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Ghost-Riding: Brake-Dancing With Zip Under the Hood

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It might be the youth trend that most clearly epitomizes an age of exhibitionism. All the elements are there: Cars, music, dancing and the potential to make parents very angry -- plus, it's a spectacle tailor-made for taping and posting on the Web.

"Ghost-riding the whip," as it's known, has swept from its origins in San Francisco's East Bay to much of the rest of the country, propelled by a pair of hip-hop songs that celebrate this exceptionally dangerous regional tradition.

To ghost-ride, the driver climbs out of the car while it's moving at low speed. The ghost-rider then busts a move around and on top of the vehicle, usually accompanied by a thumping soundtrack from the car (or "whip," in urban slang). What they're attempting is to make the dance steps as gaudy and elaborate as possible and to stay outside the car as long as possible. It's all about self-expression. Or possibly cheap thrills. Or maybe the ever-popular youthful flirtation with bone-breaking, brain-damaging injury. A young man in Stockton, Calif., for example, died this month when he hit his head on a parked car while attempting what police said was a ghost-riding maneuver, according to news reports.

Spokesmen for the District of Columbia police and several Virginia and Maryland police jurisdictions say they have seen little or no ghost-riding in their jurisdictions.

Ghost-riding videos are all over the Web, displaying a vast array of dance styles and vehicles. On YouTube, the most popular video-sharing site, clips abound of young people climbing out of cars, trucks and minivans, dancing frantically on hoods, trunks and even roofs.

"It's a fantastic waste of time, and it's really funny," says Andy Shields, a college student from the Chicago area who tried ghost-riding with some classmates this month. The stunt was in an empty school parking lot in Casey, Ill., during a recent road trip. As a buddy rolled tape, Shields car-surfed at about 3 mph atop a friend's Chevy Suburban.

Shields enjoyed the ride so much he's hoping to repeat it -- on a combine or a cement mixer.

Although such antics probably began with the invention of the automobile, ghost-riding seems to have sprung from Oakland's "hyphy" movement, a hip-hop style with its own slang, fashion and car culture. Dating back to at least the 1980s, young people on Oakland's tough east side have been staging impromptu car rallies, or "sideshows." During these meetings, drivers show off by ghost-riding, cutting figure-eights or performing other driving tricks, such as "gas-brake dipping" -- lurching along by alternately mashing the gas and brake pedals.

Hyphy (derived from "hyperactive") is also bass-heavy hip-hop music that celebrates things such as "thizz" (the drug Ecstasy); "scrapers," which are large, late-'80s domestic makes like Buick LeSabres and Oldsmobile Cutlasses; and oversize sunglasses, called "stunner shades."

All of that is referenced in the hyphy anthem, "Tell Me When to Go," by the Oakland rapper E-40 (sample printable lyric: "Ghost-ride the whip / Now . . . Scrape / Put your stunna shades on / Now . . . Gas, brake, dip, dip"). The song was on the album "My Ghetto Report Card," which topped Billboard's R&B and hip-hop chart this year.

Another variation on the theme is "Ghost Ride It," released last summer by Mistah F.A.B. The song samples bits of Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" while F.A.B. raps, "Ghost ride, ghost ride / Get out the way and let Casper drive / Ghost ride, go crazy / Who that drivin'? Patrick Swayze!" (Casper, of course, is the friendly ghost, while Swayze starred in the 1990 movie "Ghost.")

F.A.B. (real name: Stanley Cox) says in an interview that he first saw people ghost-riding about 10 years ago in Oakland's "Ghosttown" section ( where he thinks the name might have originated). "It's something that's popular in the streets," the 24-year-old says. "Rappers are like news reporters. We just talk about what's going on in the streets." However, ghost-riding is illegal and potentially lethal. "It's about the stupidest and most dangerous thing you can do with a car, other than driving drunk," says John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "It's just suicidal." Since an unattended moving vehicle can become an unguided missile, Townsend says, ghost-riding jeopardizes not just the car's driver but also the lives of other drivers and pedestrians.

Things can get out of control. Just ask the guy in one YouTube video who ghost-rode his red pickup truck down a suburban street -- and right into a telephone pole. Or ask Mistah F.A.B., who, while shooting the soon-to-be-released video for "Ghost Ride It," tumbled off his car and rolled on the pavement. He suffered only minor injuries.

"It's fun, it's an adrenaline rush," he says, "but I won't lie to you or sugarcoat it. It's dangerous. I've seen a lot of bad stuff happen. Definitely, do not try this at home."

Staff writers Maria Glod, Nelson Hernandez and Allison Klein contributed to this report.

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