Before There Was Rap, There Were The ‘Dozens’

"The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama" (Photo Courtesy)

“The Dozens: A History of Rap’s Mama” (Photo Courtesy)

Rap and hip-hop as art forms evoke images of urban life, impossibly complex and elegant rhymes, braggadocio, misogyny and more. Kanye West, Jay-Z, Eminem… their style is part street-brawl, part big business. But what about lyrics like this?

“I want all you women to fall in line,
And shake yo shimmy like i’m shakin’ mine,
You shake yo shimmy and you shake it fast,
If you can’t shake the shimmy, shake yo’ yes yes yes,
You a dirty mistreater, a robber and a cheater,
Stick you in a dozens and yo pappy is yo cousin,
And yo mama do the lawdylawd”

Those lyrics are from “The Dirty Dozen” by Speckled Red, the great Louisiana bluesman. And if you listen closely, his song is exactly that – it’s dirty, it’s authentic, it’s picking a fight while playing a catchy tune.

Our guest says that it’s that old American tradition, along with the equally misunderstood tradition of “yo mama” jokes that gave birth to modern rap and hiphop.


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Host Meghna Chakrabarti introduces us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and brings us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

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