A Brief History of Puppets and Hip-Hop

Earl Sinclair, a Tree Pusher Known to "Hypnotize"
Earl Sinclair, a Tree Pusher Known to "Hypnotize"
YouTube Screen Capture

It's human nature to want to define spans of time based on achievements in civilization or universally embraced sentiments. That's why we at the Weekly are comfortable stating we're currently living in the Era of Rapping Puppets.

From Earl Sinclair getting down in "Hypnotize" to Bert telling us he "ain't no Hollaback girl" to Gonzo teaching us "The Humpty Dance," we the people have finally found something we all can enjoy.

But it took a long road to get here.  Whether you've felt the power of rap puppetry, or you are felt, there's something here for everyone. Here are 10 memorable times rap and puppets have collided.

Wayne & Charlie the Rapping Dummy, "Check It Out" (1981)
An entire year before Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel's "The Message" (which features a blink-and-you'll-miss-it puppet as well) the first puppet to rock the mic was Charlie the Rapping Dummy. Accompanied by his handler and advocate Wayne, Charlie came along very early on in hip-hop as a genre, and the culture was still figuring itself out. Their biggest single "Check It Out" is a pretty shameless knock-off of Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks," but hey — a rapping dummy! 

Ferlinghetti Donizetti, "Alphabet Rap" (1988)
Public Enemy's Chuck D famously called rap music "CNN for the Streets," and those streets happen to include Sesame Street. From Elmo telling us about the number 5 to Cookie Monster doing his best Run-DMC (or joined by Wyclef), the show has made a surprising number of efforts to incorporate hip-hop. The very first was Ferlinghetti Donizetti's "Alphabet Rap." Though Jay-Z later dissed the song is his Decoded memoir, the 1988 clip was only about four years behind contemporary rap styles. Plus, it featured a breakdancing Grover, so we'll forgive it for sounding a little dated.

Masta Ace, “Me and the Biz” (1990)
The resourcefulness of golden age hip-hop knew no bounds. Biz Markie couldn't make a video shoot? No worries! Let's just make a Biz Markie puppet and go from there. Masta Ace's use of the Biz puppet became so iconic that it later worked its way into the single's art, and eventually retired to a beloved corner of the Ego Trip offices.

Coolio Counts With the Muppets (1997)
The '90s reboot of The Muppet Show, retitled Muppets Tonight, gave us a few memorable moments during its brief lifespan, one of which was then-ubiquitous media darling Coolio helping to prove how eternally hip the Muppets are. Pepe the Prawn later went on to having the only rap verse on Cee-Lo's Christmas album.

Outkast featuring Slick Rick, “Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)” (1999)
Slick Rick was absent from Aquemini's album version of "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)," but Outkast overcompensated for this by giving us both Rick and his puppet avatar in the single version and its accompanying video. Some retroactively refer to this version as "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 3)," but it'll always be "Part 1" to us — no strings attached.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, “I Keed” (2003)
In one of his uncoolest moments, Eminem decided to take himself way too seriously and start a early-2000s beef with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Triumph, who was recording his Come Poop With Me album (then titled Songs in the Key of Poop) responded by recording an industry-wide diss track, saving his best barbs for Em for the track's very end. Em later tried to make nice with the puppet community by appearing on Crank Yankers, using a Triumph puppet in the "Ass Like That" video and later using Triumph's accent for the entire Relapse album, all of which were great... "for me to poop on!"

Bert and Ernie, “Ante Up” (2008)
The most influential puppet viral video is likely this incredibly well-edited re-imagining of M.O.P.'s "Ante Up" as performed by the Sesame Street roommates who are known to mash out, Bert and Ernie. While edits of children's icons set to adult music are as old as time (or perhaps just the Internet), "Ante Up" is something special, and still occasionally creeps into your social timeline to this day. Not unlike Ernie with a rubber ducky, it's always welcome.

El-P, “The Full Retard” (2012)
El-P's big reemergence in 2012 following the fold of Definitive Jux brought with it not just the El-P-produced Killer Mike album R.A.P. Music and his own Cancer 4 Cure album, but the return of puppets in rap videos as well. "The Full Retard" introduced the world to Mr. Killums, the squirrel puppet who has since become a beloved icon of the Run the Jewels contingent.

MC Frontalot, “Stoop Sale” (2012)
2012 also saw one of nerdcore hip-hop's most likable rhymers, MC Frontalot, deliver his puppet-filled "Stoop Sale" video. Walking the fine line between artsy and adorable, the clip's puppet recreation of life in modern Brooklyn is as lovable as it is impressively performed.

Pigeon John, “Champagne on My Shoes” (2014)
Pigeon John's output has always been undeniably fun, for even the most jaded and callous hip-hop head. Because of the self-deprecating yet feel-good vibe of his work, the puppets of "Champagne on My Shoes" fit perfectly within the Pigeon John universe.


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