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The Bizarre History of Rap's Oldest Cliche

Dana Perino
Dana Perino
YouTube screengrab

We've all seen it: When non-rappers pretend to rap, they improvise a beat, make silly hand gestures, and then, for some reason, their rhyme begins this way:

"My name is ____ and I'm here to say..."

That's usually followed by something like  "I love _____ in a major way" or "I'm the ____est ______ in the U.S.A." 

This has become the default archetype for how people who don't listen to rap think raps start. Folks have been doing it since at least the '80s and it continues full steam, such as when former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino decided to diss Jay Z and the Obamas on Fox News (video below). 

But where did it come from?

In the mid-'70s, hip-hop's earliest days, before the genre had even been put to record, the most important thing for participants was to get their name out there. Whether literally tagging it on a wall or rocking the mic at a party, the key was to identify yourself.

This continued into the early days of recorded rap. From the bootlegs of the Cold Crush Brothers, Fearless Four and Treacherous Three routines circa '78, you have several instances of MCs beginning their rhymes with:

"I'm [their name] and I [some definitive character trait or signature action]" 

A year later, you have what is probably the most famous of these constructions, from "Rappers Delight":

"I am Wonder Mike and I'd like to say 'Hello.'"

Yet, in the entire annals of pioneer era hip-hop, the closest thing to the now ubiquitous cliche is on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1980 single "Birthday Party." Says Melle Mel:

"Melle Mel and I'm here to say/ I was born on the 15th day of May."

That's it. There is no basis in hip-hop for the rash of faux rap that follows. But an answer may lie...
 

 ...in the re-contextualization of a lot of popular music, including commercial jingles. One in particular may be the genesis of this particular cliche.

The 1940s Chiquita Banana song, while predating hip-hop by about 30 years, is perhaps the first time the couplet in some form was heard. Chiquita commercials featured different variations of the line, like the video above where a singing anthropomorphic banana seduces the banana-hungry public with:

"I'm Chiquita Banana and I've come to say/ Bananas have to ripen in a certain way." 

Perhaps it's the cultural touchstone of this earworm that inspired the Barney Rubble hip-hop reconfiguration:

"I'm the Master Rapper and I'm here to say/ I love Fruity Pebbles in a major way."

It was, almost certainly, not actual MCs writing these types of commercial rap jingles in the mid-to-late '80s - but for many Americans, it was their first exposure to hip-hop. And with many of the spots on repeat, the construction was drilled repeatedly into viewers' heads.

But this repetition may have come from more respected sources as well. We spoke to hip-hop historian and executive director of the Hip-Hop Culture Center Curtis Sherrod, who says a reason for that construction's popularity might have come from a daily recurring bit on Yo! MTV Raps hosts Ed Lover and Doctor Dre's Hot 97 morning show in the '90s.

"It was in effect before then, but those guys took elements from [the rhyme scheme] and piggybacked off it. The audience would call in, and put their name or their tag in there, and they would create these situations every morning. 'My name is _______ and I'm here to say dadadaaddada in a major way' and it would always end 'That sounds cool and that may be, but dadadada'... When driving to work, I'd know I was on time when that segment came on and I was going over the George Washington Bridge."

But Sherrod points out, the history of the routine goes much deeper. "MCs have always wanted to have super powers, that's the influence of comic books and such. You've always wanted to be able to introduce yourself. The only reason MCs came about, was to talk about the DJ, say where you were from, what you represented and what your super power was. That [routine] was a relevant foundational part of hip-hop."

"You had to come up with a way to say your name," continues Sherrod. "If you weren't saying your name, why were you doing it?"

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