In the last three years we’ve seen the rise of a very strange and conspicuous trend in mainstream rap: choruses that consist of little more than the brazen and insistent repetition of one or two words. First there was LMFAO’s “Shots”—which, tellingly, featured one of the form’s early adopters, Lil Jon—last year Big Sean scored a huge hit with “Dance (A$$),” and most recently the woman who showed up on that song’s remix, Nicki Minaj, tried her hand at it with her latest feat of vocal gymnastics, “Stupid Hoe.” There’s no telling who’ll do it next, but here’s how all this might have started…
Kris Kross, “Jump” (1992): We can’t pinpoint exactly the moment this micro-trend began, but it had to be sometime in 1992 when, within the space of six months, two rap songs whose choruses consisted almost entirely of the repeated, shouted directive to “Jump!” became international hits.
House of Pain, “Jump Around” (1992): As with Kris Kross, here the endlessly chanted order to “Jump!” is basically giving listeners directions as to how to dance to the song. This usage persisted for a little over a decade, but has since fallen from favor.
A Tribe Called Quest, “Oh My God” (1994): This classic track, with its looped Busta Rhymes sample for a chorus, anticipates the most recent series of songs with incessantly repetitive rap choruses, which are pure expressions of joy and amazement—rather than the dance directions of Kris Kross and House of Pain.
Noreaga, “Superthug” (1998): Rather than an order to dance or expression of excitement, N.O.R.E. just endlessly repeats “what” throughout this early Neptunes banger’s chorus, presumably as a macho assertion of his domination. (As in: “What, you think you’re better than me!? What? What!?” Oddly, this screamed “what” would become one of Lil Jon’s signature phrases.) This may be the clearest precedent to Nicki Minaj’s similarly confrontational “Stupid Hoe.”
dead prez, “Hip Hop” (2000): Another anomaly of the subgenre, the conscious rap duo dead prez subverts the insistently repeated chorus convention by turning it into a protest-like chant of empowerment.
Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris, “Yeah!” (2004): This song marks the beginning of the aggressively-repeated chorus’s shift from directions to perform a dance move into a more primal expression of elation.
D4L, “Laffy Taffy” (2005): Here’s a strange case. One-hit-wonder D4L’s song title suggests listeners will be learning a new type of dance, called the Laffy Taffy, but in none of the verses are any directions given. We’re then told endlessly to “shake that Laffy Taffy,” which turns out to just be another word for butt, thus anticipating Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$)” six years later (see below).
LMFAO featuring Lil Jon, “Shots” (2009): Following his earlier work with Usher, Lil Jon returned to change the form he’d revived, using the endlessly repeated chorus not as dancing directions, but as drinking orders.
Big Sean featuring Nicki Minaj, “Dance (A$$) Remix” (2011): Neither exactly a dancing direction to do anything specific with one’s ass (see “Laffy Taffy” above), nor a simple expression of joy or elation at the presence of ass, Big Sean’s deployment of the compulsively repeated chorus “ass-ass-ass-ass-ass…” marks a surprising and compelling formal innovation.
Nicki Minaj, “Stupid Hoe” (2011): It’s never made clear who the “stupid hoe” of this song’s title and crazy-quickly repeated chorus might be—the listener? some unnamed competing female MC? yo mama?—but it’s certainly not Nicki.