Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Then & Now… When did "hip" replace "hep"? And were there "rap" lyrics in the 1940s?

When did "hip" replace "hep"? And were there "rap" lyrics in the 1940s?

Let's start with the first question. What led me to write about this today was a comment an email friend wrote about his mother who was born in 1921. He commented that she was pretty hep. I realized he was using that old slang term because it was in use during her era. But it made me wonder just when and how the term "hip" replaced "hep". Would that be a hep replacement? (Sorry. Bad joke.)

When I was a kid back in the late 50s, I remember reading about the "beatniks", especially those involved in the jazz scene. They were known as "hep cats". I can even remember using the word "hep", myself, to mean something or someone was really "cool". Of course just using the word made me cool, too. (chuckle) But when did it change? And who changed it?

It's not really possible to know for certain who first used the word "hip", much less who first used the older word "hep". But, during my search for an answer, I stumbled across some information about a Caucasian jazz pianist in the 1940s by the name of Harry Raab. He grew up in the predominantly Black communities of Harlem. He became known as "The White Negro". (Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Gibson).

Gibson claimed to have coined the term "hipster" sometime between 1939 and 1945 while he was performing on Swing Street. That's also when he gave himself the stage name of Harry "The Hipster" Gibson.

To say Harry was a wild man, is not an exaggeration. Some of you are old enough to remember the wild performances of rock-n-roll legend, Jerry Lee Lewis, in the late 50s and early 60s. If you haven't been around that long, see the video below. You'll see why I posted this video in a moment.


Now take a look at this clip of Harry "The Hipster" Gibson. Looks to me like Jerry Lee must have been heavily influenced by ol' Harry.



Harry had a pretty good little career going as a live performer for a while but then he wrote and recorded a song called Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine? and he was suddenly blacklisted by the music industry. I'm guessing this lyric in the song may have had something to do with that:

She drank a cup every night
And ooh, how she would dream.
Until somethin' rough got in the stuff
And made her nipples scream.

Here's Harry performing that song:



Regarding these lyrics:

She drank a cup every night
And ooh, how she would dream.
Until somethin' rough got in the stuff
And made her nipples scream.

It occurred to me that the last line may actually be:

"And made her nipples cream."

Without seeing the lyrics in written form, there's no way to know because, when spoken (or sung), they both sound the same and maybe even makes more sense. In any case, it still retains its humor…. albeit in a crude sort of way. Not unusual at all, considering the raw lyrics of a lot of (now obscure) blues songs of the 20s and 30s. But, let's get back to the "Hep" vs. "Hip" conundrum and the question about whether or not "Rap" music existed in the 1940s.

Well, turns out Harry wrote a song called It Ain't Hep and, although I couldn't find a recording of the song, I did find the lyrics. If these lyrics don't read like rap lyrics (allowing for the era in which they were written), I don't know what does. Check it out:

Hey you know there's a lot of talk going around about this hip and hep jive. Lots of people are going around saying "hip." Lots of squares are coming out with "hep." Well the hipster is here to inform you what the jive is all about.

The jive is hip, don't say hep
That's a slip of the lip, let me give you a tip
Don't you ever say hep it ain't hip, NO IT AIN'T
It ain't hip to be loud and wrong
Just because you're feeling strong
You try too hard to make a hit
And every time you do you tip your mitt
It ain't hip to blow your top
The only thing you say is mop, mop, mop
Keep cool fool, like a fish in the pool
That's the golden rule at the Hipster school
You find yourself talking too much
Then you know you're off the track
That's the stuff you got to watch
Everybody wants to get into the act
It ain't hip to think you're "in there"
Just because of the zooty suit you wear
You can laugh and shout but you better watch out
Cause you don't know what it's all about, man
Man you ain't hip if you don't get hip to this hip and hep jive
Now get it now, look out
Man get hip with the hipster, YEAH! Got to do it!
be hip not hep, coz hep is not hip
so just be hip and pray you dont slip!

And finally, just for fun, check out this old black & white clip of Harry "The Hipster" Gibson in a movie called Keep The Beat where he's teaching a high school class about "the beat". Pretty funny. Seems silly now but was undoubtedly considered outrageously "cool" at the time. You'll get a kick out of this:


So, there ya go. Now you're hip to the hep.

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