"In case of emergency, drop 'Word Up.' "
These words would probably be posted in every DJ booth in America if they weren't already burned deep into every DJ's psyche. In an era where we rarely consume the same media as our neighbors, or even friends, there are very few songs you can count on to make every single last person boogie down quite like Cameo's 1986 electro-funk classic "Word Up." Hell, even if the original doesn't quite fit your style, every remixer and his mom has dabbled with it, so you can find the Atlanta act's biggest pop hit worked into pretty much any genre you want — house, hip-hop, dub. Even nu-metal mope-masters Korn cut a version.
(We will not speak of the nu-metal covers of Korn's nu-metal cover, because they are monstrosities that should be shot into the furthest reaches of the galaxy in order to scare off invading alien civilizations. Would-be marauders will turn tail quickly once they hear Gun covering Korn covering Cameo, and we'll all be saved from working in the uranium mines of Gorgon-3. Seriously, it's awful like genocide and Megan Fox's filmography rolled into one, and it can't be unheard. Don't look for it. Seriously.)
Not that Cameo are a one-trick pony, or even for that matter a one-hit wonder — their first chart hit, "Rigor Mortis," landed in 1977, and their last, a feature on Mariah Carey's "Loverboy" from the Glitter soundtrack (spit-take) hit No. 2 on the pop charts in 2001, a full generation later — but they only had one hit song that reshaped the American musical lexicon, so folks tend to ignore the rest of their catalog. That is, if you disregard the monstrous impact their squealing synths and pop-dance grooves have on contemporary dance music and the retro-leaning sounds that are all the rage with the kiddos right now.
Then of course, there is Cameo's impact on the golden age of hip-hop, when they were sampled by some of the most groundbreaking artists of the era. Brand Nubian's "Brand Nubian." Tupac's "Young Niggaz," on Me Against the World. Too $hort's all-time classic cruisin' track "In the Trunk." And one of the best tracks The Beastie Boys ever recorded, "Shake Your Rump," just straight jacks the Cameosis track "Shake Your Pants," dispensing with what little subtlety was there to begin with. Then, for the hardcore heads, there's Group Home's backpacker anthem "Supa Star," which samples "Hanging Downtown," or Above the Law's similarly lexicon-defining "Ballin'." And that's just Cameo's influence before Bill Clinton's second term.
And to top it all off, lead singer Larry Blackmon managed make it happen while wearing bondage-influenced athletic wear for the better part of a decade — we're talking outfits so ridiculous even Lady Gaga would reconsider. (Well, maybe.) We're talking about a grown man wearing a shiny plastic codpiece, which is quite the, uh, ballsy move.
Think about that: A dude in a codpiece changed the vocabulary of an entire continent. That probably hasn't happened since Charlemagne. Dude is the spandex-clad William Strunk Jr. of synth-funk, for crying out loud. The Texas Board of Education has even made "Freaky Dancin' " required listening in their K-12 curriculum. OK, the last one is wishful thinking, but we'd be a stronger nation if every child knew more about Knights of the Sound Table than Joe McCarthy. Or Korn, for that matter.
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Never heard of any of these artists?