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Krumping

 

Borgman, Dean. (2005)  “Krumping,”  S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.  

I watched krumping before I knew what it was. I just knew it was something beyond breakdancing and stepping. Nobody in the crowd around me knew either. We were at a large Urban Youth Workers Institute conference in Azusa, CA-and this was before “Rize.”

 

Of course, folks from around L.A. knew of clowning and krumping for some years. It had begun folk-art, a particular expression and celebration of life in response to violent surroundings. It was an L.A. thing. It had really started with Clowning in 1992, but a few groups dropped the clowning and developed new, energetic moves. These exciting dances were incorporated into music videos: Missy Elliott’s “I’m Really Hot,” Black Eyed Peas’s “Hey Momma,” the Chemical Brothers” “Galvanize,” and Skinny Puppy’s “Pro-Test.” Music aficionados around the world were suddenly thinking, talking and imitating what’s being called krumping. Still, clowning and krumping were not known by most.

 

That would change in the summer of 2005 with “Rize” and the publicity around it. This artistic expression from L.A. would experience a national and global explosion of interest and excitement.

 

As hip-hop and break dancing had sprung up in the South Bronx as folk art in the 1970s, the 1990s saw krumping emerge in South Central and Compton. “Krumpers can say what they want, Tommy the Clown invented clowning, and there wouldn’t be krumping without me,” Tommy (or Thomas Jefferson) has declared.

 

You would never imagine black hip-hop clowns really doing nothing until I brought it to the world. God allowed me to bring it to this world.

 

The clowning and the krumping dance movement, it is a very positive thing because it really keeps kids off the streets. Kids really don’t have too much to do around here. This is something that is exciting for them. To Missy and everybody that has grabbed this whole clowning, krumping, hip-hop style of clown dancing. I want to say thank you for putting it on the national scale. You’re doing it.

 

In the early 1990s Thomas Jefferson turned from crime and drug dealing to faith in Christ and clowning about the same time. He needed a new job and became a favorite at birthday parties and barbecues. But his career took off when he added, to the usual “ballooning and joking,” dance moves from music videos—some stripper dancing that might be considered the first stage of krumping’s evolution. This evolution involved several dance stages: the whip, the wobble, a clapping dance, and the wilding. David Chapelle, who produced “Rize” calls krumpers, “the children of Rodney King” because of the way the dance mimics the motions of a riot.

 

Guy Trebay calls krumping “equal parts break dancing, pantomimed battle and demonic possession.”  I see it as a celebration of the human spirit and body—which includes sensual elements. It expresses the creativity of youth to get beyond “juice” and violence.  It incorporates the legacy of African dance, and all the contributions of African-American dance to the American scene. It draws on images of and Pentecostal ecstasy (the word kumped comes from the way kids describe those overcome in the Spirit). It is also, like old school hip-hop, a challenging alternative to gang banging and deadly violence. Not only an alternative, it is a positive transcending of negative pressures.

 

Tight Eyez is a performer in “Rize” and a highly respected dancer noted for his athleticism and ferocity.

 

I realized that dancing was the one thing I could do in a positive direction, that if I did it maybe I could avoid getting shot and ending up dead.

 

It looks violent, and people get scared by it a little (especially in the way Tight Eyez comes at them). But if you live in my kind of situation, you have some anger you need to express.

 

Tight Eyez and some of his crew, the Remnant, have also come to krumping after experiencing Evangelical Christian faith. They, too, have a place in “Rize.”

 

Although krumping originated in the African American community, and most of its dancers are still Black, there are also Hispanic, white and Asian groups. The Rice Track Family are a Filipino krumping group from Long Beach. Founder of the Rice Track Family, Hot Rod Soriano, tells his story by way of explaining krumping:

 

People from the outside don’t see the violence, but we live it every day. In this neighborhood, if you’re not an athlete or a rapper or a gang-banger, you aren’t going anywhere.

 

Some people, when they have problems, write in their diary. Krump dancing is our diary. It’s our everyday. (And some dancers say that if they lay off for a couple of days, it’s plainly noticeable.)

 

There may be a thousand dances and some 80 crews in an informal network that keep informed by word of mouth around L.A. Dancing contests may feature crew against crew but usually end up one-on-on in the Battle Zone.

 

Some may underestimate these new dance styles and their culture, but it should be remembered how rap was also dismissed as a transient fad. 

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

 

1.     When did you first know about krumping?  How have you first impressions been reinforced or changed?

 

2.     Do you see krumping as a stage and part of hip-hop or as something new and different.

 

3.     Does your interest in krumping end with its performers, their appearance and dances, or are you genuinely interested in their culture, in where and why it originated and how it will develop?

 

4.     What do you expect as to the future of krumping?

 

IMPLICATIONS

 

1.     The origins, early development and incorporation of krumping into music videos, and then “Rize” is a fascinating story and significant social lesson.

 

2.     Along with hip-hop clowning and krumping must be seen as important developments in the youth and pop cultures, as creative alternatives to gang violence, as a necessary therapeutic response to deeply inflicted pain, and as a celebration of positive youthful longings.

Dean Borgman    c. CYS