In late June of last year, a 23 year-old Brooklyn based trap producer going by the name Baauer, released the song “Harlem Shake” and about a month ago it went viral. There are countless videos on the web depicting people shaking themselves violently before a camera often in some form of costume to the previously mentioned tune. There is no denying this “Harlem Shake” will be something this generation will remember long from now but will they also remember the original Harlem Shake?
The Harlem Shake originated in Harlem, New York’s Rucker Park in the 1980’s where the late Albert Boyce would dance during halftime at the basketball games. Back then, it was called “The Al. B.” but soon dance crews began to evolve Boyce’s move and it became the Harlem Shake. It wasn’t until 2001, when the official video for G-Dep’s track “Let’s get it” featuring P. Diddy and Black Rob came out, that it became a mainstream part of the Hip Hop culture however. Nonetheless, it did become a part of a culture’s history, and MSNBC showcased the original Harlem Shake on the 3rd of March.
Melissa Harris-Perry not only re-introduced the Harlem Shake, but gave some food for thought as she is did so. She goes on record saying there is nothing wrong with Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” except its name. To take something that has nothing to do with the original and give it the same name is, in this case, cultural appropriation. “When communities create an original art, they have a right to some creative control over its definition,” she says. The Harlem community is not pleased to say the least. Filmmaker Chris McGuire went out and documented the reactions of Harlem residents to the viral videos and it is clear they feel slighted.