The Unlikely History of Rap's Oldest Cliché

Apr 30, 2014 at 4:07 am
Who is he, and why is he here? - YouTube Screen Capture
YouTube Screen Capture
Who is he, and why is he here?

We've all seen it. Whether in real life or observing a work of fiction, a character is positioned to inexplicably begin rapping. A beat will kick in and/or a mic will be thrust in their hand and, for some reason, eight of their first nine words are "My name is...and I'm here to say."

Often followed by boasting about doing something "in a major way" or being "the _____est ______ in the U.S.A.," this rhyme has become the default archetype for how people who don't listen to rap think rap begins. It's been heard everywhere from when rap started appearing in 1980s commercials, and it continues to pop up today, most recently when former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino decided to dis Jay Z and the Obamas in rhyme. There's also the genuinely funny tweets from the likes of Michael J. Nelson and Will Sasso that show a self-awareness of it being the overused go-to rap opener. Tim Heidecker even worked it into his fake Madonna Super Bowl leak as an absurd gag.

But where did it come from?

In the early days of hip-hop (we're talking mid-'70s before the idea of it being on record was even conceived) the most important thing for anyone participating in the culture to do was get their name out there. Whether literally tagging their name in graffiti in public spaces or mastering signature breakdancing maneuvers, it was about getting your name in as many eyes and ears as possible. Of course, when it came to rocking the mic at a party to the break-a break-a dawn, there was no better way to have people know who you were than by identifying yourself.

This continued into the early days of recorded rap. From the bootlegs of Cold Crush Brothers, Fearless Four and Treacherous Three routines circa '78, you have several instances of the group's MCs starting their individual contributions to their routines with "I'm [their name] and I [some definitive character trait or signature action]." Getting into the first few rap singles from '79 onward, you have the same sort of identification, the most famous of which is probably "Rappers Delight's" "I am Wonder Mike, and I'd like to say 'Hello.'"

Yet, in the entire annals of this pioneer era of hip-hop, the closest thing to someone hitting the now ubiquitous cliche is on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1980 single "Birthday Party" where Melle Mel states "Melle Mel and I'm here to say/ I was born on the 15th day of May."

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