Remember Rappin’ Duke? Da haaaa, da haaaaa….
In 1983, Shawn Brown performed as the Rappin’ Duke, a parody aimed at all the macho swagger that was prevalent in hip-hop then and today. Only… this was like the old man version of it. Disses in the song were humorously directed at Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, Chaka Khan, and — most absurdly — Aretha Franklin. This also may be the only rap song that has a direct reference to the works of Gilbert & Sullivan (the “tit-willow” line).
As this was the early 80’s, there were plenty of snarky shots taken at the Reagan presidency. Gary Trudeau, well known comic strip guy, created a parody group called Reathel Bean & The Doonesbury Break Crew. They performed several musical comedies called “Rap Master Ronnie” who played in off-Broadway shows. The joke was that this out-of-touch old white guy was desperately trying to reach out to African American youths. Sadly, only the opening number was produced in old-school hip hop style. Way to commit, Trudeau!
Ronnie does get a mention in “Rappin’ Duke”, drawing a comparison to Jed a Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies. However, Air Force veteran and comedian Shawn Brown would do an impression of another conservative icon: John Wayne, who had passed away a few years ago. Brown would perform the song on open mike nights as part of his routine. The famous chorus, “Da ha, da ha”, was a parody of the Duke’s famous and incredibly weird laugh.
Basically, the song’s biggest joke is that the most urban musical form in America was being performed by the whitest dude.
The track ended up in the hands of a San Diego radio station, and it was an immediate hit locally. It eventually hit #73 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts in 1985. The novelty song would score Brown some sweet gigs, such as opening for Bobby Brown and Stevie Wonder. Not a fan, though, was Russell Simmons, who took umbrage at the line “There’ll be no more after me.” Now THAT is an unexpected rap beef.
Shawn Brown is now a children’s entertainer, publishing a DVD series called “The Super Fun Show“, and is heavily involved in the Head Start program to help train teachers. As someone who appreciates colorful costumes, I admire his sartorial game.
And, of course, Notorious B.I.G. would reference the song in his biggest hit “Juicy”, where he commented (in comparison to his own work), “Did you ever think hip-hop would take it this far?”