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They Taught Us How to Dougie: How Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie” Invites Everyone to the Party

October 26, 2011

On April 12, 2010, “Teach Me How To Dougie” by Cali Swag District was released as the first single from the band’s album Kickback.  In today’s rap radio market, dominated by warmed-over, auto-tuned, pseudo-gangsta rap, this relentlessly energetic song could easily have flown under the radar and died a quiet, small-market death in just a few weeks.  Instead, “Teach Me How To Dougie” (TMHTD henceforth) emerged as the most progressive, inclusive song-and-dance combination in recent rap/hip-hop memory.

The first thing one notices when listening to TMHTD is likely the odd and oddly familiar percussive hook.  Indeed, Cali Swag District decided to showcase cowbell in the song’s signature beat.  This bold choice demands that the listener take the song seriously as an artistic work, but not so seriously that the listener can’t have fun with it.  By including an instrument most closely associated with a more rural demographic, the inclusion of more cowbell also signals that the group welcomes all manner of music lovers.  That sound, joined with a cadence that winks at bhangra-beat, makes for the only rap song I can think of that attempts to appeal to people from Des Moines to New Delhi.

When the lyrics begin, the listener immediately gets a sense of just how inclusive Cali Swag District has intended TMHTD to be.  Group member C-Smoove says that he will indeed teach someone how to Dougie, because all the girls love him.  A bit of a non-sequitur, but one we can forgive due to its inclusion of all women, not just the ones he finds physically attractive, which is sadly what we have come to expect from mainstream songs.  Smoove then bolsters and expands his populist message by saying that all that is needed to do the Dougie is a beat that’s super-bumpin’ (as well as for you, you, you to back it up and dump it).  Later in the song, rapper Yung throws his everyman cap into the ring by experimenting with meter, ending his second line with Doug-EE, choosing to emphasize the last syllable rather than the first.  By putting his own spin on acceptable accenting, Yung may be making a statement regarding society’s urges to repress that which doesn’t conform to its standards.  In doing so, he challenges listeners to dance to the beat of their own cowbeller.

Now, one would expect TMHTD’s chorus to be the most potent vehicle for the song’s inclusive message, and it is indeed a strong statement: “E’rbody love me, E’r-E’rbody love me/E’rbody love me, you ain’t messin’ wit my Dougie.”  This could have a couple of different interpretations:

  1. A warning to those who would attempt to change the singer’s individual Dougie, which is an expression of his personality, that he will not allow such an intrusion.  His ability to withstand societal pressures to conform has been strengthened by the fact that he feels universal love from his fellow humans.
  2. An explicit acknowledgement that although someone else’s Dougie may differ drastically from the singer’s, it is equally valid and does not threaten his Dougie.  This embrace of alternative Dougies not only fosters an environment of encouragement and acceptance, it also allows for future Dougie exploration and innovation.

Yet the most powerful demonstration of the Dougie’s inclusivity is a simple, easily overlooked line uttered by group member JayAre: “Back of the party I don’t really like to boogie…” (He really doesn’t, as you can see in Cali Swag District’s instructional Dougie video.)  You see, The Dougie can even be the dance for those who don’t like to Dougie!  This does not seem logically possible, yet physical, audible proof exists in the form of the song itself.  Had he not died in 1978, Kurt Godel’s ruminations on The Dougie’s implicit self-referential properties might have been another feather in his cap.  Perhaps Godel, Escher, Bach author Douglas “Dougie” Hofstadter would consider examining the subject in his next book.

In assessing the full impact of TMHTD, one must also consider the video, populated with people of all colors, ethnicities, and sizes.  TMHTD features both a little person and a very large shirtless man, who will not be constrained by society’s unattainable beauty standards while he gets his Dougie on.  With its block party atmosphere and an incredibly diverse crowd, the video emphasizes community and understanding of different cultures:  skateboarders mingle with dancers from the Indian sub-continent , young African-Americans and people of East Asian descent marvel at each other’s skills, with everyone doing his or her own version of The Dougie.  Oh, and TMHTD is filmed in plazas surrounded by graffiti-covered walls as well as abandoned (one assumes) manufacturing buildings, highlighting the need for urban renewal and the non-sustainability of suburban sprawl.

Since its debut, “Teach Me How To Dougie” has become probably the most recognizable sonic-visual combo of the last decade.  Its goodwill ambassadors include everyone from former University of Kentucky basketball star John Wall to former University of Kentucky basketball star DeMarcus Cousins.  Not since the Humpty Dance (“Anyone can play this game…No two people will do it the same”) has a track brought so many different kinds of people together around such an inclusive message.  If it isn’t already, TMHTD should serve as the theme song for the neo-populist, progressive movement that aims to unite all the peoples of the world in pursuit of universally beneficial goals.  Think that’s not possible?  Watch the video again.  Notice that it is a microcosm of this idea: hundreds of people gathering in what would normally be symbols of urban decay, coming together in spite of—or perhaps because of!—their differences, all to celebrate a shared love for The Dougie, the song and dance that loves them back.

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