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Tackling a question for the ages

In human history, there are a few issues best described as “eternal questions.” You know… What came first, the chicken or the egg? What’s the sound of one hand clapping? Just how funky was Rocky Balboa’s wool-trimmed leather jacket at the end of his training sequence in Rocky IV? I’m talking brainteasers, people.

Tonight, we address — and answer — one of these dilemmas. Tonight, we’re talking about which song is better: “Whoomp there it is” by Tag Team or “Whoot there it is” by 95 South. I know, I know… it’s long overdue. Somebody has to talk about these things. As we’ll see, it’s not even close.

The year was 1993. Bill Clinton became the 42nd president. My Tar Heels were on their way to the NCAA championship. OJ Simpson was still best known as a Heisman trophy winner and breathtakingly bad actor.

Then, 95 South, a little-known rap group from Miami (I think) released, “Whoot there it is.” At the time, Nipsey and I were working in the mailroom of the Chapel Hill News, an experience I’ve already detailed in an earlier blog. The hours were long. The pay was bad. But there are some good memories. Like one night, we heard “Whoot there it is.” It was catchy. Something different. Then, we heard it over. And over. And over. Yet, it never got old.

Like there was this part in the middle where the voice of an old man would ask, “Excuse me sonny, do you know where I can…find some booty?” Always cracked me up. Plus, it’s hard to beat lyrics like this:

Oh girl over there in the blue
I gotta pocket full of tracks so what cha gon’ do
Turn around and let me peak
And let’s play a little bit of hide and seek
Show me that and I’ll give ya this
A twenty dollar bill that’s nice and crisp
What cha’ gotta do is work
Shake it on down and watch me go bizurk
You know just what I’m talkin’ about
Pop that thang, move it in and out
Like that, get on the stage and work that cat
Yo fellas where that booty at
Whoot there it is!

Yeah, I agree, the lyrics are very subtle, almost like Dickinson in their complexity and layers. You may have to read it several times to get all of the nuance. Or not.

I did find out that 95 South was actually a bit of a rap pioneer. According to allmusic.com, “Whoot” was “the first bass track to cross over to mainstream success.” So, it was groundbreaking. And, it allowed you to just point to things and say, “Whoot,” then tell your friends that “it” was indeed “there.” Did I mention that the 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. shifts often caused giddiness?

Within a month or two, Tag Team came out with an eerily similar version, “Whoomp there it is.” It was as if somebody had redone “Layla” as “Leila” and rereleased it. Yeah, it was exactly like that, except completely different. But here’s the thing. More people liked the johnny-come-lately “Whoomp” more than “Whoot.” And reading this paragraph, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about now.

Nipsey and I were purists about this point. “Whoot” was the groundbreaker, and we steadfastly continued to hold the original in high regard. If anyone had ever challenged us, we would have debated the point endlessly. Sadly, this forum is perhaps the only time it’s ever been debated. If it hadn’t been for the magic of XM radio (where I heard the Tag Team version today), I wouldn’t have thought about it. Somewhere in my brain, the 95 South edition cranked up. And I felt like something had to be said.

Sadly, like all things popular, the phenomenon collapsed upon itself. I think the final nail in the coffin was a furniture commercial that aired in eastern North Carolina. The locally-produced ad featured the grandfatherly owner of the store… in a motorized wheelchair… rolling around the show floor. Bear in mind, I am NOT making this up. Anyway, his family members would wonder aloud where Grandpa was and then yell, “Whoot there he is!” when they saw him. Words can’t convey how bad it was. At least not my words. Perhaps if I tried it in Swahili or Esparanto.

Well, I just wasted 15 minutes of my time writing this. You wasted a few less (hopefully) while reading it. Which leads us to yet another “eternal question:” what the hell am I talking about anyway? That point… and more… in future episodes.

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