Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Hip hop finds a new beat

The rising popularity of dance moves that originate as songs is helping hip hop move away from its gangsta rap focus. But critics say the trend is being coopted by a music business eager to sell singles and ringtones in the wake of falling CD sales

By VANESSA E. JONES  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BOSTON

Briana Brown performs the controversial routine Chicken Noodle Soup.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

It's late afternoon, and the 11 members of Stajez Dance Studio slowly arrive at the Blackstone Community Center in Boston's South End, their temporary home since a flood closed the studio's Mattapan site in March. After the teens change into dancewear, 17-year-old Olethea Williams begins teaching the group a new hip-hop routine. Breaking down the moves into small sections, Williams calls out directions as the others follow her lead.

"One, two, three," she says, demonstrating intricate arm movements. Then she and the others leap into the air with their legs forming a diamond shape.

Chicken Noodle Soup, Williams says, calling out the name of a well-known dance. The teens land and do the rapid kicks to the side, with first their right leg and then their left, that make up a portion of the Chicken Noodle Soup. After they land with legs spread out, they continue the routine.

The members of Stajez began adding popular dance accents to their freestyle hip hop to provide some recognizable elements when they perform in front of a crowd.

"Really it was the kids that wanted to do that," says Sophia Haynes-Cardwell, 40, who founded Stajez in 1995. "When their peers would see them in the audiences, they would root them on because they knew how to do that (dance) too."

As critics wring their hands and even spearhead a congressional hearing over the misogyny and violence in hip hop, the music genre is shifting away from its gangsta rap focus. In the past few years, the number of dances, such as the Chicken Noodle Soup, that originate as songs and become dance sensations has risen exponentially.

The song-and-dance combinations include Huey's Pop, Lock and Drop It, Cherish's Do It to It, Lil Boosie's Do tha Ratchet, Jason Fox's Aunt Jackie, Unk's Two Step, and Soulja Boy Tell 'Em's Crank That. The craze often starts with a music video that showcases the new moves. The dances subsequently become Internet phenomena as fans videotape themselves doing the motions and upload the results onto YouTube. Some fans put their own twists on the moves by creating new versions of the original.

The latest example, Crank That, shows not only how these dances break out but how popular the songs they're based on have become. The journey of Crank That began in April, when Soulja Boy uploaded the video onto YouTube - so far it's gotten more than 13 million views. The song hit No. 1 in the country just before Soulja Boy's CD, Souljaboytellem.com, received its major label release by Interscope Records last week. Visitors trolling through YouTube can find videos of Chris Brown, Beyonce, Samuel L. Jackson, and far less famous folks doing Soulja Boy's creation. Others inspired by the Superman dance within Crank That the dance have created spinoff versions: the Spiderman and the Aquaman.

Although the popularity of dance seems to represent a positive step for hip hop, not everyone is rejoicing. Longtime fans of the culture see the trend as one jump-started by a music business eager to sell singles and ringtones in the wake of falling CD sales. Rapper Cassidy recently released the song My Drink N' My 2 Step, referencing the 2 Step dance, and it quickly became a top 10 favorite on US cable channel BET's video countdown show, 106th & Park. Some also criticize creations such as the Chicken Noodle Soup, which has the refrain "chicken noodle soup wit a soda on the side" and features movements like the side-to-side kicking. Together they represent some of the worst stereotypes of black culture.

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