Forgive me for using the term “movement,” but I must. Every couple of years or so, a movement sweeps across Hip Hop, attempting to add a twist to the sometimes stagnant genre. Throughout the years we’ve had Crunk, Hyphy, Snap, and Bounce, just to name a few. While some of these have found a long lasting niche in the Hip Hop community, others have dwindled and faded into obscurity.
In 2008, a genre known as “Jerk” burst onto the Los Angeles scene, starting in street dance ciphers and eventually escalating to infamy on the World Wide Web. What separates Jerkin’ from many of the sub-genres mentioned in the above list, is that there’s a greater cultural significance to its art form. Fueled by teenagers, Jerkin’ is a lifestyle that transcends music; listeners are obligated to learn an array of dance steps that resemble the Crip Walk combined with starter breakdance moves gone haywire. They wear skinny jeans, loud colors, striped hoodies, and the omnipresent Chuck Taylors (Nikes are sometimes a substitute). In fact, the music typically defined as Jerk did not emerge until after the dance had rose to underground prominence. In an in-depth piece on the emerging Jerk culture, The Los Angeles Times attests, “What is certain is that the dance style known as jerkin’ predated actual jerk music, and that before L.A. artists began making music specifically to jerk to, the usual soundtrack was hyphy.“ This is particularly unique because most dances fit a certain form of music, not vice versa. Thus, it is not a surprise that Jerkin’ is such an anomaly to those outside the growing L.A. scene.
While some of us are reluctant to type “jerkin’” into Google or YouTube for one reason or another, others aren’t. The culture of Jerkin’ has undoubtedly spread through the Internet. Currently there is an endless array of dance crew videos and “how to” videos centering on Jerkin, garnering a substantial amount of traffic. One of the most notable Jerk crews, The Ranger$, have received nearly 9 million hits for a video of the crew dancing around their neighborhood. Four weeks ago, The Ranger$ released their sophomore album, The Takeover, through the California independent label, RBC Records. Without any promotion behind the album, it has managed to soar on iTunes pre-order charts. So is Jerkin’ an underground commodity or a global phenomenon?
If you were to pick ten people at random who considered themselves immersed in the Jerkin’ culture, and asked, ‘who originated Jerk music,’ chances are you’d end up with an array of answers. The New Boyz, whose popularity has grown day-in and day-out, are often credited with spreading the word about Jerkin’ with their viral sensation “You’re A Jerk.” With barely any promotion backing their 2009 corresponding debut album, Skinny Jeanz And A Mic, it debuted at #56 on the Billboard 200. In fact, The New York Times declared Skinny Jeanz the #6 album of 2009. With press coverage like that, it’s hard to believe Jerkin’ is still heavily confined to the L.A. area.
The Rej3ctz dispute that the New Boyz invented Jerkin’ and go as far as to claim that they have created a whole new dance style titled….The Rej3ct. According to the L.A. Times, “They all started off clowning and krumping — krumping being the last major dance style to emerge from Los Angeles, though its success was limited because it wasn’t tied to any specific style of music. They briefly appeared in David LaChapelle’s ‘Rize,’ the 2005 documentary about those forms of dance, and during the making of the film, choreographers Tone and Rich Talauega showed a dance style out of Chicago called footwork. Rej3ctz explain that their take on footwork became the reject, or the reject stomp.” Last year, Warner/Arista signed the group. Since then, the Rej3ctz have lent their moves to Chris Brown, who helped the trio film a promo video for their single “Cat Daddy.” Soon after, the crew was invited to open for Brown on his West Coast tour dates.
Despite the New Boyz and Rej3ctz laying claim to the invention of Jerkin’, those deep in the L.A. scene hold true that Audio Push was the first to make a song about Jerkin.’ Their viral sensation “Teach Me How to Jerk” has garnered nearly 10 million views as of press time. Wes Nile is another prominent West Coast act who is often credited with the increasing popularity of Jerkin’. In fact, he is often cited as progressing the spread of skinny jeans throughout the culture. Y.G., a Compton rapper loosely associated with Jerkin’ inked a hefty recording contract with Def Jam last year. Although his songs are constructed in a manner more familiar to the average radio listener, his core following is from the jerkin’ movement.
Jerk music is typically produced in-house using programs such as FruityLoops amongst others capable of running Auto-Tune. Comprised of 808 drum loops, snaps, thumping bass, and repetitively chopped vocal samples, Jerk music is as playful as it is head-nodding. The lyrics are relatively true to traditional Hip Hop; scandalous and provocative, while some groups are more lyrical than others. There are actually female Jerkin’ groups, including Vixxen Ent! And Pink Dollaz, both of whom are equally as indulgent to profanity as their male counterparts. Once again Jerkin’ differentiates itself from various genres in the sense that it is youth-driven. While the style itself is young, so are its creators. A majority of Jerk artists became prominent members of the community before their eighteenth birthdays. The Kream Kidz, which consists of the 11 year-old Rodney Nelms and Ben J of the New Boyz 5 year-old brother, frequently appear on stage with the Boyz during their live sets. In addition, acts such as New Boyz and The Ranger$ don’t limit their performances to mainstream venues. They are known to play auditoriums and high schools across California. Moves like these assure critics that Jerkin’ will continue to grow rather than disappear like so many fads.
So why is Jerkin’ succeeding? While still in high school, Ben J and Legacy of New Boyz became part of a clique of gangsta rap enthusiasts. However, the Boyz quickly learned that this music had lost the mass appeal it once had. Nearly two years ago, “the two split off and decided to make music that they thought girls would like. ‘They buy music and men just listen,’” explained Ben. While Jerkin’s initial road to stardom was paved with cultural significance, its growth has been the product of conscious commercialization. It’s similar to the spin-off of Hip Hop into Rap. Although L.A. radio stations rarely give shine to artists rising out of the Jerk subculture, these artists have managed to bypass the traditional marketplace and meet their target consumers through platforms such as YouTube and social networks. It’s no wonder that videos of people jerkin’ in New York to New Orleans has emerged on YouTube. In an attempt to stay relevant, Myspace has teamed with former NBC co-chair and InterActiveCorp part-owner Ben Silverman, to launch a new interactive web series entitled, “Jerk All-Stars.” Through the social network, users can submit videos of themselves Jerkin’ and a panel of judges selected by Myspace, Electus and Sprite will choose ten dance crews to compete in a 14-week series (“Jerk All-Stars” kicks off November 30th). With Jerkin’ quickly gaining interest as a commercially viable entity, it’s likely that we’ll see more artists emerging from this genre in the near future; the only question is who will stick around?