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From Local to Universal: “What Up Doe?”, The Origin of a Classic Catchphrase

What Up Doe

If you are from Detroit and are in your mid-40s or younger, it was probably the first slang phrase you ever learned:

“What Up Doe?!”

If you are from outside of the Land of Mile Roads, you have probably heard the expression somewhere before. Ever wonder where it came from?

“What Up Doe?” is recognized on the website, http://www.UrbanDictionary.com, and defined as “a greeting amongst people in an urban setting. It can be used in several ways; it can express friendship, anger, or be used as a question. It is used extensively in the upper east of the Midwest, especially Detroit.”

A twist on the common “What’s Up?”, “What Up Doe?” became popular in the mid-’80s. Detroit transplant, Jae Barber, manager of rapper elZhi and producer Karriem Riggins, currently resides in Los Angeles traces it back: “’What Up Doe?’ initially was the way that drug dealers greeted each other because “dough” meant money, and they were making a lot of it. It’s a phrase my older cousins used a lot back then. Younger kids like me, took it, and ran with it.”

Detroit-based rapper, actor, and film director, Al Nuke, explains, “To my knowledge, ‘What Up Doe?’ emerged in 1983, and it had a lot to do with the Pony Down gang. AWOL was the first Detroit rap group to have a single called “What Up Doe?” which did well on the radio. It was a street code at first and then they burst it as Detroit lingo on a record. They made it a cool thing to say for everybody. Now, it is just the standard Detroit greeting.”

In the 1980s, Detroit gained notoriety as a murder capital and a major drug market, with criminal organizations like The Chambers Brothers, Young Boys, Inc., and later Black Mafia Family (BMF). Through their presence in Atlanta in the ’90s, BMF unknowingly introduced the signature phrase to mainstream rappers like Young Jeezy, whose usage has helped make the phrase universal.

Detroit rapper Tone-Tone memorialized the phrase on record – his song, “What Up Doe?” became a local classic. The film, 8 Mile, which is nearing its decade anniversary, further propelled the universality of the phrase as nearly every character used it incessantly.

Artist manager and AllHipHop.com contributor, Hexmurda sums it up best. “What up doe can mean a few different things. It can be a greeting, a challenge, or a phrase used to determine one’s origin or residency,” says Hexmurda. “It depends on the situation and voice inflection. Whenever a Detroiter hears that, wherever they may be, they know home isn’t that far away.”

Biba Adams is a Senior Staff Writer for AllHipHop.com, and a native Detroiter living in Atlanta. Tell her “What Up Doe,” on Twitter (@BibatheDiva), and send her your “Local to Universal” phrases from your hometown – it might make the site. 

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