Canes In Black Music/Performances

The Notorious B.I.G. wearing a red leather jacket with his cane.

From early Blues to the boy bands of the eighties to Snoop Doggy Dog’s pimp outfit with a cane to the car accident of Biggie Smalls who turned his walking cane into part of his fashion wear that you see his music video of the song Hypnotize, walking canes have showed up in Black music. In this article I’ll look at how canes show up in Black music from poor Black Blues artists to the sexy street powerful and sexy pimp to the distinguished middle age Black man with a cigar and l’ll try to reconnect it to today’s Krip-Hop politics.

Walking canes have a long history in Black music from Blind Blues artists but most Black musicians who used walking canes as a sign of gangster/pimps like Snoop Dog to an image of Black sexy, high class men who are slow jammin making ladies to throw their clothes onto the stage like early Boys II Men didn’t have any physical disabilities…

Beyond Black music, canes shows up in Black Fraternity, like Kappa Alpha Ps. It’s known that members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity have always worn or carried canes since the beginning of the Fraternity in 1911. Although unintentional in its inception, this occurrence soon became an unofficial tradition of Kappa men, as Kappa’s have always strived to be noble and productive members of the community. In this case canes were used as seen as respectable and many resources said that “these old canes were decorative, objects to be admired and be proud of. They became collectors items and represented the true sign of a Gentleman.”

Knowing that stepping began in black fraternities in the late 1940s and the ’50s with members singing a cappella (without accompaniment) and often mimicking the choreographed steps of musical groups such as the Temptations and the Four Tops, we see the Black blind Blues artists who used canes way before Black fraternities with some blind Blues artists of the 1920s up to the 1950s but not all Black blind early artists for example in the February 16th/2016 article entitled, Ray Charles and Disability by Regan Shrumm of National Museum of American History makes this point in Ray Charles’ case:

“blind and visually impaired individuals’ use of a white cane had become standard by the 1930s, and in fact was a powerful symbol of independence for many, Charles refused to use the device. Charles affirmed, “Now it’s important that you understand that there were three things I never wanted to own when I was a kid: a dog, a cane, and a guitar. In my brain, they each meant blindness and helplessness.””

Beyond the Blues, I found out that on plantations Africans made up what was called Stick Dancing. Knowles, Mark makes this point in his 2002 article entitled Tap Roots: The Early History of Tap Dancing.

“Stick dance was a dance style that African–Americans developed on American plantations during the slavery era, where dancing was used to practice “military drills” among the slaves, where the stick used in the dance was in fact a disguised weapon.”

And the cane was also brought into the minstrel shows of the 19th-century theater, disappeared from the American stage in the early 1900s,the story started when Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice. Rice, a White struggling “actor” who was looking for a new act and came across a Black elderly disabled man in his neighborhood dancing sometimes with a cane. Thomas gave Jim Crow some money to learn his dances and bought his clothes with cane and all and brought it to the stage in 1828 under what was called The Minstrel Shows..

So we see that the cane in Black performance has a long history but let’s go back to the late 1980’s and 1990s when Black boy band I.e Boys II Men to Hip-Hop like Biggie Smalls and Snoop Doggy Dog took the cane into a new style thus made it fashionable among mainstream popular among non disabled audiences. From Wikipedia a-boy band is loosely defined as a vocal group consisting of young male singers, usually in their teenage years or in their twenties at the time of formation, singing love songs marketed towards girls. Many boy bands dance as well as sing, usually giving highly choreographed performances. K-pop groups usually also have designated rappers. It goes on to give certain time periods as follows:

“The popularity of boy bands has peaked three times: first in the 1960s to 70s (e.g., with the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds); the second time it peaked during the late 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s, when acts such as New Kids on the Block, Take That, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Boyzone, A1, O-Zone and Westlife dominated global pop charts; and last time in the 2010s up to the present, with the emergence of groups such as One Direction, The Wanted, Big Time Rush, The Vamps, Ballinciaga and K-pop acts such as BTS and Exo.”

It’s interesting that Wikipedia page mentioned mainly White Boy Bands and didn’t include Black Boy Bands except the Jackson Five like Boyz II Men, New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe,Blackstreet and Tony! Toni! Tone! to name a few and all of these Black Boys Bands went through a period that they all sported canes. Let’s get back to Hip-Hop and how Snoop Doggy Dog and Biggie turned the cane into a popular style in Hip-Hop.

Knowing that Hip-Hop was and still is an arena where hyper masculinity is the norm we can see why the cane from a pimp not a blind Blues musician was chosen to represent sexuality and power over women and at the same time the bling bling aspect. The pimp’s cane was a status symbol that went along with the clothes, money and cars. On the West coast the pimp in Hip -Hop went with one of the image of Gangster Hip-Hop and Snoop Doggy Dog took his pimp image from Iceberg Slim, also known as Robert Beck, was born in Chicago in 1918 and was initiated into the life of the pimp at age eighteen. From a 2015 article entitled, The Mark Twain of hip-hop: How Iceberg Slim’s “Pimp” changed pop culture by SCOTT TIMBERG it goes deep into Iceberg Slim’s life and the connection to Hip-Hop.

“Iceberg Slim also published several novels, including “Trick Baby,” made into a 1972 blaxploitation movie. Slim died in 1992, as the Los Angeles riots raged near his home, at the age of 73….. In terms of the stuff that comes after, he had a massive impact on hip hop in the early ‘80s. He’d put out a spoken word album in the late ‘70s, “Reflections.”

Hip hop was just starting to take off — this was the age of Grandmaster Flash and Run D.M.C. Ice-T was one of the newcomers on the scene — he took his name as an homage to Slim and created a lucrative career as a pioneering gangsta rapper. The same goes for Ice Cube: He also took his name from Iceberg Slim and was a big fan of the books. Jay Z, when he got his start, also referred to himself as Iceberg Slim, and Slim’s name comes up in a number of hip hop songs, by Notorious B.I.G., to Nas, to underground rappers”.

But it was Snoop Doggy Dog who had a slender built like Slim, came from the streets of LA and took that with the cane and made it his image in Hip-Hop and you also see this image on the east coast with Slick Rick but what makes Brooklyn Hip-Hop artist, Biggie Smalls different was the car accident that led to him using a cane that he latter turned it into a fashion image aka a personal experience with disability and the rest is history as they say. Like in Hip-Hop Biggie turn his car accident and a cane into something positive aka bling bling. This is what Krip-Hop Nation is doing first picking out disability images from Blues to Hip-Hop to make aware that people with disabilities or a disability image has always been there so we are writing it back into music history with a 2022 Krip-Hop politics.

Follow by Email