Game-songs on YouTube from Sesame Street to Remix

I wrote about the connection around two game-songs:  “Slide” for its oral-kinetic teaching of polyrhythm and keeping a steady beat–a critical feature of black music-making– and the game-song “Down, down, baby” aka “Hot dog.” You can read more about them in my 2006 book  The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop which is available on Kindle and many people say it’s a great read.

The work I’ve tried to do is to connect the socio-cultural logic of musical blackness in learning black girls’ musical play to the production of popular taste in commercial music by male artists. I’ve always been interested in the inter-sex communication between girls’ games and male artists from rhythm & blues to hip-hop genres as some kind of musical courtship that teaches girls and boys the heteropatriarchal norm. This frame continues in my work on black girls twerking on YouTube esp. given the prominence of twerking in mainstream explicit rap contexts where the patriarchal gaze thrives.

The fact that both games began with the trans-local phenomena of black girls across the country and that traces of the games are found dating back  to the early 20th century and its transmission is evident on YouTube even in far-flung places like Australia and India says these games still are important realms for the study of children’s culture, black girlhood, and musical transmission.  Black girls transmitted this culture through their public schools often during recess.  As part of their immigration and assimilation into US culture, Afro-Caribbean girls learned them and brought some of their games into the mix, too which were sampled in  (caution NSFW:) “Oochie Wally” by  Nas & Ill Will Records Presents QB’s Finest. Non-black girls as well as black girls’ male siblings, family members and friends learned the games as part of their associations in childhood and school settings.

The latter has been forcing me to rethink how I present these games as “black” and “female” in my analysis. How we can start to talk about the role black culture plays in larger circles of cultural transmission that are not viewed as “black.” Both game-songs is not unlike the spread of hip-hop as my colleague ethnomusicologist and hip-hop scholar Joe Schloss has always written about and emphasized. The ideals of musical blackness are the fabric of hip-hop though the music culture is by no means limited to black folk or to men as mass-mediated narratives might have us think.

After going to bed early, restoring a routine that my biology loves, I was rewarded when I woke up this morning. My brain is alive and most creative before 8am just after I wake up. Got some fabulous ideas for a presentation I will give next week at the Children’s Studies Program at York University in Toronto to over 200 majors. Amazing!! It will be about black girls twerking on YouTube and I thought I need to show the connection to my previous theories about black girls’ play offline.

YouTube and You: Black Girls’ Games from Sesame Street to Remix

YouTube has become a repository of some many connections you could not grasp before it as the world’s largest video-sharing archive thanks to Google but more importantly, thanks to YOU – the “you” that feeds the user-generated uploading of things great and small since the revolution of participatory digital media platforms like YouTube.

Here are three videos I am using in my presentation.

#1 is a video of the game-song on Sesame Street.
The taping of the show is probably from Boston and the black girls’ performance with the younger girl is fascinating to observe for it’s scripted-ness for TV and the way I’ve studied the peer-to-peer learning that has been going on for decades within black girls’ musical play.

#2 is a video of two slightly older black girls giving a “tutorial”

This is how the girls label the video in its description for their viewers. It was uploaded last summer in 2013.

#3 is two non-black girls giving instructions on the hand-clapping patterns and the song.
What is fascinating is that this style of clapping is swapped into other songs. In the late 1970s, this pattern accompanied a version of the S.O.S. Band’s female-led song “Take Your Time” (“Baby, we can do it /  Take your time, do it right! / We can do it ba-by– /Do it tonight!”) and other popular handgames. Embodying polyrhythmic gestures and different songs, sampling segments of game patterns or phrases of games into other games was what I articulated as a connection to the sampling practices found before hip-hop and in hip-hop musical practice. This kind of interchange within a musical system of creativity is a defining feature of many oral-kinetic traditions or folk practices. This video pieces together or samples lots of different game-songs as well making it a great piece to analyze esp. since it features non-black girls. I can examine who transmission is changing, adapting, growing, etc.

#4 is an example of college-age male students’ use of a game
In the video (:55), one of the guys claims he is the “Patty cake King.” Since these games are typically assigned to female gendered performance, the patriarchal norm asserts itself by establishing masculine dominance in the practice before demonstrating his skill at the game. This seems to be from students at VCC West or Valencia Community College – West Campus in Orlando, Florida.

#5 is my favorite. It’s a remix of Slide from two older teen girls
These two older black girls, college age, creatively incorporated new elements to the structure of the game-song while waiting in line at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. It’s the 2nd oldest part in the country. Their explanation reminded me of the notion that black girls’ games or the invention of play around Djing were cures for boredom in urban environments of despair. We never think that white kids DJing is a cure for their boredom. I’m thinking of the cooptation of twerking by DJs like Diplo who turns his pasttime into a major lurcative and international career where white girls play $500 to go to Bonoroo in Tennessee to sport their upside down twerking tattoos while they twerk in a handstand against a wall. Just some thoughts that came to mind.

I love their remix below for all the hints at musical blackness from gesture to tone of voice to borrowing iconic dance styles like the running man.  The creativity is not lost on me. Love the way she says do this and it will “change your life!” in ascending tonal articulations. LOL.


What if black kids had the kind of startup mindset that a Diplo has about their leisure culture? Would there be a revolution in enterpreneurship among black girls and others? Or are there structural barriers to that kind of leisure if it’s read as a waste of time when black skin is the cover or when respectability politics tells girls like these you could be doing something better with your time than playing games.

One More Video: Two white girls rushing through texts without a context
These two girls, unlike many African American girls’ play I’ve witnessed, loses the musical inflections from the original songs “sampled” in the game-songs that are mashed together in this play. Might be a great video to analyze and compare and contrast. I am interested in seeing if I can demonstrate differences in their apprehension of musical aesthetics.

Kyraocity works,
I’m out! 

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