Music/Lists

A brief history of hip-hop puppets

May 26, 2017

Rap's love affair with puppets goes back decades before Chance the Rapper.

Puppetry and music have long been intertwined, and nowhere is that more apparent these days than in hip-hop. For some reason, rappers have been sticking everything from mannequins, dummies, dolls, figurines, and marionettes in their music videos since the days of The Fat Boys. And while Chance the Rapper has made hip-hop puppets cooler than ever, the genre’s puppeteering roots date back decades earlier.

Take a trip down memory lane with us below, as we count down some of our favourite (and some of the most important) hip-hop puppets of all time

Wayne and Charlie The Rapping Dummy – “Check It Out” (1981)

Likely the first act to realize the powerful novelty combo of hip-hop and puppetry, it only took until 1981 for Sugar Hill Records’ own Wayne and his wooden compatriot Charlie The Rapping Dummy paved the way for future human/puppet hip-hop collabs.

Masta Ace – “Me and The Biz” (1990)

A watershed moment in hip-hop/puppet relations, all thanks to the real Biz Markie being unavailable for the video shoot. Sure, the Markie mannequin might look crude and cheaply papier-mache’d by today’s standards, but it was the cutting edge of rap puppet technology back in 1990.

Outkast – “Da Art of Storytelling (Part I)

There’s only one way to improve on a five-star Aquemini standout like “Da Art of Storytellin”: stick a Slick Rick puppet in the video, and throw in the real deal’s cut verse that doesn’t even appear in the album version for good measure.

Eminem – “Ass Like That” (2004)

“Ass Like That” is approximately no one’s favourite Slim Shady single, even when limited to the relatively slim pickings of 2004’s Encore, but in terms of puppets per second, the video absolutely delivers. You’ve got puppet strippers, puppet Dr. Dre, and even the king of puppets himself – Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who Eminem is apparently such a fan of, he opted to rap the whole song in his Eastern European accent, for some reason. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. What came next, you ask?

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog – “I Keed” (2003)

What’s more 2003 than a Triumph the Insult Comic Dog parody rap video? Triumph’s album, Come Poop With Me, probably isn’t the wokest listen in 2017, but it is Grammy-nominated, which should tell you everything you need to know about the Grammys’ pedigree.

Mistah F.A.B. – “Ghost Ride It” 

Don’t let all the ghost riding and Bay Area hyphy culture on display overshadow the Sean T. puppet on the MPC in the opening seconds of “Ghost Ride It.” You better act like you know who he is, man. Also, please don’t try ghost riding at home; it won’t end any better than it did in 2009.

MC Frontalot – “Stoop Sale” (2012)

Even nerdcore—what am I saying, “even” nerdcore; of course they love puppets—isn’t immune to full-on puppet videos, as perennial nerdcore ambassador and hero to IT workers everywhere MC Frontalot proved in the video for “Stoop Sale,” off his 2011 album Solved.

El-P – “The Full Retard” (2012)

Just before introducing the world to Run The Jewels, El-P brought his own hip-hop puppet creation, Mr. Killums, to the table in the 2012 video for his Cancer 4 Cure, Tropic Thunder-referencing single “The Full Retard.” Just be glad Jamie found success with Killer Mike before we got a full Mr. Killums mixtape.

Pigeon John – “Champagne On My Shoes” (2014)

LA’s own Pigeon John might not have had as high a budget for his 2014 single “Champagne On My Shoes” as the other artists on this list, but still the video manages to feature more queasy synths and cheap puppetry than “Flat Beat.”

Missy Elliott – “W.T.F. (Where They From) (2015)

When Pharrell isn’t available for the video shoot after producing and featuring on your long-awaited comeback single, don’t worry: just create a puppet version and you’re good to go. That’ll free up some funds for the hoverboard budget, anyway.

Aesop Rock – “Kirby” (2016)

Bet you didn’t think we’d have not one but two Def Jux alumni on here. The official anthem of bearded cat bros everywhere, Aesop Rock’s ode to his beloved kitten companion features the best cat/puppet video since Toonces The Driving Cat.

D.R.A.M. – “Cute” (2016)

It takes a supreme amount of confidence to greenlight a video treatment in which a puppet has more game than you, so give it up for D.R.A.M. Hopefully the trend takes off and we eventually get to see Kanye outplayed by a Muppet version of himself in a future video.

Chance The Rapper – “Same Drugs” (2016)

Inspired by the episode of The Muppet Show in which Kermit duets with Debbie Harry on “Rainbow Connection,” Chance’s video for “Same Drugs” came to be when he opted for all-puppet chorus on his world tour supporting Coloring Book. The look of puppet co-star Lady Dame was locked down by Chance’s art director OJ Hays, who is also responsible for the look of Chance’s merch and tour posters.

BONUS PUPPET CONTENT!!!!

Just in case you’re still in the mood for more puppet/rap connections, be sure to check out YouTube channel ‘isthishowyougoviral’, whose masterful edits of Sesame Street with classic songs has to be seen to be believed:

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