articles: Word from the Inside


Dah Hahh, Dah Help: The Tragic Career of the Rappin’ Duke

By a Gossiping Bitch on October 11th, 2004

The year was 1985, and for many Americans the future never looked brighter. The Iran-Contra hearings were a full year away and Communism seemed less threatening by the minute. An unlikely hero would manifest as a chattering, computerized head by the name of Max Headroom, offset by the gritty, sockless anti-heroes of the hit crime/drama, Miami Vice. Around the country, people heeded the call to “Avoid the Noid” while they danced their cares away to the soulful strains of the California Raisins. And in New York City, people in the know began vibing to an infectious chorus that would reverberate throughout the world and the time/space continuum itself, ultimately shaping events on our planet and throughout the entire universe.

Well, maybe that’s taking it a little far.

I was in elementary school when I first heard the “dah hahh, dah hahh” of the Rappin’ Duke, but the education I received from this simple-sounding song was, to my needy sponge of a brain, worth more than six semesters of remedial English taught by the most maladjusted social misfit professor who wore the same suit, every day, year after year, right down to the tie. It wasn’t just the easy-to-remember chorus or the paradoxical insinuation that the long-deceased John Wayne had returned from the grave as a rapper, it was the poignant message of hope that the song gave to all of us: you don’t need to include fart jokes to make a funny novelty song. But it helps.

It’s pretty easy, if you can see
Just move your arms kinda freely
Do a pause, and take a step
And just make sure the beat is kept

Rappin DukeYou can imagine, then, my supreme elation when I met the Rappin’ Duke himself on a bus trip to Schenectady, NY, to meet my estranged aunt (which is another story entirely), sitting right next to me, no less! Sure, he was more haggard and pasty than I remembered—particularly since I had never seen a picture of him—but when he coughed with a bellowing “dah-HAHH!” I knew precisely whose company I was in. For the less-enlightened readers among us, “Rappin’ Duke” was a single from those early days of rap music, when people weren’t sure if this “talking over a beat machine” scam was really going to work. There were many novelty rap songs: “Honeymooner’s Rap” by Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, “Rappin’ Rodney” by Rodney Dangerfield, and even several politically-themed rap songs by Rich Little that should not be mentioned under any circumstances. The granddaddy of them all, however, was “Rappin’ Duke,” which combined the elements of poor meter and rhythm with just a dash of terrible recording equipment that can only result in a classic record. Seizing the opportunity to pick the mind of one of the greats, I asked the Rappin’ Duke if he could tell me, in his own words, his story. Quietly, if he could because I intended to catch a couple of Z’s.

“The recording industry is a harsh mistress, my boy. A harsh mistress. She’ll chew you up and spit you out, and then maybe even suck you back up and kind of let you languish on her palette for a little bit before wrinkling her nose and discreetly spitting you into a napkin. No, I didn’t pick rap music. Rap music picked me.”

Every time I put on pants
I tell ya pilgrim I wanna dance
I put a quarter, in the juke’
Then I commence, to doin the Duke

“I was born in 1963 in Abilene, Missouri, to a devout Unitarian couple. My whole life, I had to live under their strict, religious rules. I tell you, it was a rough upbringing. When I turned thirteen, I ran away from home to New York City. Now, New York at the time was a paradise, boy, a real city of wonders. Street gangs of every color teemed the streets and stretched all the way to the horizon. Tenement insurance fires roared high in the sky and crackled like your own private fireworks display. And riots led to looting which led to the greatest bargains on electronics and platform shoes that could be found in the great country of America. It was truly a time to be alive.”

“What really grabbed me, though, was the rap music. Oh, how I loved the rap music. I would stroll down the street in my Stetsons and spurs and just jangle along to the be-bop sounds of rap music coming from ghetto blasters and project windows. Until someone stole my Stetsons, that is. After that, I mostly strolled down the street in Keds. I didn’t care, though, for the rap music had infected my soul. I was at every park jam, every high school party, at competitions and battles—you name it, I done it. There were some scuffles here and there, but I don’t regret a thing. Except for maybe the dozens of times I got beaten up.

“Despite my love for rap music, I never gave much of a thought to doing it myself until I turned eighteen, then a friend of mine by the name of Flash suggested I lay down some lyrics at a party one day. I declined that night, but seven years later I recorded ‘Rappin’ Duke.’ And the rest is history.”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch
Santa Barbara that is
Swimmin’ pools, and movie stars
Well the first thing ya know ol’ Ron’s the President
The kinfolk said, “Ron move away from there”
Said, “In The White House is where you wanna be”
So he loaded up the Lincoln and he moved to D.C.

“I want to set the record straight here and now: ‘Rappin’ Duke’ is not a novelty record. It is not. It is a political record. I wanted to make people aware of President Reagan’s indiscretions at the time. Of course, I didn’t happen to name any of these indiscretions and I had some superfluous mentions of Aretha Franklin and Scooby Doo, but I intended for it to be a political record. Really.”

“I guess if I had to name one regret, it was never boinking a celebrity. I think I could have, don’t you? I don’t mean Suzanne Somers or something crazy like that, but definitely Erin Grey or the mother from ‘The Partridge Family.’ You know who I’m talking about. I saw her on TV the other day, she’s still hot. Other than that, I wouldn’t change one thing about my experience. Oh, actually, I would also ask for lots and lots of money. I forgot about that part.”

Tune in for Part 2! Or don’t. I don’t care.

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3 thoughts on “Dah Hahh, Dah Help: The Tragic Career of the Rappin’ Duke”

  1. Anthony Arellano "Tha'MaddWorld Pony" says:

    Its 2007 and to this day I still bump The Rappin Duke.That song will allways be on the playlist in my head.Since I was about 9 and still to this day Im getting ready to turn 32 in August.Just wanted to say cool story,good read.Thanks for bringin me back to those young days of Rap Music.I’ll forever be a HipHop Junkie,and The Duke is one of the reasons why Im sure.Dah-Hahh is still one of the songs on my mp3 playlist….Thanks Anthony Arellano “Tha’MaddWorld Pony”….Dah-hahh-dah-hahh!!!!

  2. Eric says:

    This is one of my favorite songs from back in the day. Did you ever write part 2 of this? I didn’t see it and would love to hear more about Shawn Brown.

  3. Annetta Scott says:

    A song I will never ever forget. One of my top 5 fav songs of all time. Keep on keepin on, Shawn Brown, (Rappin Duke)

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