Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Signifying Monkeys and such...

I had a black friend back in college who took me under his wing and tried to add some flava to my white-bread life. I haven't thought about Grip in a long time...

Grip was huge. Seriously huge. His real name was Carl and he got his knickname because his hands were so big he could grip anything like it were a kid-sized Nerf ball. Carl was also the sweetest guy ever...

Anyway, I learned about Jerry Curl, Do Rags and rhyming Dozens from Carl... sort of.

The thing that always stuck in my head was something about Signifying Monkeys. It's been there nagging me for a long time. What the hell is a Signifying Monkey? The other day I did some research and found out. It was some pretty cool stuff.

The Signified Monkey comes from African folklore. He's the instigator in all sorts of stories, usually along with the Lion and the Elephant. He's a real shit that Monkey... Anyway, he carries over to African-American culture. Sometimes he's a monkey, or maybe a pimp, or just some random guy... But he's still a shit...

Usually the story is a something along the lines of Monkey getting a bit bored, Lion walks by and Monkey starts talking shit about Lion's Mama and such and when Lion gets pissed Monkey tells him he was just repeating what Elephant be sayin'. Lion goes to fight Elephant and gets his ass kicked and Monkey laughs at him... Monkey's a bit like Coyote the Trickster.

Here's a version in a song by Chuck Barry:

(Chuck Berry)
CHUCK BERRY (CHESS 1709, 1958)

It was in ancient history, four thousand B.C.
Way back in the jungle in a coconut trees
Hanging on a branch up under the sun
Was a meddlesome monkey named Jo Jo Gunne

Oh, Leo the lion came down from the mountain
To get a drink of water from the jungle fountain
Jo Jo the monkey started tellin' the jackal
About the elephant who was gonna skin the lion

Leo tried to reach and grab Jo Jo's tail
Got mad and went runnin' through the jungle trail
He ran upon an elephant beneath a tree
And said, put up your dukes you gotta tussle with me

An ol' eagle from Asia made a non stop flight
Tryin' to make a new time, just to see that fight
A crocodile phoned and reversed the charge
Coming all the way from India upon a local barge

Ol' gorilla heard 'em talking in the lion's den
But Jo Jo bettin' a she-fox, the elephant wins
Jo Jo yelled at Leo, go on, knock him down
He don't outweigh you but a thousand pounds

Leo left wailin' with a left upper cut
The elephant took a snoop, grabbed a coconut
Leo fired a beautiful short back cross
That's when the coconut landed up against his jaw

Leo grew tired, but he wouldn't give in
The elephant all loose, beat his jawbone in
The buzzard said, they fought furious all day
He couldn't understand how Leo got away

Jo Jo runnin' everywhere, spreadin' the news
To the zebras and the leopards and the kangaroos
A hoot owl reported everything he saw
Had his eyes wide open, they called it a draw

Leo limping back with his jawbone bruised
Jo Jo in the trees started singin' the blues
Laughin', meddling, jumpin' up and down
Till his foot missed a limb and he fell to the ground

Just like a bolt of thunder and a streak of heat
Leo covered Jo Jo with all four feet
Jo Jo was screamin' with tears in his eyes
Said, please mister Leo, I apologize

Said, if you let my feet upon solid ground
I'll fight you close range, fifteen rounds
Leo got back to the square of the fight
Jo Jo took a leap and jumped... out of sight

I still couldn't spit a dozen if I needed to -- let's just say I rap like a white guy -- and I've still got no game, but at least I know about the Monkey and I can tell signifyin' when I hear it. You didn't totally waste your time Carl...