If you've been to our site recently, or dialed into the World Wide Web in the past few days, you've probably seen reference to something called the Harlem Shake. Maybe you even clicked on a video -- if not the one of the adorable family, maybe the one of the Norwegian soldiers, or the one with the band Matt and Kim. Below is the reputed originator of the meme, which introduced masks into the equation.
The original video lacked the essential narrative arc of its successors: first a masked individual dances solo; at the words "and do the Harlem Shake," the camera cuts to a roomful of people dancing like idiots.
Before there were any of these videos, there was the song by 23-year-old trap producer Baauer, three minutes of synth horns, growls and bass.
But before there was the song, there was a dance, a shaking of the shoulders popularized in early aughts hip-hop videos and lyrics, most notably in G-Dep's 2001 "Let's Get It." (G-Dep, a.k.a. Trevell Coleman, generated media attention last year when he was convicted for a murder committed two decades prior, for which he turned himself in..)
In 2003, Plastic Little released "Miller Time," on which Jayson Musson (a.k.a. art world trickster Hennessy Youngman) rapped "punch you in the face, then do the Harlem Shake," the line that Baauer later copped to sampling. By the next year, Cam'Ron was already sick of the dance, rapping on "Down and Out":
Harlem shake? Naw, I'm in Harlem shaking awake
Shaking to bake, shaking the Jakes
Kill you, shoot the funeral up and Harlem Shake at your wake
According to this 2003 article, the Harlem Shake was invented in 1981 by a man named Al B., alias Sisqo, who described it as "a drunken dance, you know, from the mummies, in the tombs." (The mummies' limited mobility restricted their dancing.) It was popularized by the announcers of the Entertainer's Basketball Classic in Harlem's Rucker Park.
This is the history Twitter snipers complain that white people don't know. At least six white guys were hip enough in 2006 to name their band after the dance move. In any case, Al B. shouldn't mind: "I'm not jealous of the next guy that's doing it better than me," he told Inside Hoops. "Listen, as long as I'm having fun."