Translate

Friday, January 4, 2013

What "Fly", "Fly Girl" & "Fly Guy" Mean In African American Slang

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post focuses on the meanings of African American Vernacular English terms "fly", "fly girl", and "fly guy".

The content of this post is provided for eytmological, folkloric, historical, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

[This post was formerly entitled "Fly, Fly Girl, Fly Guy (Slang Definitions & Examples From African American Culture)"

THE SLANG MEANING OF "FLY"
[Correction* posted on September 15, 2015. Thanks to reminder from commenters Anonymous January 18, 2014 at 3:39 AM and Mambo207[September 15, 2015]
"Fly" is a 1970s* African American English adjective that means "stylish" (being up to date with the latest fashion styles and urban lifestyles) that has largely retired by the early 2000s.

Here's a comment that was sent in by Anonymous January 18, 2014
"Fly Guy" goes back as early as 1979. That term is used in the hit song "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang.

And here's a portion of a comment that was sent in by Mambo207 on September 14
"... the term "fly" goes back to the 1970s. At least that's how it was in New York City. It had to do with being stylish; now, if you were ultra-stylish, then you would be considered Super Fly. Back in the 70s, there used to be a men's shop on 42nd Street called The Super Fly Boutique. Remember, there was also a film that came out in the 70s called Super Fly. It was about a drug dealer who was trying to get out of the business; however, he was "fly" because of his clothes, and his customized Eldorado pimpmobile.

I've always liked this term, and I still use it today"
-[end of quote]

"Fly" means being "stylish", i.e. "being hip". I think that by at least the mid 1980s, "being fly" also meant to be "street wise" - talking, dressing, and behaving in accordance with the values and expectations of Black urban life, and being able to handle oneself in the streets.

“Fly” sometimes was (is still?) used to describe something that is attractive, such as a "fly dress". The most commonly used noun form of "fly" was "fly girl" (a female who is good looking, "sexy"). Being "hip" to Black street culture was also usually considered part of the description of a "fly girl".

The term "fly guy" was used less often than fly girl. A fly guy was a male who was physically attractive. However, more importantly, a fly guy was street wise male who was very successful in physically attracting and scoring sexually with females.

It should be emphasized that "being fly” or being a “fly girl” or "fly guy" doesn't (necessarily) have anything to do with drug usage (i.e. a person or a female who is high off of drugs).

*In the first version of this post I wrote that "fly" was African American Vernacular originated slang from the mid 198os that meant "hip" (up to date with the latest urban fashions & lifestyles). Read the information that was sent in below about 1970s use of the word "fly" including as the title for the 1972 movie Superfly. Click ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Fly_(film)for information about that movie.

HOW FLY GOT ITS SLANG MEANINGS
My guess is that the word "fly" was first given the meaning "stylish") in the 1970s as an updated adjective that had basically the same meaning as the 1960s African American adjective "out of sight". A person who is "out of sight" is "fly" since -in its literal sense- something that is flying high in the sky would eventually be out of (eye) sight.

The phrase "fly girl" was popularized by the Boogie Boys' 1985 Hip-Hop record with that title. According to the lyrics of that record, a "fly girl" wasn't always good looking or wasn't even always "up to date with the latest fashions". Given the disagreement about the meaning of "fly girl" as evidenced by the lyrics of the rappers' solos, my guess is that when that song was recorded, the slang meanings of "fly" hadn't become fixed yet. An excerpt from the Boogie Boy's "Fly Girl" record is found below.]

By at least 1991, as evidenced by Queen Latifah's Hip Hop record "Fly Girl", the word "fly" when used to describe a female clearly had the meanings “fine” (physically attractive), and "street wise" (able to handle oneself in urban street cultures). An excerpt of the lyrics of Queen Latifah's "Fly Girl" is found below.]

By at least 1993 "fly" clearly had a different "complimentary" meaning for males as evidenced by Tupac's Hip Hop record "I Get Around". In that record, Tupac brags about how he easily scores with the ladies & then leaves them:
"baby got a problem saying bye bye
Just another hazard of a fly guy"
http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/I-Get-Around-lyrics-2Pac/BF82D7758D3AF2DA4825686A000CF3B0
-snip-
My interpretation of those lyrics is that Tupac is saying that females who have a problem with him [or any fly guy] saying goodbye should realize that that's what they should expect when they become involved with a man who's deep into the urban lifestyle. To be clear, according to the use in African American culture of the term "fly girl", while that term meant that a female was "street wise" (able to handle herself in Black urban street life), the emphasis seems to have been placed on how females looked (their face, their body, their clothing). In contrast, while a "fly guy" was likely a male who was good looking (had an attractive face and sexually attractive body), the emphasis seemed to have been placed on how many females the man could sexually score with, and the view was that it was expected that the man wasn't going to be faithful with any one female, nor was he going to involve himself in a long lasting relationship with any female or females.

WARNING: This record's lyrics may not be suitable for children.

Stevie Wonder's 1966 R&B song "Uptight" begins with the words "Baby's everything's alright/uptight/out of sight". Notice that in that song "uptight" is a complimentary term that means the same thing as "out of sight". The word "uptight" is a development of the much older slang word "tight" as in the Blues song "It's tight like that." Interesting, "tight" is still currently used in African American vernacular English while "up tight", "out of sight", and "fly" have been retired.

FEATURED VIDEOS
Example #1:
{Some pictures in the collage in Example #1 may not be suitable for children's viewing]
A Fly Girl - The Boogie Boys (1985)



djbuddyloverootsrap, Uploaded on Apr 25, 2011

The Boogie Boys were an American old school hip-hop group from Harlem, New York. They scored one big hit in 1985 with "A Fly Girl", from the album "City Life", that peaked at number six on the R&B charts.
-snip-
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boogie_Boys

****
Example #2: Queen Latifah - Fly Girl



kaimoe, Uploaded on Sep 9, 2007

Fly Girl from the album, "Nature of a Sista" by Queen Latifah 1991.
-snip-
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Latifah

PORTION OF LYRICS FROM TWO "FLY GIRL" RECORDS
From http://www.elyrics.net/read/b/boogie-boys-lyrics/a-fly-girl-lyrics.html
FLY GIRL
(as performed by the Boogie Boys)
...[Romeo JD]
Well I'm Rome JD and I have learned
Fly girl is a name that you must earn
Fly girl's a girl who speak their mind
Some sneaky some freaky some mean some kind
Cold crush waves, fly Gherri curl
Gold watch, gold ring, and a neck full of pearls
Real slim waist, a made-up face
Head turns, eyes burn when she comes in the place
Perfume from France, put you in a trance
Fly enough to mingle, to fly dance
High-stakers, big money makers
Some fly girls are cold heart breakers
Bank accounts of unbelievable amounts
Very picky bout how their name's pronounced
Designer purse, leather mini skirt
Not a speck of dirt, can't help but flirt
She'll make you choke like you inhale smoke
She gave you a number, it was dial-a-joke
You got a real nice voice, you'll be her choice
Till another man comes in a fly Rolls-Royce
The guys get jealous, how can you blame us?
You live a lifestyle of the rich and famous
To play your roll guys lose control
Picturin' you as a center fold
From the Rome JD, cest-la-vie
Each and every one a y'all too much for me
Could it be your style or the way you smile
That puts you on the top of the pile?
Queen of the Nile, o sweet child
Fly girl you drive me wild (you drive me wild
-snip-
From http://www.lyricsfreak.com/q/queen+latifah/fly+girl_10237192.html
"FLY GIRL"
(as performed by Queen Latifah)

... (desire) i know you want me
(you're fine) thank you
But i'm not the type of girl that you think i am
I don't jump into the arms of every man
(but i'm paid) i don't need your money
(i love you) you must be mad
Easy lover is something that i ain't
Besides, i don't know you from a can of paint…

(fly girl, fly girl)
(come here, cuz you're sexy and you're fine)
(and i want you to be mine)
(fly girl, fly girl)
(have no fear, your heart is in good hands)
(won't you let me be your man?)...

SEVERAL ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES OF THE USE OF THE SLANG TERM "FLY" IN AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE
Example #1: Girls' foot stomping cheer*
FLY GIRL
All: Fly girl
Fly girl
Fly girl One
Fly girl Two
Pump it up Teresa
See what you do.
Soloist #1:(Oh) my name is Teresa
and I’m a fly girl.
It takes a lot of men
to rock my world.
‘cause I can fly like a butterfly
sting like a bee
and that’s way they call me
Sexy...

[The next soloist repeats the exact words of this cheer (except her name or nickname). Continue this pattern until every girl in the group has had a turn as the soloist.]
-Tazi M. Powell, (African American female, memories of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mid 1980s)

*"Foot stomping cheers" is an informal recreational activity which is (or was) usually performed by African American girls ages 7-12 years. The text of "foot stomping cheers" are structurally distinctive from other cheerleader cheers and/or from other children's folk compositions such as handclap rhymes.

****
Example #2: "Fly Girl" dancers on primarily African American television show In Living Color
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Living_Color
"In Living Color is a sketch comedy television series, which originally ran on the Fox Network from April 15, 1990 to May 19, 1994. Brothers Keenen and Damon Wayans created, wrote, and starred in the program...

The Fly Girls
The show employed an in-house dance troupe, known as the "The Fly Girls..."
-snip-
In Living Color Fly Girls: Season 4 Episode 1-6



ILCFlyGirlsFan, Published on Sep 10, 2012


In Living Color Fly Girls: Season 4, Episode 1-6

****
Example #3: Flyy Girl book by African American author Omar Tyree
From http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/290039.Flyy_Girl
Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree Published August 7th 2001 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1993)
"The bestselling urban classic novel about a young woman coming of age in the late 1980s. Tracy Ellison, a young knockout with tall hair and attitude, is living life as fast as she can. Motivated by the material world, she and her friends love and leave the young men who will do anything to get next to them. It's only when the world of gratuitous sex threatens heartbreak that Tracy begins to examine her life, her goals, and her sexuality."

****
Example #4: Lyrics to a version of the Iota Phi Theta Centaur Walk Song/Chant,
From Iota Phi Theta member Dwayne Dixon in Elizabeth C. Fine: Soulstepping: African American Step Shows (Urbana & Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2003; p 61
I say, my bro-thers....
-Yeah?
I say, Who's fly?
-I Phi!

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/01/iota-phi-theta-fraternity-inc-centaur.html for more information about the Centaur Walk and the Centaur Walk Song.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND THANKS
Thanks to all the composers & performers of the "Fly Girl" records. Thanks also to all those other persons whose use of the tern "fly" and "fly girl" are mentioned in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

7 comments:

  1. "Fly Guy" goes back as early as 1979. That term is used in the hit song "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, anonymous for that information!

      While I know "Rapper's Delight" a little bit, I didn't know or didn't remember that "fly guy" was used in that song.

      Delete
    2. Here are two portions of "Rapper's Delight" that include this slang usage of the word "fly":
      "Well so far you've heard my voice but I brought two friends along,
      And the next on the mic is my man Hank,
      C'mon, Hank, sing that song!

      Check it out, I'm the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A,
      And the rest is F-L-Y,"...

      "And then this fly girl with a sexy lean
      She came into the bar, she came into the scene".

      http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/sugarhillgang/rappersdelight.html

      Delete
  2. The term goes back at least to the mid 40s when it was used in a song by Nat King Cole in what is obviously its current sense. I can't remember the name of the song offhand but he sings 'I'm a fly guy, not a shy guy.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Anonymous June 24, 2015.

      I looked up that Nat King Cole song whose title is "I'm A Shy Guy".

      The lines you are remembering actually go like this:

      "I'm just a shy guy
      Wish I was a sly guy
      Then I could say, "Baby, baby, I love you"
      Just like those guys in movin' pictures all do"

      http://www.metrolyrics.com/im-a-shy-guy-lyrics-nat-king-cole.html

      Thanks for introducing me to that song!



      I'm just a shy guy
      Wish I was a sly guy
      Then I could say, "Baby, baby, I love you"
      Just like those guys in movin' pictures all do

      Delete
  3. Hey Azizi,

    Thanks for this post. Actually the term "fly" goes back to the 1970s. At least that's how it was in New York City. It had to do with being stylish; now, if you were ultra-stylish, then you would be considered Super Fly. Back in the 70s, there used to be a men's shop on 42nd Street called The Super Fly Boutique. Remember, there was also a film that came out in the 70s called Super Fly. It was about a drug dealer who was trying to get out of the business; however, he was "fly" because of his clothes, and his customized Eldorado pimpmobile.

    I've always liked this term, and I still use it today. Thanks again for the post. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mambo207 for reminding me about the movie "SuperFly" and for including the information about the use of that term in New York City. And thanks for noting that you still use that term today

      I revised this post to include your comment and also the comment from Anonymous who referred to the use of "fly" in the 1979 Hip Hop song "Rappers' Delight".

      I corrected the text of this post with the information from both comments.

      Thanks again and please continue to help me with the vernacular or history that I get wrong and please continue to share anecdotal information about the use of African American vernacular words and phrases.

      Peace!

      Delete