The 5 Worst Attempts to Start a Catchphrase in Rap History

It's no secret to anyone who knows me or follows this column that rap music is completely responsible for the way I speak. I looked at and accepted the "establishment's" vocabulary, sure, but I knew there were other ways to express myself. So I let rap music, and all of the words invented by rappers, augment my personal vocabulary.

Plenty of rap-coined words and phrases catch on and make it all the way to mainstream vocabularies, sometimes seriously ("blunt," "dope," "chill" and "grill" [meaning teeth] all have their origins in rap and all are more or less accepted by the majority of Americans), and sometimes ironically (there was a period in the early 2000s when everyone added "izzle" to the end of everything, and no one knew if we were joking or not).

It's always fun and exciting to learn a new piece of slang, but sometimes a rapper is so clearly trying to force a new word or phrase into the public lexicon that it's almost embarrassing. They'll desperately repeat their own "fo shizzle" in the hopes that it infects pop culture. It's like those Jersey Shore folks saying "GTL" in place of "gym, tan, laundry"; they just want to coin a phrase that will catch on so they can be immortalized. But not everything is destined to be an izzle ...

In the rap world, danger lurks around every corner. It's a scary life full of thieves, drug dealers, crooked cops and other nefarious characters up to no good. Obviously, one must protect oneself (including one's neck) from these types of ruthless villains, which is why many rappers carry around guns (or claim to carry around guns, or surround themselves with armed bodyguards). Obviously they couldn't legally carry around guns, so they'd rap in code, referring to guns as "biscuits."

I'm from New Jersey. "Biscuits" are biscuits.

Examples of Usage

In the Outkast song "Red Velvet," from their 2000 album Stankonia, rapper Big Boi very clearly refers to his gun as a biscuit. He warns his opponents that, while they might have bodyguards, he lets his ... n-word "tote the biscuit." He goes on to explain that the biscuit will get blood on your hat and leave you slumped in your Cadillac. A biscuit can kill you, and the biscuit is obviously a gun.
You didn't need a picture of a gun to illustrate what a gun looks like, but here we are.

In the first verse of the Eminem and Dr. Dre hit "Guilty Conscience," Dre and Em play the good and evil halves of the conscience of a man who is considering robbing a liquor store. Eminem, irrepressible rogue that he is, encourages the man to rob, while Dre, always the voice of reason (he's a doctor), advises the man to "drop the biscuit," as "it's not worth it to risk it." The man agrees (thank goodness!), and abandons his scheme. Contextually speaking, it would be absurd to assume Dr. Dre was referring to an actual biscuit, or anything other than a gun.

Why It Never Really Caught On

Clearly, "biscuit as gun" bounced around in the rap world for a while, but it never quite broke into the mainstream (there's no scene in any movie where a stern police chief orders his brave but reckless cadet to "hand in his badge and standard issue police biscuit" [except for the movie I'm writing currently]). "Gat" and "piece" both caught on as gun slang, but "biscuit" never made the cut. As is often the case with rappers, the problem is that folks in the rap community weren't communicating with each other, and as a result, wires got crossed. While some artists were working hard trying to push the whole "biscuit is slang for gun" angle, a few others had an agenda to make "biscuit" a synonym for "attractive lady" (fourth definition down).

Obviously, this leads to confusion. It's why I've always said that lack of communication is one of the biggest problems in rap (after all of those other much bigger problems).

When Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck assures me that he rolls "with groups of ghetto bastards with biscuits," does he mean that I should fear the firepower that his associates carry, or be envious of all of the attractive women they've managed to acquire? I live every day of my life assuming I'm going to run into Inspectah Deck, and I'm still not sure if I should run from him or ask if I can be one of his ghetto bastards.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Deck, I meant can we be ghetto bastards?"

"Bring Da Ruckus," the song from which that lyric springs, is conspicuously vague about this. Inspectah brings up the fact that his buddies are just straight loaded with biscuits, and then he quickly switches gears and describes his method on the microphone (it's bangin').

"My friends and I are just SILLY with biscuits. But, hey, you don't want to hear about that; let's talk sports or something."

And that's why we, as a society, will never adopt "biscuit" as slang for "gun." The rap industry just couldn't get its act together long enough to agree on a definition.

(Also it's kind of stupid.)

"Scrub" as a slang word actually originated in basketball (scrubs were the shitty players who only played at the end of the game, when they couldn't really impact the game in any profound way). I've never actually used "scrub" in that context. I went to a lot of middle school dances and bar mitzvahs in the late '90s, so I heard TLC's "No Scrubs" about 150,000 times, and their hyper-specific definition of a scrub has been burned into my brain.
Scrubs. Scrubs scrubs scrubs. Scruuuuubs.

In "No Scrubs," the ladies of TLC (Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez and at least two other people, I think) warn women to stay away from shitty guys known as "scrubs." According to these women, a scrub is a guy who thinks he's fly (it is implied that he actually is not fly). He's always talking about what he wants, but he doesn't have a whole lot of money. A nogoodnik (my word choice, not TLC's. Obviously).

Pretty straightforward, and -- oh, there's more? Oh. OK, apparently, a scrub is also someone who consistently hangs out the passenger side of his friend's car and hits on women (I think we're to assume that he doesn't have a car of his own). The game of a scrub is weak ("game" refers to one's ability to hit on members of the opposite sex), and he looks like trash. He lives with his parents, and he has a shorty but doesn't show love ("shorty" can refer to a girlfriend or a child, but the ambiguity isn't important here; what matters is that he isn't showing love, and that's unforgivable).

Finally, a scrub is someone who can get no love from the members of TLC.

Examples of Usage

The above three paragraphs are the college essay version of "No Scrubs." No further examples should be necessary.

Why It Never Really Caught On

That sure is a specific guy TLC is talking about. There's a general theme of brokeness and shittiness throughout, but mentioning the unloved child (or girlfriend on the side) really brings this scrub into a pretty sharp focus. This is no longer an archetype or role that we can assign to people we know in life; it is an ultra-specific portrait of a guy that one of the members of TLC knows and hates.
"OK, you're broke, you live with your mom, you keep asking for my number ... but you never hang out of your friend's car, so you're not a scrub. Just shitty, I guess?"

This is a weird entry that people will surely have problems with.

Jay-Z and Timbaland have a song called "Lobster and Scrimp." They don't say "scrimp" in the song, they say "shrimp," and they are in fact referring to the seafood. No one ever talks about why "scrimp" is in the title, and even though they never say it once in the song, the Urban Dictionary definition of "scrimp" is seafood. Shrimp.

I don't know why. I don't know why to any of this.

Examples of Usage

Lobster and Scrimp.

-- "Lobster and Scrimp"

Why It Never Really Caught On

Because "shrimp" is a perfectly acceptable word for shrimp already, calling shrimp "scrimp" saves no time and adds nothing, and because "scrimp" already has its own definition.

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Daniel O'Brien

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