Underground Diaries, Part 30
There is some disagreement about just what is and is not krump. It seems arguments over authenticity and ownership are as common with new art forms as they are with scientific breakthroughs…
Standing amid a sea of ecstatic juniors as they danced, cartwheeled and cavorted their heads off in the gym of San Diego’s Jackie Robinson YMCA may have been the closest I’ve ever come to heaven. In which case, heaven could use another water fountain or two and maybe better lighting. But other than that, it’s sublime as advertised.
In reality, of course, the little angels — and, yes, the occasional little devils — who capered about the gym were much too full of life to have been in heaven. Still, they had all been transported by a revelation: krump dancing.
Or that’s what the kids would have called back had you asked what they were doing: “WE’RE KRUMPING!” they’d have roared, a big dose of “DUH” implicit in their tone. Krumping is, after all, all about self-expression… and chest popping and arm swinging and bouncing off walls and over fences.
Invited to krump by Tommy and his Hip-Hop Clowns, the kids at the Y did their level best to oblige, though I’m not sure all their moves — moves like sliding into home plate — are normally considered krump (despite the dance’s very inclusive vocabulary). I am confident even the most discriminating krumpers would have agreed the kids were KRUMPING!
This is significant because there is much disagreement in the krump community: disagreement over who created krump, and over what krump is and isn’t. There are hard feelings. To everyone’s credit, and despite krump’s often fierce mien, reinforcing kids appears to rank above rancor.
Krump got its start among the clown dancers of South Los Angeles’s African-American communities. Since the early 1990’s, scores of area youths have taken to clowning and clown dancing (done largely for kids’ parties) as a positive extra-curricular alternative to sports or drugs or gangs. In doing so, they’ve followed local pied-piper-turned-global-demi-celeb, Tommy the Clown.
Back in the nineties, Tommy and his crew of upright young clowns (no drinking, no drugs) basically invented clown dancing, the goofy grab bag of dance moves that includes locking, popping, mock stripper dancing and anything else that makes ‘em laugh. As crew after crew of copycat clowns appeared in the ‘hood, so did rivalries. “They couldn’t all dance for me,” Tommy explains.
So he began hosting dance-off sessions (“Battlezones” as he calls them) as a positive, non-violent way for the kids to strut their stuff and compete for bragging rights. “Sessioning” became a popular pastime, whether in organized Battlezones or informal get-togethers, birthday parties or dance schools.
The mock-battle sessions, often accompanied by slow and portentious (my word) rap music, gave rise to an electric, adrenaline-suffused and highly emotive style of dancing that came to be known as krump. Like clown dancing, krump is a mélange, borrowing from dance forms as disparate as ballet and break dance. Some of krump’s most distinctive moves are straight out of Africa and even Papua New Guinea.
Krump dancing is visceral, gymnastic, aggressive and raw. It’s often fast — faster than most mortals will ever move. Yet for all of krump’s energy and athleticism, it is the expression of feelings, tapping them, getting “amped” (almost ecstatically connected to oneself), that krumpers say distinguishes krump from other dance.
Krump’s inner city practitioners see the confrontational dance as a metaphor for the real battles they and others face daily at home and in the ‘hood. They insist krump offers a way to express frustration, powerlessness, anger and inequality — feelings common among kids in poorer communities. Krump, they say, helps them confront and overcome their struggles.
For Tight Eyes and Lil C (you can see a video about him here) — two dancers critical to the evolution of krump who stopped clowning for Tommy years ago — frustration at not receiving credit for having actually created krump (to hear many tell it) appears to be one such struggle. There is genuine disagreement between original krumpers over how krump came to be. There is resentment that Tommy the Clown gets the lion’s share of credit (or at least press) for krump.
Tight Eyes and his crew, the Krump Kings, are so over the press that I managed only to speak to their representative, Kokie Nassim. I wanted to ask about some krump purists’ condemnation of booty shaking (or “popping cakes” in krump parlance), particularly where male krumpers are concerned.
Such a ban on a major muscle group seemed to me strangely puritanical and potentially prejudicial. Kokie reminded me that krump is first and foremost about self-expression and that “shaking your booty doesn’t express anything.” When I protested (someone’s got to have our collective booty’s back), he explained that the butt-shaking ban was largely about looking out for kids, who are already exposed to too much adult content, whether in obscene lyrics or provocative music video choreography.
Having been disconcerted myself at seeing kids far too young to understand the implications of grinding like strippers grinding like strippers, I have to respect where the Kings are coming from.
Like most anyone, Tight Eyes and Lil C feel proprietary about what they consider their creation. Unfortunately, they and all the other dancers involved in the creation of krump did far too good a job.
Kids at Jackie Robinson Y and Kearny High in San Diego were pumped to krump before Tommy and his crew ever entered the building. Ditto fans at USC’s Bovard Auditorium. Asian kids krump in Long Beach (the RiCe TrAcKs crew). The Kamikaze Clownz krump in Japan. White kids all across Europe have krumped with the Krump Kings or Tommy and his Hip Hop Clowns. I’ve read about Latino kids in East L.A. attending all-night krump sessions where some in attendance drink and probably smoke a bit of mota — anathema to the upright OG’s of krump.
As with so many art forms of African-American origin, though, and for better or worse, the krump is out of the ‘hood. It’s taken on a life of its own.
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