Getting Krumped: The Changing Race of Hip Hop

By Paggett, Taisha | Dance Magazine, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Getting Krumped: The Changing Race of Hip Hop


Paggett, Taisha, Dance Magazine


Krumping kicks the hip-hop tradition of dance battles up a notch. It's a freestyle dance form that's full-bodied, adrenaline-driven, and confrontational. although deep-seated in hip hop, it departs from the movement vocabularies of b-boying/ b-girling. The dancers are more interactive with each other, sometimes using physical contact and weight sharing.

Film director David LaChapelle's new documentary Krumped shows a crowd of viewers surrounding a smaller grouping of dancers. All of the dancers are moving, bobbing, and nodding to the music, but only one, a young man in casual baggy jeans and white T-shirt, is dancing. With a raw physicality, his arms and torso are pumping to the emphatic rhythm of a hip-hop tune, and he stares boldly out at the audience around him. His syncopated, rapid-fire freestyle flickers between abstract movements and pantomime, but he never loses the beat. If movement were words, this would be a poetry slam. As the energy rises, other dancers explode into the center in response. Absent from this dance are moves that traditionally signify hip hop, like uprocking, freezes, and headspins, but the form is just as nuanced. What you do see is something like improvised sampling, images and poses taken from the world and threaded into a polyrhythmic frenzy. It's about energy.

Krumping developed out of South Central Los Angeles' clown dancing movement. In 1992, Tommy Johnson created a dancing, hip-hop persona named Tommy the Clown, as well as a traveling entertainment crew and a clown dance academy in the African-American community of Compton. Tommy the Clown became a neighborhood staple, providing young kids with a much-needed creative outlet. It caught on and spread to other neighborhoods. He also reimagined the decades-old tradition of dance battles in his creation of The Battle Zone: events and spaces where these clown groups engaged in competition, in which the community audience chose the winners. Krumping grew out of these contests, and during the last two years it has become a dance of its own.

"Getting krumped" is the state in which a dancer feeds off the energy of the audience, the other participants, the music, and his or her own adrenaline until the movement grows theatrical, inventive, and sometimes cathartic. As Dragon, a dancer featured in Krumped, describes it, "Krumpness is an abstraction of your inner being."

Is krumping a minor bump in the speedy trajectory of hip hop, or is it waiting to hit the mainstream and get swept up by the marketplace? Less than three years old, krumping has already been the subject of two documentaries: LaChapelle's Krumped (2004), which was a Sundance Film Festival hit last January, and Shake City 101 (2003), directed by Mark St. …

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