The Origins Of The Harlem Shake Dance Precede Baauer Viral Videos

Billy Johnson, Jr.
Hip-Hop Media Training (NEW)

Diddy is truly a marketing genius. More than 10 years after the Harlem Shake dance premiered in a music video from an artist on his Bad Boy label, the dance re-emerges in a new form.

These days, up-and-coming producer Baauer is getting all the credit for the craze. His EDM song “Harlem Shake” broke a record this week, debuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

Though the song was released last May, the recent popularity of the dance is fueled by a parody video featuring comedian Filthy Frank doing his impression. Frank’s Feb. 2 video sparked tons of copycats and millions of plays.

But it is the video for G. Dep’s 2001 song “Let’s Get It” that first gained widespread notoriety for the moves. The Little X-directed clip features scenes with children who had mastered the routine. The response to the dance was well received, and it appeared in the Harlem-bred artist’s follow up, “Special Delivery.”

The dance caught on and was also worked into the choreography for Eve’s “Who’s That Girl,” Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s “Dilemma,” Bow Wow’s “Take Ya Home,” and DJ Webstar’s “Chicken Noodle Soup.”

Though G. Dep helped bring attention to the dance, he is not responsible for putting it on the map. The origins and Harlem connection have been attributed to man named Al B.

In a 2003 interview with, Al B said he started doing the dance in 1981. “It’s a drunken shake,” he said. “It’s an alcoholic shake, but it’s fantastic, everybody loves it and everybody appreciates it, and it’s glowing with glory.”

Though Baauer briefly lived in Harlem, the song was partly inspired by a lyric from Philadelphia rapper Plastic Little’s 2001 track “Miller Time.”

“A friend had shown me that track where he says, ‘then do the Harlem shake,' and it just got stuck in my head for a while, so I used it,’” Baauer told The Daily Beast.

Harlem residents featured in the short “Harlem Reacts to ‘Harlem Shake’ Videos,” are offended by the recent upsurge of viral videos, calling them a mockery.

“No that’s not the Harlem shake,” says one woman standing down the street from the historic Apollo Theater. “They’re basically taking what we do and our dances and making a joke of it,” a man adds.

But this movement is now bigger than Harlem. It's the biggest thing to hit the Internet since Psy's "Gangnam Style."

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