March 28, 2011


Shaka Laka Situation

The first two minutes of Dylan Brown's video for Snoop Dogg's "Boom" imagine a post-apocalyptic future in which "private clubs and parties... have moved underground" (ellipsis sic). Once the song actually kicks in, though, the video's scenario could be happening at any time since a decade before Snoop puffed out his first record, right down to the old-school graffiti on the wall. In fact, the song's two big hooks can both trace their lineage back at least a few decades, too.

You might recognize the chief instrumental riff of "Boom" — the chirping, octave-jumping analog synthesizer bit — from other records of the past few years. The Saturdays used it for their British pop hit "If This Is Love" in 2008; Charli Baltimore slowed it down for "Lose It" the same year; Heidi Montag of The Hills recycled the riff in 2009 for her not-so-much-a-hit "Body Language." But its source is a 1982 British synth-pop B-side.

Back then, keyboardist Vince Clarke, who'd been the main songwriter for Depeche Mode early on, had left that group and formed a new duo—known as Yazoo in the U.K. and Yaz in the U.S.—with singer Alison Moyet. Clarke wrote some of their songs, including their debut single, "Only You"; Moyet wrote others. One of the very few they wrote together, "Situation," was tucked away on the flip side of "Only You," and didn't even appear on the original version of their album Upstairs at Eric's.

Somehow, though, its combination of chilly machinery and torchy soul caught on with DJs. Re-released as a single of its own, "Situation" became a massive dance hit, and stayed that way. (It charted again when it was remixed in 1990, the year that MC Crown also released a hip-house variation on the song. Then Yaz/Yazoo's version got remixed again in 1999, and charted again. Perhaps it's stuck on a permanent ten-year loop.) Maybe one of the reasons it's as enduring as it is is that its lyrics are intensely evocative and also so vague it's easy to apply them to anything ("I remember only for an hour/Move right through me can you feel the power"). And maybe it's just that Clarke's riff really is pretty fantastic— simple enough that it's hard to shake, complicated enough that it's not quite obvious, voiced through a naggingly insistent synth tone.

It's a signifier of fun-in-the-club that's not tied to any particular era, pre-apocalyptic or post-. That's appropriate for what Snoop's up to in "Boom," trying to convince us that now might as well be 20 years ago: "ain't a damn thing changed/it's still a 'G' thang."

That goes double for T-Pain's hook on "Boom"—the "boom shakalaka" bit that gives the song its title. That's been common parlance for "somebody just did something awesome" for long enough that it seems like it could be just, you know, something that people say. (T-Pain's old "Low" recording pal Flo Rida supplied the hook of a Brianna track called "Boom Shacka" last year.)

Its current meaning seems to go back to 1993's NBA Jam arcade game, with which it's associated to the point where announcer Tim Kitzrow recorded a "don't you remember my awesome catchphrase?" video last year to plug the Wii remake of NBA Jam. That phrase was in the air that year: 1993 was also the year of Apache Indian's 1993 dancehall hit "Boom Shack-A-Lak," which has appeared in approximately every third commercial of the past 18 years.

So where did it come from? The popular etymology traces "boom shaka lacka" back to Sly and the Family Stone's 1969 funk-rock landmark "I Want to Take You Higher"—a song that's as much an everybody-party-now number as "Boom." But what the group was singing there was actually "boom lacka lacka lacka." (And it was "boom boom acka lacka lacka boom" in Was (Not Was)'s 1987 single "Walk the Dinosaur.")

The "shacka" appears to have turned up a little bit later than the Family Stone: in 1970, the year before Snoop Dogg was born, Hopeton Lewis had a Jamaican hit with "Boom Shacka Lacka." The phrase has kept its "sh" in various permutations, up through House of Pain's 1992 "Shamrocks and Shenanigans," Anjulie's 2008 "Boom," and now Snoop's own "Boom." Like the "Situation" riff, it means a party, and doesn't imply a time—and if Snoop is selling anything, it's the idea that the good times never end, that the G is eternal, that if you try to say anything different all anyone can hear is explosions and gibberish.