The Harlem shake has replaced Gangnam Style as the newest sensation on the internet, but is this really the Harlem Shake? Your point of reference determines how you reacted to the phenomenon that has taken pop culture by storm, if you had no previous knowledge of the original you were probably entertained, laughed and maybe made your own version. If your point of reference was from that of a early 2000’s New York Hip-Hop head you were probably confused and wondered “What is this? cause its not the Harlem Shake!”
The original gained popularity in the late 90’s to the late 2000’s, during a time in which in addition to putting out good Rap music Harlem was also the epicenter of Style in New York Hip-Hop. Specifically the people in Harlem were noted for their sharp style of dress and keeping alive the tradition of Hip-Hop dances, one of these being the Harlem Shake. The dance could be found in many artist’s video’s during this time period, the best example being G. Deps Let’s Get It, from the height of Bad Boy’s/Diddy’s popularity.
Fast forward to today and we have Baauer a Brooklyn producer who made the track Harlem Shake which was released almost a year ago, to some success but mostly with underground dance fans. The name of the track did not originate from the dance, it was a sampled line in a rap song by artist Hennessy Youngman, who in the song recounts a graffiti beef in which he confronts a rival writer who had been going over him. The other writer assaults him with a 40oz bottle and at the conclusion of the fight Youngman dead tired just started doing The Harlem Shake inspiring the line, “and if you bring a 40 bottle to battle me/ I’ll just punch you in the face/ then do the Harlem Shake” which Baauer would use for the song title and hook.
The final part of the equation was Filthy Frank who produced the original video for his Youtube channel, when he made the video he admits it was just a throw away bit made while having fun with his friends in his room and Harlem Shake just happened to be the song that came on “it’s a shame, that’s probably the video I put the least work into” he said. The result being millions of views for his video, thousands of copy cats and a cultural phenomenon was born. If you have a problem with all of this there is no one to blame because the whole process actually happened very organically and was unmediated, the artists involved had no expectations and were not even connected or aware of each other. If there is a problem and if there is a finger to be pointed it is at the audience itself, who continues to create a devour the content it has created itself. To exaggerate the cultural relevance of the Harlem Shake would be wrong it was not a cultural turning point in Hip-Hop history, and it does not define Harlem, but it was an example of the style and flair of which Harlemites are so proud of and the latest incarnation is devoid of this style but still maintains the name Harlem Shake, having been redefined without even acknowledging the original.
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Check out the most popular Harlem Shake viral videos on Page 2