Wordy Rappinghood

Album: Tom Tom Club (1981)
Charted: 7
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Songfacts®:

  • This was the first song recorded by the Tom Tom Club, and also their first single. The group is a collective led by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, who are the bass player and drummer of Talking Heads. Chris Blackwell of Island Records arranged the recording session - he was familiar with Weymouth and Frantz because he had passed on signing Talking Heads.

    Blackwell brought them to his Compass Point studios in Nassau and had them cut a single on the premise that if he liked it, they could do a whole album. After three days of recording and mixing, the band emerged with "Wordy Rappinghood," and Blackwell loved it. He commissioned the full album and released "Wordy" in Europe and Latin America, where it had considerable success. The group's deal with Island didn't extend to America, so this song was not issued as a single there. In the US, the first Tom Tom Club release was "Genius Of Love."
  • This song was released a few months after Blondie's "Rapture," which was the first big hit to feature a rap. Like "Wordy Rappinghood," it was rapped by a white female vocalist and beared little resemblance to the rap that was emerging from the New York City block parties.

    Blondie and Tom Tom Club got some blowback from the CBGB's crowd for these songs, but were largely embraced by the hip-hop community, which saw how they were legitimizing the genre and pushing it forward. At the time, hip-hop was much more about the beats (typically played by a DJ) than the vocals, so any deficiencies in Debbie Harry and Tina Weymouth's flows were overlooked. An important distinction is that most rap music at the time was created by sampling and looping existing beats, but "Rapture" and "Wordy" had original music.

    Neither act knew the other was working on a rap song - Blondie was recording theirs in New York while Tom Tom Club was busy in the Bahamas.
  • Like "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" by The Police and "Words" by Missing Persons, this song questions the true value of words and shows how they can be manipulated.

    Tom Tom Club's music is based on grooves, so they lyric was written to support the beat. The result was a brilliant kind of gibberish, perhaps making the point that words can be so deceptive that it can be best to ignore them. The song opens with the sound of a frantic typewriter, which implies that these words are being generated stream-of-conscious.
  • This was one of the first rap songs released by a major label. The decision to rap on it was driven by a few factors:

    1) The group didn't have any trained singers, but Tina Weymouth could do a passable rap by 1981 standards.

    2) Weymouth and Frantz were big fans of the burgeoning hip-hop scene, and created a rhythm for this song that fit the rap framework.

    3) The song has a distinctive reggae feel, and many reggae songs employ a "toaster," who essentially raps over the beat. Chris Blackwell, who signed the group, did so in part because of their reggae influence - Blackwell is largely responsible for Bob Marley's American success.
  • The songwriting credits on this one go to group leaders Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, along with Steven Stanley and Weymouth's sisters Laura and Lani. Stanley was the co-producer and engineer on the album; Laura and Lani were backup singers in the group.
  • The famous reggae producer Lee Perry was originally lined up to produce this. However he had had a run-in with Chris Blackwell, and he didn't show up. Instead they worked with a young Jamaican engineer named Steven Stanley, who went on to have a successful career which included composing the famous beat from Mariah Carey's "Fantasy."

    Chris Frantz credits Stanley for helping create a sound on this track that garnered international appeal. "Stevie wasn't just thinking about what would be hot in Jamaica, he was thinking about the whole world," Frantz told Songfacts.
  • While "Genius Of Love" and "Under The Boardwalk" are Tom Tom Club's best known songs in America, this is their most recognized one in Europe.
  • Tina Weymouth told Barnes and Noble: "When we did 'Wordy Rappinghood,' we didn't really know what we were doing. I think a lot of people thought Chris and I were going to do something really self-indulgent, and David [Byrne] and Jerry [Harrison] were going to do something more legitimate. It's like finding a successful mutation."
  • The song is sometimes listed as "(You Don't Stop) Wordy Rappinghood."
  • Tina Weymouth raps a few lines of this song in broken French:

    Mots pressés, Mots sensés
    Mots qui disent la verité Mots maudits, Mots mentis
    Mots qui manquent le fruit d'esprit


    This roughly translates to:

    Rushed words, sensible words
    Words that tell the truth, cursed words, lying words
    Words missing the fruit of spirit


    In 1977, David Byrne used a similar French interlude in the Talking Heads song "Psycho Killer."
  • Common sampled this for his 2002 song "New Wave."

Comments: 2

  • Nelson from Melbourne"Chicks On Speed" did a cover of this in 2003. They did it well, very fun, check out the film clip on youtube, very enjoyable!
  • Mark from London, EnglandThe flip is a largely instrumental remake of teh A-side.
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