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Kickin' The Bobos, Nomean?

By Esther Iverem
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 29, 1998

  Style Showcase

    Nomsayin? The Goodie Mob, from left: Cee-Lo, T-Mo, Big Gipp and Khujo. (LaFace records)
If you're down with hip-hop, you might know the word "jiggy." (jig' e) adj. 1. stylish, with flair, fly. 2. loose, with abandon. Even if you're not a rap fan, you might've heard it on "Seinfeld," of all places.

But chances are you don't know "jainky." (jan' ke) adj. Pertaining to something or somebody who's not right. Doesn't look or smell good; shady (e.g., "Buddy 'nem be doin' some jainky stuff.")

Khujo, a member of the Atlanta-based rap group Goodie Mob, is sure that you don't know "jainky" or any other Atlanta slang. So he defines it and several other current expressions in what he calls "Khujo's Slumtionary," included in the group's new album, "Still Standing."

"This is some of the country talk we got down here," he says. "That's the type of vocabulary being tossed around Atlanta right now. It's just another way of Atlanta, GA, trying to be different from everybody else."

Hip-hop slang is the melding of creativity, improvisation and resourcefulness. It doesn't cost anything to make it or take it. It is the ultimate public art. In a world that boasts of being fast-moving and high-tech, it consistently stays a step ahead.

Now that there is less of a leap between being local and global, and cutting-edge trends quickly become mainstream, you might think that regional slang would fizzle out and die, kind of like a neighborhood drugstore overwhelmed by Wal-Mart. There are hip-hop expressions from hit records like "jiggy," "jomblais" (exceptionally fine), "What's the dealio?" and "no doubt" that go national. But listening to particular speech patterns of each hood/city/region is like listening to something raw, unrefined, uncommercialized – and perhaps undiscovered beyond a particular dance floor. Hip-hop's local linguistic wizards manage with astonishing consistency to create, alter and recycle speech to make it phat/all that/no joke.

Take D.C., for example. Here, everybody might be referred to as Joe, Young or Youngin, a man might call his female companion his "bun" and anyone sort of country-acting is called a "bama." Instead of asking, "Whatchu wanna do?" people ask, "How you wanna carry it?" When you want to extol the virtues of something, you say the thing is "vicious," "crucial" or "is like that." ("Method Man's rhymes is like that," offers Poochman, a member of the Live Squad trio of hip-hop disc jockeys on WKYS-FM.)

"The language is constantly evolving," says John Forte, a member of the Fugees. "You could be saying the same thing for 10 years in your raps as long as you change the slang."

From Miami to Oakland, everybody has their own thang. But a warning: This creative expression has a limited shelf life. (Best if used before 1999.) On the subject of things moldy, a young L.A. rapper advises that you must avoid using '80s slang like "def," "fresh" or "hype." Avoid at all costs Kurtis Blow linguistics from the early days of hip-hop.


Swell up: "That's when you pump up in an argument, in a disagreement between two people. You get tough on them," says A.K., a member of the rap group Do or Die, which is riding the rap charts with "Still Po' Pimpin'." "You're in their face and that could be either verbally or physically" (e.g., "Jason is always swelling up after he drinks").

"Slang comes straight from the street," says A.K., who grew up on the West Side of Chicago. "A lot of words are said nationwide on radio, so that gives them a chance to stretch out. But if it's not said radio-wide, then it stays in one area." He offers other expressions that he feels are unique to his city:

Get little: " 'Get little' means when trouble comes, you outta there, you little," he says. "You know how it is when someone goes in the distance, going around the corner, they get little." (From the album: "I was in an area that I didn't know/ So I had to get little/ So I get low." Or "I had to get little because they'll swell up on you.")

It's been one means that it's over, done, finished. (From the intro to the album: "Even with these lethal people, they'll send one. But with these lethal weapons, it's been one.")

Kickin' the bobos means conversation. (As A.K. says, "I'm just laying back, kickin' the bobos.")


Say word: " 'Say word' is one of the biggest terms," says Forte, who grew up in the Brownsville section. It is a stronger expression of the former term, "word."

"Once you say, 'Say word!' it emphasizes that what you're saying is absolutely true and there is no fabrication whatsoever," he explains.

"Reggie's wife left him for a woman."

"A woman?"

"Say word!"

You heard? means "Did you hear me?" It emphasizes something you just said. (Forte says: "There's a hot party going on at such-and-such club. Nobody's commenting on what you said, so you say, 'You heard?' ")


True to that is a response of affirmation to something someone has said. "The Fugees really kicked it out at the show tonight."

"True to that."

That's what's up is a response to register recognition of something someone has said.

"Dubman just got a fat raise on his job."

"Well, that's what's up."

The jawn (as in "joint"), a description of something exceptionally fine. ("That car is the jawn.")

Nomean? The street pronunciation for "Do you know what I mean?" It is usually used to reinforce a statement just made and is a variation of the mainstay "nomsayin?"


Off the hizzies: Wildly wonderful. Really great. Replaces "off the hook (e.g., "The party is off the hizzies," says Luther Campbell of Luke Records). He also offers these:

Scarred is also a positive description (e.g., from Luke, "Aw, girl, that hairdo is scarred").

Janet Reno is a verb meaning to prosecute, bring charges against someone, particularly for child support evasion (e.g., "I'm gonna Janet Reno you, [expletive]").

Bumped your head means you have taken leave of your senses (e.g., "Girl, you done bumped your head. You better sit down somewhere," Campbell says).


Thowed off (as in "throwed off"). Derailed, crazy (e.g., "That man is just thowed off").

Hunh! An expression of supportive exclamation (e.g., "Somebody will say, 'Man, that movie was real tight,' and I'll be, like, 'Hunh!' " says Devin the Dude, a Houston area rapper).

Crunk: Exciting (e.g., "Man, I'm going back to the Jamaica Jamaica club because last week it was crunk"). Devin thinks the word comes from the term "crank": "I guess when you crank up something and get it going, it just keep going and going. It's crunk."

Come Thu: To pass by in grand style. "If you came down the block with your car shining and new expensive rims, people would be like, 'Did you see the way that boy came thu?" says Devin.

Los Angeles

What's Crackelating? "It's like saying, 'What's up? What you got cracking? What you working with today?' " says Dante, a member of the rap group Menace Clan who grew up in South Central.

Speak on it: "That's like saying, 'Don't be afraid to say what's on your mind,' " Dante says.

Cheez Whiz: Another variation of dairy products (or imitation dairy in this case) used as a description for money – heard in other cities as "cheese," "cream" or "cheddar."


Courtesy of Yukmouth of the Luniz:

Dank, greenery, sticky green, broccoli, kryptonite and canade are all various types and potencies of marijuana or "weed."

Scrilla means money.

Pimpidoo is an adjective referring to men who wear perms and the flashy clothes associated with pimps.

Po Po Penelope: – Police.


Khujo says his Slumtionary is right on time and current.

Off-brand frap is a combination of two slang terms: "frap," a way to curse without cursing ("Boy, I really frapped that up"), and "off-brand," an insulting characterization of someone's social status, similar to a no-name or generic brand in a store. Khujo said he first heard the expression when a bouncer cleared a crowd out of Goodie Mob's dressing room. ("Okay, all y'all off-brand [folks] gonna have to leave up outta here.") But the two words are combined to mean, according to the Slumtionary, "a lame girl" (e.g., "This off-brand frap tried to sneak into VIP and got thrown out").

Hotel 254 refers to Atlanta's pretrial detention center. "That's actually the numerical address," he says. "It's just like a little Roach Motel. You check in but you don't check out."

4:30 p.m. means (for whatever obscure reason) that things are not going your way (e.g., "That was 4:30 how you left me at the party with Buddy 'nem").

No dis or no dat means something has been confirmed (e.g., "I'm gon' be a millionaire by age 30. No dat!").

According to Khujo, a lot of people are trying to bite off – copy – Atlanta style. But Atlanta speech, by his reckoning, is about the only thing the rest of the country can't steal.

"This is the only thing we have that they can't copy," he says. "We gotta come up with a mixture of country and slum which you can only find in – "


"Yeah, Atlanta," he says. "But you find a lot of country people in New York, too!"

No doubt.

True to that.

Say word!


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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