“Remember Rappin’ Duke? Da-ha, da-ha You never thought that Hip-Hop would take it this far…” – The Notorious B.I.G. on “Juicy”
Way back in 1984, when Hip-Hop was still a young genre, The “Rappin’ Duke” emerged as one of the most popular in a cast of characters the fledgling genre had to offer. Shawn Brown gained prominence in the mid-1980s with his releases under this hilarious alias. One of his most notable tracks was the 1984 Hip-Hop novelty classic titled “Rappin’ Duke,” which was later immortalized by the late, great Notorious B.I.G. The song’s concept revolves around the idea that the late actor John Wayne, also known as “The Duke,” is a rapper.
By the time the song hit, Wayne had passed away (1979) By adopting Wayne’s persona, The Rappin’ Duke parodies the essences of rap at the time -bragging and boasting about how bad you are. He also spoke of his superior rhymes and flow compared to some of the greats like Run DMC and Kurtis Blow. Even though it was meant as humor, Russell Simmons didn’t find it funny.
Brown, a comedian at the time, talks all about the trials he has faced as a self-proclaimed “one-hit wonder” and what happened when he tried to bury his alter ego once and for all. He has Biggie to thanks. This is first interview he’s ever done. Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur talks to him about his hilarious time with Muhammad Ali, the Goat, Stevie Wonder, New Edition and touring with the best of the best in Hip-Hop at the time. He also talks about making no money off of his top charting hit record, “Rappin’ Duke.”
The Rappin’ Duke parodied the bragging style of the time, where most rappers boasted about their superior rhymes and flow. For example, he raps, “So ya think you’re bad with your rap? / Well I’ll tell ya, pilgrim, I started the crap. / When you were in diapers and wetting the sheets, / I was at the Ponderosa, rappin’ to the beat.” Throughout the song, the refrain “dah-ha, dah-ha” is repeated, mimicking Wayne’s distinctive laughter and set to a slow beat. Biggie would infamously mention that hook in “Juicy” 10 years later.
“Rappin’ Duke” gained significant airplay in 1985, reaching its peak at number 73 on the 1985 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Billboard chart. It also charted on the Hot Dance Music/M###-Singles Sales for 1985. The success of the song opened doors for Shawn Brown, leading him to perform as an opening act for artists such as Bobby Brown and Stevie Wonder during their tours in 1985 and 1986.
Today, especially on social media, people continue to pay homage to Brown and his character. These were the tracks that ignited the Hip-Hop revolution, pushing it through to 50 years. Brown now devotes his life to helping youth and educators relate to young people.