crisp bad boy image of the slick rap MC alluded to in the reference to MC Hammer. In mismatched suit, loud tie, ushanka hat, and that iconic fake nose, Hump is a cartoonish, foul-mouthed Poindexter. A rap Goofy, as it were, if Goofy were into Hennessy and simultaneous oral sex.
And then there’s that bass-line. Dooo-WAAAAA-oooo-WAH. It teeters. It’s like leaning back in a chair, feeling it start to slip, feeling your body go into free fall, yet when everything in your head says, “you’re falling!” then, miraculously, you’re not. Whoa, you think to yourself. That was close. But secretly inside you’re kind of proud, like you’ve managed to pull off some kind of gymnastic feat. So of course you tip back again. Dooo-WAAAA-oooo-WAH.
That edge-of-balance groove even underpins the loose gesticulations of the humpty dance itself, which takes its place enthroned in the same venerated wedding reception dance circles as the cabbage patch, the kid n’ play, the running man, the chicken wing. But what is the humpty dance exactly? YouTube to the rescue:
That all seems very straightforward. But things get more complicated when we consider the tone of Hump’s instructions:
First I limp to the side like my leg was broken
Shaking and twitching kinda like I was smoking
Crazy wack funky
People say ya look like M.C. Hammer on crack, Humpty
That's all right cause my body's in motion
It's supposed to look like a fit or a convulsion
Anyone can play this game
This is my dance, y'all, Humpty Hump's my name
No two people will do it the same
Ya got it down when ya appear to be in pain
Humping, funking, jumping
Jig around, shaking ya rump
And when a doo-doo chump punk points a finger like a stump
Tell him step off, I'm doing the Hump
The dance itself is a simple undulation with a jump. But Humpty describes it as a sort of agony: a broken leg, a crack addiction (in parachute pants, presumably), a uniquely personal pantomime of pain. And it ends with a prediction that you will be singled out, shamed by a “doo-doo chump punk.” The humpty dance may be an exaggerated hip thrust, but it is also a personal expression of one’s pain and a flouting of the social pressures that would condemn it.
Silly and fun the song may be, but it is lined with something deeper, something about the fear of seeming foolish in the anonymous gaze of a conformist, evaluative society. And that brings me to the painful, personal anecdote of that one time I made a fool out of myself in front of Digital Underground.
In 2005, I was living in Oakland and playing bass for a soul-funk band called Otis Goodnight. In April, Otis Goodnight opened for Digital Underground. It was and remains the biggest audience I’ve ever played for. It’s also the scene of the two most embarrassing mistakes I’ve ever made playing an instrument. I came in on the wrong beat at the opening of the show. What followed was like a 12-car pileup on a freeway, only less sonorous. And then, during my slap-pop bass solo, something went horribly awry. The lead MC was motioning for us to continue the solo (or at least that’s what I thought), and possessed by some inexplicable, Red-Bull-fueled hubris, I caught my bandmates’ eyes, telepathically communicating to them that, yes we were going to repeat 8 more bars because I had something special planned for this solo. They looked at me with what I thought was comprehension. I was on. I was at the front of the stage. I was going to slay. Or kill. Or whatever historically-appropriate idiom for melting everyone’s face off.
But of course one shouldn’t try to change the arrangement MID-song. The band continued playing the song as it WAS WRITTEN AND PRACTICED, while I leapt with both feet into something that DIDN’T WORK OUT. Afterwards, I felt awful, abject. I still cringe when I think back on it. It’s now one of my chronic memories, one of those that are unable to be consoled or fully forgotten, even and perhaps because nobody remembers them except for us.
When Digital Underground took the stage, everyone forgot about Otis Goodnight and their YOLO, out-of-time, damn-the-torpedoes bass player. Shock G and the crew were instantly magnetic, the crowd was euphoric, and suddenly the room was an old-school rap video. But when the familiar groove started for “The Humpty Dance,” Shock G started gesturing. Something was wrong.
He didn’t have his trademark glasses and fake nose prop! How could he be Humpty Hump without them? Confusion reigned until a fan threw his own Humpty glasses to the stage. Humpty Hump properly attired, the show went on.
That was really the most memorable thing from the show—Hump forgot his nose—and for years it has been what I tell people when they ask me about what it was like opening for them. It’s not much of a story, but it’s enough to get me past the absurdly triggered anxiety about missing a few notes (badly, my stern conscience instructs me to say from his lectern at the back of my head, really very very badly) a decade ago. I don’t say anything about the rest because, really, it ain’t worth compounding irrational shame about one’s innocent mistakes with the shame of asking others to be interested in them. The irony of writing this is not lost upon me.
But today, listening to “The Humpty Dance” closely, I realize that I’ve missed the point. Hump forgetting his nose was also a mistake, but he didn’t care about any doo-doo chump punks. So what if my solo was funny sounding? So what if I’ve been ashamed of this for years? Shame is a large fake nose. It’s a prop that displayed proudly can paradoxically become the badge of confidence. Why hide it when I can own it? Perhaps in the future I’ll forget it entirely and have to borrow someone else’s.
At the heart of “The Humpty Dance” is an unfounded belief that everything is going to work out despite appearances. It’s really a song about empowerment and self-confidence and not worrying about what people think. It’s also about sex in a Burger King bathroom stall. Is it necessary to point out that these are not exclusive?
So why vote for “The Humpty Dance”? Because in an age of anxiety where almost everything has become a performance, in a world of reality TV singers hitting immaculate pitches, in a time where “tight” has replaced “cool” and “hot” as the hip term, “The Humpty Dance” reminds us of the glories of looseness. In a world beset by social anxieties about image and offense, of saying the right thing, dancing the right steps, getting things right, not embarrassing yourself, “The Humpty Dance” is your chance to do the Hump.
What is the Hump, then, philosophically speaking ? As Ahab says to Starbuck (remember, Moby-Dick has a “hump like a snowhill”), “thou requirest a little lower layer.” Some pop etymology: “Hump” is a quaint and juvenile term for sex, which was out-of-date even in 1785. Perhaps that’s because “to hump” has always been childish, something kids call sex before sex becomes SEX, you know? That roiling complex of power, reputation, vulnerability, pain, self-identity, ecstasy, politics, passion, scandals, endless pop songs and Viagra commercials, etc. etc. Before all that, it was just “humping,” a term for a peculiar adult behavior as understood through playground physics by those who had never had it.
But that’s not all that the Hump is. For Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Hump day is Wednesday. Camels have humps like roller coasters. A hill is a hump, as is the curvature of a deteriorating spine. A hump is up and down.
To do the hump, then, is to ride the ups and downs. To revel in the failures, the successes, the ironies, the pain and the shame in the dizzying swing of the existential yo-yo of life. This isn’t some kind of evangelizing “everything works out, so everything happens for a reason” bromide or a “just be yourself” Meghan Trainor song. No, it’s something both more sublime and more perverse.
For remember, the humpty dance looks like a fit or a convulsion; it is done right when you appear to be in pain. And it seems aware of its cosmic meaninglessness, as when Humpty says “a word that don’t mean nothing, like looptid.” “Looptid,” a made-up rhyme, sends us nevertheless into geometric and senseless looping agon: the endless oscillations of the hump like a continual falling of a round anthropomorphic egg that always can never be put back together again. To do the hump is to play the cosmic brinkmanship game by making a show of not playing the social one. For it isn’t about being confident in yourself, but of faking the confidence enabled by an equally faked disguise of shame.
Yet rather than some overwrought postmodern hall of mirrors, Humpty makes it into a dance. It gives a genuine sound to foolishness, a sincerity in the appearance of pain. As Emily Dickinson might say, grooving her Andoverian assets to the loose billowing iambs of bass: “I like the look of Agony / because I know it’s true.” I wonder what she would have rhymed with “cupid.”
Paul Hurh is an English professor at the University of Arizona and writes reviews of horror movies at rockpaperhatchet.com.
lewis dejong on "rico suave": neither rico nor suave / in search of gerardo
In his hit song, Gerardo repeats the title words, “Rico” and “Suave,” ten times. But looking across several lyric websites, none of them technically count those words as lyrics. I suppose they’re easily ignorable despite being the title and foundation of the song. But what does it mean that those particular words he sings/says don’t count as lyrics? Has repetition drained the meaning? Has simplicity dissipated the effect? The issue for me is trust. He seems so forceful about his riconess and sauveity that my belief in those words, and maybe singer/sayer himself, becomes suspicious. Gerardo and his song are the virginal high school boy selling the idea of his Canadian girlfriend or the cold-footed bride repeating how happy she is. His insistence reveals knowledge that he is not what he claims. I contend: He’s lying.
Before I condemn him, though, I want to define the terms. First, rico means rich. But a richness in what? Love? Stock options? Beanie Babies? As a “rapper,” richness can be measured in many ways: cred, swagger, chains, cars, hit songs, even women. More than anything else, though, richness is money. Or, according to the “All About the Benjamins” doctrine, cash. And suave (pronounced SWA-VAY here) means, well, suave, or more helpfully, smooth. Coolness can, of course, be subjective—this is something uncool people tell me—but I want to focus on a kind of effortlessness or control. So what I’m looking for in the presentation and content of the lyrics, music, and video of “Rico Suave” is evidence that Gerardo and his team are both wealthy and charming. But it’s not there; let me show you:
The lyrics betray his promises most obviously. In the second verse he volunteers that “I don’t drink or smoke ain’t into dope. Won’t try no coke.” (Nancy Reagan gets a songwriting credit here.) If there’s one thing rich musicians love to do it’s abstain, amirite? Gerardo simply volunteers this counterintuitive lifestyle. The assertion that he’s rich and cool yet has no evidence of any vices or big expenditures raises questions. Where’s the million dollar palace full of deferential servants and outsider artwork? Where’s the stately garage full of gaudy colored Lamborghinis and Ferraris? Where’s the pool in the shape of Toni Braxton’s face? Maybe he’s just really well-invested. He’d have you believe he’s only tempted by a woman. Many women. Too many women. He attributes this concupiscence to many things, but then this little slip:
So please don’t judge a book by its cover
There’s more to being a Latin lover
You got to know how to deal with a woman
That won’t let go
The price you pay for being a gigolo
A gigolo. Um, that’s a prostitute. Yes, they get ladies, but Gerardo seems oblivious about the reason. He discusses these trysts like hard won conquests not the transactions they are. Moreover, it occurs to me that this sex work eliminates the need for him to be genuinely suave. He need only approximate it per the women’s instructions. If the coitus is preordained, attributes like fitness and punctuality seem more necessary than smoothness. It’s embarrassing because Gerardo had fashioned his persona around seduction. He called himself—if you trust his Wikipedia page—the "Latin Elvis", the "Latin Frank Sinatra" or the Latin "Tony Zuzio." (I can find no information on who Tony Zuzio is. A search of his name brings you back to Gerardo or a Linked-in account of a New York stock broker.)
Another problematic area is his switching back and forth between languages, which undercuts his self-assuredness. The song seems to be written in Spanish first, but several (not quite every other) verses turn to English. What he chooses to translate is telling. He stays in Spanish for the more sensitive info: “I’m a well-behaved gentleman”, “If I have to get myself together, I make myself sick” (huh?), and “Your daughter is in good hands.” The last one is supposed to be facetious, but it feels like false run-off from tough-guy performances he was forced to play, one in Can’t Buy Me Love and the other in Colors. The pictures below fail to show the nuances of his performances, but in general he’s being given the same motivation: “You’re a good looking meathead/gangbanger; try to hustle some chicks/money.” It’s not within him, though, and the casting agents soon realized it too.
Returning to the lyrics, his English ones are crass and conniving, talking about eating girls like sushi and not loving girls but needing them. It’s a sharp relief to the more desperate Spanish lines. He seems like two different people, choosing an outlook based on where he is or who’s around. Basically, he’s easily influenced. And at the risk of sounding like a high school guidance counselor, shouldn’t cool people be more confident than this? Wasn’t Vanilla Ice at least a little edgy because he relentlessly and proudly remained that idiot all the time. Gerardo seems scared or confused. Even without the bilingual unease within the song, there’s one more piece of unsmooth poetry. When addressing parents of a paramour, Gerardo includes the head-scratching line in Spanish: “Cierra La Boca, por favor” or “Shut your mouth, please.” What? Why include the “please”? He can’t tell rebellion from courtesy. It’s all a sham.
Musically, the song feels like nothing, not to be confused with the compliment this song feels like nothing else. There’s no real evidence of any song making resources or an awareness of a musical zeitgeist. It contains a couple of shrill, static percussion lines, one metallic, one very digitized. Then comes a canned horn sound, like it might be from cartoons or 50s cop show car chases. It’s most likely a free sample recycled from something forgotten. If you care to listen more closely, a bass fills space beneath. After two very similar verses, there is short bridge with a sharper horn and idle tinkling on a Casio. The hook, if any, is a backing vocal that goes up, down, up, saying A-ye-A. You could put the whole thing together on Garage Band during a lunch break now. It makes “Mama Said Knock You Out” seem dynamic and Ricky Martin seem in touch with Latin musicianship.
It’s composed, I guess, but it doesn’t feel fussed over. The production was done by Christian Carlos Warren, who goes by Osunlade. His page shows many credits of people I’ve never heard of (save for Jazzy Jeff, ten years after the fact, though, in 2002), but “Rico Suave” was his first big single. He was green then and probably inexpensive, certainly not about to find the pulse of 90s pop. For an idea of whether studio invested in any details of the project, here’s an entry from Gerardo’s Wikipedia page: “Song lengths from the CD liner notes differ from the actual track lengths.” (His pages are full of revelatory chestnuts like this.) The point is, though, I don’t see a ton of money or effort behind this thing. In fact, hearing the song on Spotify, I assumed that the song was just an excuse to put together a sultry, high-end video, the kind of thinking that prefigured Eric Nies and “The Grind.”
Then I saw the video. It is a platform for sexiness, but it’s also too slapdash to be intoxicating. He cycles through about three sets, and one more at the end. Two of the sets look like public spaces. In one, he dances in front of two men (though the guy on the left doesn’t quite feel handsome enough to be a dancer anymore—que lastima). They are in front of a sky scraper—the Wikipedia page emphasizes that—but I am drawn to the fact that they are on top of parking garage. Maybe they rented it out, but the cars (obviously the other backup dancer’s Oldsmobile Firenza, for example) in the background seem to indicate fledgling ideas thrown together. Definitely cheap, arguably lame.
Another guerrilla set-up, this one with female backup dancers, takes place on stairs in front of what appears to be a business park. Just off screen Interscope interns are shooing away skateboarders. It’s here that I wonder if Gerardo even knows what suave means. For instance, in the chorus, while he is saying “Rico,” he caresses a nearby dancer’s soft legs. Isn’t that a better thing to do during the “Suave” part? Wouldn’t her leg be smooth? What could it be rich in? Smoothness? That just sounds like a coffee slogan. See? He just doesn’t seem to know how to be cool. He just wants to show off his dance moves—mostly running man and toe taps—but even those feel sadly concomitant to Milli Vanilli’s obvious dominion at the time, which itself (and much of the same ilk, including Gerardo) feels like overglossed retreads of George Michael ideas.
The shoot that appears pricey is the one around the pool with the Mariachi Band. (The Mariachi Band is pretending to play the song, despite incongruous timing and instrumentation—one of my favorite tropes of the early music video age.) Closer looks, though, reveal that this pool is surrounded by dozens of beach chairs. This ain’t Gerardo’s crib, though. It’s a resort. I’m guessing he ambushed a Marriott on the beach where the video director fills in part-time. The illegality almost shows. The close-ups become very intrusive and the editing becomes choppy. Is it rebellious if you’re led away by motel cops?
A final video tableau—this one sort of acting out his lyrics from the final verse—does take place in a nice home. But in the video, it belongs to the girl’s parents. He’s there for a free meal, the mooch. First, he pretends he doesn’t care about food, but once he sees an opportunity, he announces he’s hungry and shoves the mother into the kitchen. This pobrecito is starving, cramping up from his malnourishment. Also, his behavior toward the parents does sort of match a sense of cool, at least at first blush, but my research showed that in the role of the father, Gerardo cast his own dad. I’m glad Gerardo has strong familial relationships, but it’s difficult to equate coolness with parents. Do you think Axl or Slash cast their parents in the wedding crowd during the epic “November Rain” video? Do you think Mick Jagger even had parents?
As a final note on the video, In every shot, Gerardo is shirtless underneath a leather jacket and also wearing jeans, boots, and a bandana. I know he’s got rockin’ abs, but I argue this undercuts what he hopes to prove. If he’s so rich, why can’t he afford a shirt? Or different outfits for the video shoot? Just a year later, Michael Jackson would make a $4 million video for “Black or White” where he TRANSFORMED INTO ANOTHER PERSON! And you can’t afford a change of clothes? C’mon. If you’re so hip, why show off your homemade leather jacket instead of boss Jordache’s? Prove it, Gerardo!
He can’t because it was never his real goal. His current status shows his hand completely. Recently, Gerardo has become a pastor, a man who believes that secular riches are nothing compared to what awaits him in heaven. In an interview from a few years ago, an older, wiser Gerardo laments no lost fortune, ala MC Hammer. He is, instead, flush with love for and from his family and his God. He is also evidently flush with Hurley swag. In addition to being a man of the cloth, he still dabbles in music but now on the label side, helping usher along talents like Enrique Iglesias and Bubba Sparxxx—clearly coolness was never his real goal either.
But now that it is inarguable that Gerardo was neither rico nor suave, a new question arises: Why make such a brash song full of lies? Why make all that noise if it’s not really you? I bet he enjoyed it. He obviously likes to perform. There’s just no voice or vision yet—just a killer bod. Still, he wanted to say something and wanted to say it so badly that he stepped onto any podium and said what he thought anybody would want to hear—even if it wasn’t true. Gerardo’s futile attempts to show his non-existent wealth and verve indicate something crucial about these one-hit wonders. What we love about them is the bravado. Even if it is a lie.
Or especially because it is a lie. You think those nerds from The Proclaimers could really walk that far? You think that occasionally Sir Mix-A-Lot hasn’t been seduced by a women’s brain? Pshaw. We, as fans, respond to the gusto that these artists present when saying something over the top. This fabricated bluster is hard to continue, though, so of course they come back to earth. Fans, disappointed or bored, go elsewhere. But for a select group of songs, we fans return again if those false promises transport us to other versions of ourselves, especially when we were young. We get to be reminded of our own self-aggrandizements. We allow ourselves to be thrown back into the tumult of an earlier time in our lives, when we too made impossible promises.
I can remember being nine or ten and telling my mom I wanted to go to Clemson, not because I knew anything about the institution, but because I liked the colors and school names that didn’t reveal where it was geographically. How obvious it must have been that I wasn’t going to South Carolina. But she asked follow up questions, kind ones. She showed, or perhaps feigned, interest in my reasoning, meanwhile thinking about her younger days when she flirted with her own Clemson. It’s nice to pretend now and then. Gerardo might have been pretending in the same way.
So, even if he wasn’t rich or smooth like he wanted, Gerardo has been memorable, or as he might say, memorable (but, like, say it different). With this simple song, he’s inspired a Weird Al parody, an SNL skit, a reality show, and even changed Urban Dictionary. This bolt of lightning has garnered so much consideration, yet so many questions remain. Chiefly among them, this one that kept popping up during my online searches: Who is Ricky Suave? We all are.
Lewis DeJong lives in Tucson, Arizona where he is a Lecturer at the University of Arizona. His work (fiction, essays, otherwise) has appeared in North American Review, Sonora Review, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, and others. Send praise to him on Twitter or get out of the way.