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The Role of The 'Hype Man' In Hip-Hop

Published: Friday, April 21, 2006

Updated: Saturday, August 9, 2008 23:08

"Throw your hands in the air!" "Now wave them from side - to - side!" "Now scream!"

Although these cliché chants may sound familiar, more often than not, the individual shouting them might as well be unknown. He can usually be found onstage at concerts, alongside a rapper who is often more recognizable and receives a larger check.

Don't discount this person, though. While they may be running, jumping and shouting over someone else's track, their contribution to live hip-hop performances is often vital.

Simply defined, the "hype man" is a sort of backup rapper/singer who is also responsible for increasing an audience's excitement with call-and-response chants.

Freshman public relations major Lindsay Caldwell believes the hype man's job is "to pump up the audience before the rapper or even singer came out on stage, also to keep the fans 'hype' during the show and any wardrobe changes."

Others agree, saying "The hype man is basically the clean up man. He picks up and does everything on stage that the rapper can't. He gets that side of the crowd that the rapper is not on, pumped," said freshman advertising major Jabari Johnson.

The roots of the hype man can be traced all the way back to the early days of hip-hop and its pioneers.

MC Cowboy, a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was the first to coin phrases like "Throw your hands in the air" and "Everybody say ho!" According to some, this was the start of the hype man getting the crowds going, and the MC hyping his DJ's skills.

Others argue that it was someone else in the Furious Five camp that was the prototype for the hype man.

"Creole starts this long intro over this echo chamber . . . it was the first time I'd ever heard that. I call Creole the original hype man," said old school rapper Kool Moe Dee in an interview with hip-hop website

Several prominent hype men have used the position to catapult them to fame and fortune.

Flavor Flav, a member of the legendary group Public Enemy, is credited with developing the humorous aspect of the hype man character. Flav approached his status as hype man as an avenue to other opportunities including "Flavor of Love," his latest project with VH1.

"The most notorious hype man is Flavor Flav because he made a living off of it," said sophomore management major Richard Palmer.

While Flav may have made the "hype man" famous, many believe that Flipmode Squad member Spliff Star is the only true hype man in the industry.

"The best hype man is Spliff Star, Busta Rhymes' hype man," said Johnson.

Palmer agreed and added that "Spliff Star is the only hype man that is really out there."

While the hype man is certainly an intriguing character, is there really a need for him?

According to Rachelle Teart, sophomore finance major at Michigan State University, there isn't.

"They don't have any significance; half the time I don't even know who the hype men are. They say every other word that the artist does and that's annoying," Teart said.

Others believe that, while limited, there is a need for the hype man.

Palmer doesn't see the need for hype men in videos or any other medium but, according to him, "they are significant to the artist because they run out of breath all the time, but the audience could care less."

Another debate regarding the hype man role is that it has changed over the years.

"I think the hype man has definitely changed because now instead of hype men sometimes you have opening acts or special activities before the main act goes on and now the hype man's role is no longer that important," Caldwell said.

Johnson does not believe this to be true. In his opinion, "The hype man has not changed, he still is doing the same thing as he has always done."

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