“Down Down Baby, Down Down the Roller-coaster”


Do any of you remember that hand-clapping game when you were younger? Now, think of the Nelly song “Country Grammar.” They sound familiar, don’t they? When I heard “Country Grammar” for the first time a decade ago, I did not realize the connection. But this week I finished reading Kyra Gaunt‘s “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double Dutch to Hip-Hop” and she made it clear. Gaunt is an ethnomusicologist, singer, public speaker, social entrepreneur, author and associate professor at my college, Baruch.

Her 2006 book discusses the relationship between young Black girls’ hand-clap games, cheers and Double Dutch jump rope, and male-dominated Black popular music, especially Hip-Hop. Gaunt concentrates on how Black music and Black girl play relies a lot on “kinetic orality” and embodied musical learning (dance, body movements and gestures). This leads into the gendered power dynamics of Black girl play and male-oriented Black popular music. Often it is overlooked in its contribution to Black popular music due to it being a predominately local (instead of public, mass media product), oral (instead of recorded or transcribed), and female-oriented sphere. So, Black girls as they grow up tend to abandon these games and female performers hardly ever use them in their music. However, several adult male performers have used these rhymes and rhythms in their songs, both past and present. Maybe if that was recognized, Black women would have more of a voice in Black music genres, like Hip-Hop, which have offered us limited access and participation in these fields. I encourage you to add this to your summer reading list. By the way, here is another example of how Black girls’ hand-clap games are used in Hip-Hop.

Mos Def- Ghetto Rock

“Work songs that the slaves sang back then
The playground chants, with little girls clapping

[Chorus 2: Mos Def + (Girls chanting)]
Black Jack Johnson N.Y.C., R-O-C-K-I-N-G
Sun and the moon, earths, stars, and planets
Before the song’s done y’all gonna all understand it
Black Jack Johnson N.Y.C., R-O-C-K-I-N-G
Sun and the moon, earths stars and planets
Before the song’s done y’all gonna all understand it”

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