The Bizarre History of Ninja Turtle Rap Songs
This Week in WTF Pop Culture History: A Fucking Ninja Turtle Rap Song Hits #1 in July 1990.
We're not being sarcastic when we say that a proud and important pop culture tradition was renewed this week with the release of this track:
That is "Shell Shocked" by Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, and Ty Dolla $ign. It jumps from describing the four Ninja Turtles and the unbeatable power of brotherhood, to talk of teaming up with your friends to make shitloads of money for Lamborghinis and Rolexes (which suggests that the new film features a sequence wherein Master Splinter teaches his four young protegees how to ball like motherfuckers). And before you dismiss this video as being unimportant to your life, you need to understand something:
Rap songs about Ninja Turtles used to fucking dominate the pop charts.
You see, this week in 1990, the No. 1 song in the U.K. was "Turtle Power" by Partners in Kryme, the lead single from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack, which consisted of two grown men rapping the plot of the movie to you in three minutes of operatic phreshness that was, for many a child, their first introduction to hip-hop. That song stayed at No. 1 for the next motherfucking month:
It finished out the year as one of the biggest hits in Europe, an area of the world whose enthusiasm for ridiculous pop music is nothing short of legendary. In America, a land equally recognized for its infatuation with the patently absurd, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack went platinum, fueled by "Turtle Power" and its empowering message of providing abridged narration of popular children's movies.
Make no mistake: It is impossible to understand the '90s as you remember them (grunge, Tupac, and the birth of mainstream gangsta rap) without understanding that this is how the decade began -- with a song about Ninja Turtles getting heavy rotation on MTV and Top 40 radio. We can't know for sure that this triggered a revolution in popular music; we can only lay out the evidence. Exhibit B is the fact that the recording industry doubled down the next year, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II featured Vanilla Ice performing "Ninja Rap," which is about as much a time capsule as any single sentence can be:
Please note that Vanilla Ice appears in the film, as himself, and spontaneously breaks into song upon witnessing the Turtles fighting a bald Japanese man and a pair of hulking superbeasts on the dance floor of an unspeakably unsafe boathouse nightclub. Watch the following clip, and really let it sink in. HEY! DO NOT LOOK AWAY!
Yeeees, drink it in. In the film, Vanilla Ice is about to flee the club, in fear for his life, when the dope-ass beat getting spun by the DJ suddenly grabs hold of him. A few head bobs and finger snaps later, he launches into a fully choreographed performance of "Ninja Rap," because fame is a harsh mistress.
The Turtles II soundtrack enjoyed an only slightly less meteoric success than its predecessor, earning gold certification in just two months, yet it marked the beginning of the downfall of the glorious Ninja Turtle-themed hip-hop movement. The third and final film in the original series does not feature a rap song of any kind. They would wait for 14 years until the 2007 reboot film (titled TMNT and improbably starring Captain America's Chris Evans), to tentatively dip back into the '90s rap Jacuzzi with a song called "Shell Shock" by Gym Class Heroes.
That's right -- we've already had a theatrically released Turtle film with an accompanying rap song called "Shell Shock." This has literally already happened. Do you see what's occurring, right before our eyes? A new Ninja Turtle rap song, a new cold war with Russia, a new war in the Middle East -- each week brings a new tragedy that reminds us that history is simply a cycle in which mankind repeats the same mistakes, each generation refusing to learn from those who have gone before.
We are all going to die.
If seeing breakdancing ninja turtles on MTV was a traumatic part of your childhood, share your experience with others by clicking the blue share button below. We can all get through this ... together.
Tom is an editor and columnist at Cracked. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.