The "hype man" has always been an essential element to the hip hop show. I mean, let's face it, the emcee has simply too much to do when it comes to spitting his lines live on stage. Studio work has become just a game of punch-ins, but live, dudes run outta energy fast! For that reason, the hype man has become a common figure in live hip hop shows. Sometimes they're mad corny and annoying, while at other times, they fit perfect with the set, do their job and everyone has a good time. The difference between a good hype man and a bad one, though, is like night and day. I'll explain.
The best hype men are like good drummers: their contributions to the performance are evident, but not overpowering. They simply be. They don't under-be or over-be, they just do their thing. Firstly, let's look at an example of a really bad hype man. This would be MF Doom's (eh, not really Doom) hype man at Rock the Bells. Perhaps you heard that he sent an imposter to do the shows for him while he worked in the studio. Slick, but not slick enough for 1:21 of this video where "Doom" pulls the mic away from the face but magically projects his voice still through the mic. Amazing. Let's say, however, that it is Doom. Watch the hype man here. He's horrible. Just watch and then we'll teach, learn and discuss.
Firstly, this moron takes the job description a little too literally in his ability to "hype" the crowd up. What he does is instantly makes himself an object of blistering annoyance. No one likes being bossed around and especially when you shell out good money to see the performance. Despite that, ol' boy, just yells at these cats. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! Clap with me, c'mon, c'mon. Keep 'em up! Keep 'em up!" What the hell!? I'm clapping, but then you want me to throw them up in the air? Do you want me to clap my hands above my head? Perhaps you should be more explicit in your instructions. Then he litters the entire performance with Ric Flair "whoos!" and "yeahs!" I also don't understand the "up" and then "down" instruction. Why, at any show, would you instruct the audience to put their hands down. It ain't cute--it's stupid. And it makes absolutely no sense at all. And, under no circumstances, do you grunt, yell or bark over the emcee coming out of a chorus. Second verse, ol' boy is louder than "Doom" and he's saying nothing. This is a performance I would skip. Whatta nightmare. My head hurts just watching it.
Now, watch a real vet do it. Eyedea from Rhymesayers camp (in white shirt here) executes a perfect "hyping" with the "back-and-forth" technique, here using, "When I say 'atmos', ya'll say 'sphere,'" and then ducks out, quickly retreating the "last word" technique where you, essentially, only recite the rhyming words or phrases. It keeps the emcee (here Slug from Atmosphere) stay on track and also allows him the necessary moment to catch his breath. Eyedea also provides all the over-the-top hand and arm movements that might be difficult for Slug to sometimes achieve considering his intricate lyrics. Then at about the sixth minute, during the common medley portion of the show, Eyedea is provided his opportunity to shine. He moves only when permitted to by Slug. He also helps in the transition between songs with head-bobbing and the "hook arm" movement which basically begs the crowd to "get wit it" or "c'mon."
Eyedea's a vet. In fact, also notable is Crescent Moon of Oddjobs who, in the earlier touring career of Atmosphere, was a mainstay on the Rhymesayers stage. Along with all of the basic movements (featuring one of the very greatest "hook arms" in the game--dude could get 5,000 heads to bounce to "Blowin' in the Wind" with his hook), he also posesses incredible facial expressions--most typically the "That's so dope. I can't believe it, can you?" look. See below to the left of Jimmy Kimmel. He positions himself next to the emcee and during a portion of the set, he acts "stunned" or "shocked" by his counterparts abilities and then gives the same look to the crowd at which point the crowd will react with a similiar "whoa." Crescent, you the best.There are a few names that are synonomous with the words "hype man." First is the obvious Flavor Flav of Public Enemy. Certainly, you're familiar with him and his exploits. And then, one that can never be overlooked is the great Sen Dog of Cypress Hill. He's the perfect compliment to B-Real's flow. What you'll see in the following video is Cypress setting up their superhit, "Hits from the Bong." At this point in the program, they invite a patron from the audience to come up and do just that with Cypress Hill. They're in Amsterdam so to suggest that anyone needs any additional mind-altering drugs is a little silly, but regardless, it's ritual at a Cypress Hill show. They invite up a kid named "Ryan"--obviously American because of his coarse language, his baggy drawers and his swagger--making us proud overseas. Thanks, Ryan. An interesting occurance happens when Eric Bobo, son to the great percussionist Willie Bobo, brings out "King Arthur," and B-Real brings out Ryan. Ryan begins bouncing around the stage acting like a stoned-out moron and, after making his very suitable and appropriate introduction, Sen Dog puts him in his place. You'll hear Sen Dog say very audibly, "Yo, buttcheeks!" Sen is remembering the very important rule of never letting anyone upstage yo boy on stage. So he resorts to insultive and abusive behavior to degrade the guest and then you'll later see Sen toss the kid back into the crowd--discarding him like a piece of garbage. And Sen rocks a chorus like no one else. Dude is a beast of a hype man and not a guy you want to mess with.
So, kiddies, what did we learn today? Well, there's four simple rules that act as the foundation for a good hype man. They are this:
1) Know your role. No one's there to see you. They might cheer when they see you, but that's only because they think you're the head emcee (unless you're Sen Dog and Eyedea, of course). You want to get the crowd going, but not run them off. You will need to become an annoyance because, then, it gives the head emcee value as the "hero" coming to save the crowd from your atrocious stage presence. Take about three minutes of time to welcome the crowd, do a little "back-and-forth" with them to make sure they're blood is pumping, introduce head emcee and then disappear into the background.
2) You help with respiration. Know the material being recited so you can step in and take phrase or two to help yo boy with breathing. Emceeing is hard business and you don't have the bulk of the material so, sit back, watch him and know when to come in. If you stand back and watch him do the whole song, he's gonna fall flat on his face and die from suffocation. You don't want that because the riot will come for you.
3) The crowd is you're job. Whether it's tossing "Ryan's" off the stage and getting them away from away from the commodity, hooking them in with your charisma and wildy arm motions or distributing free goods into the crowd (CDs, t-shirts, water), you have the unfortunate job of manning the crowd. It can be 50 people or 5,000, but they are you're duty. You keep them happy so they can, in turn, enjoy your set. If they're not feeling it, you might have to go into recovery mode and begin juggling, but it's your responsibility.
4) Never move in front of or yell over the lead. It's the performance equivalent of the "block." You're "Goose" to his "Maverick." You sit back and facilitate his experience. Make sure your boy is hooking up with the ladies, making the connections with crowd, selling the albums and t-shirts, but never move in front of him on stage and never interrupt him mid-lyric, unless of course, he invites you to. Remember "wingman."