Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Children's Parodies of "I Believe I Can Fly" (information & comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on parody examples of R. Kelly's hit 1996 R&B song "I Believe I Can Fly". Those parodies are also entitled "All I Wanted Was A Chicken Wing". This post provides information the song "I Believe I Can Fly" as well as infornation & comments about those parodies, including my speculation about the song source for those parodies.

Click for Part II. Part II showcases some text examples & some video examples of those parodies.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and entertaining purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"I Believe I Can Fly" is a hit R&B song that was composed and performed by R. Kelly. indicates that
" "I Believe I Can Fly" is a 1996 song by R&B singer R. Kelly. The song was written, produced and performed by Kelly and was featured on the soundtrack to the 1996 film Space Jam. It was originally released on November 26, 1996, but later appeared in Kelly's 1998 album R...

In early 1997, "I Believe I Can Fly" reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100; it was kept from the #1 spot by Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart". Despite the fact that two of R. Kelly's songs did reach #1, "I Believe I Can Fly" remains the biggest hit of R. Kelly's career. The single was #1 on the R&B Singles chart (for six nonconsecutive weeks), and also topped the charts in the United Kingdom. It has won three Grammy Awards, and is ranked #406 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
The "I Believe I Can Fly" song has the inspirational message that if you believe in yourself you can achieve your goals.*
*Click for a YouTube video of "I Believe I Can Fly". Also, click for the full lyrics to that song. And click for responses to the question about what the song "I Believe I Can Fly" means [particularly the response by ?, 2010]

In addition to "I Believe I Can Fly" being popular in & of itself, that song has sparked a number of clean and not so clean parodies. By "clean" I mean the parodies contain no sexual references. While I consider the sexual references in the examples of "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies that I've read online to be relatively mild i.e. references to a person's "dingaling" being shot, because of this blog's policies, this post doesn't showcase any of those examples.

I've categoried the examples of "I Believe I Can Fly" as "children's parodies" in part because many online commenters who shared examples of those parodies indicate that they remember singing that example when they were children "in the 90s". That said, as is the case with many other examples of children's rhymes & cheers, the "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies may have originally been composed by an adult & was then taken on & perhaps changed by children. My speculation about a possible source for the "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies is found below.

In 1999 and 2000 I had direct experiences with hearing children sing a clean version of that parody. Towards the conclusion of my African storytelling performances in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [African American] community venues, because I was beginning my informal playground rhyme and cheers collection efforts, I asked audiences of mostly 7-12 year old children which songs or rhymes they knew. Initially, when I asked that question I thought that the children would give the name of a handclap rhyme like "Miss Mary Mack". And while that rhyme was named a lot - as was the very frequently mentioned handclap rhyme "Tweeleelee"** which I hadn't known of before those gatherings- the number 1 example which was enthusiastically mentioned & sung by boys perhaps even more than by girls was was a parody of "I Believe I Can Fly". That example is given below as Example #1. I should mention that while I knew about R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" song, prior to hearing children enthusiatically sing that parody, I didn't know that any parody of that song existed.
**Click for information about my rhyme & cheer collection efforts and access to my first website that was launched in 2001 to showcase examples of contemporary English language children's playground rhymes, children's cheers and other folkloric material.

***Click for a pancocojams post about "Tweeleelee".

"I Believe I Can Fly" parodies have the same tune as R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" composition. Also, just about every version of the parodies that I've come across is wholly based on the chorus of that song:
I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly (3x)

To my knowledge, no handclap routines, jump rope skipping, or any other playground rhyme performance activity is done while singing the "I Believe I Can Fly" parody.

It appears that clean versions and sexually explicit versions of “I Believe I Can Fly” were widespread in the USA from at least 1999. Although there are numerous versions of this parody, the text of almost all of these versions are quite similar. [As mentioned above, my focus is on the "clean" versions of this parody, but for the record -no pun intended- the other versions of this parody are also quite similar.] These similarities suggest to me that there was probably an initial [source] parody. Many online commenters who remember this parody indicate that their recollection of it dates from when they were a child in the late 1990s. For those reasons, I think that the source parody must have been aired on a television show which was watched by children if not primarily directed towards children.

My guess is that the clean "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies have their source in the "the 1999 episode "The Best of Both Worlds" of the animated TV series KaBlam!, in the Life with Loopy segment,[when] the song was spoofed as "I (Don't) Believe I Can Fly." [Source: Wikipedia page given above.] Unfortunately, I haven't found any text or video of that episode. However, the fact that that episode aired in 1999, the same year that I began hearing renditions of that parody, further suggest to me that that Life with Loopy segment was the source for those parodies. Click for a video of another Life Of Loopy segment.
In May 2007 I wrote on this discussion thread "Folklore: Play Ground Hand Jives"
that "Your guess is as good as mine where ["I Believe I Can Fly" parodies] came from. I wouldn't be surprised if it was part of a comedy routine that was shown on one of those BET comedy shows {"BET"="Black Entertainment Television"}. But that's just a guess." I've changed my mind about BET being the most likely source for that parody in part because I've never found any mention of any comedy routine that mentioned "I Believe I Can Fly" and I've not come acrosss any commenter who shared an examples of that R. Kelly song mentioning that they heard it on BET. Furthermore, it seems to me that the widespread nature of this parody may preclude its origin on a BET comedy show since my sense is that those shows didn't have large audiences in among non-Black populations.

I recall reading a post on a blog whose name I didn't document in which the commenter noted that his or her example of "I Believe I Can Fly" parody was racial because of the reference to "chicken wings" and "collard greens". That contributor made no other comment about any racial aspect to that example.

Here's my reaction to that comment as an African American:
1. While chicken wings and collard greens are considered to be "soul food" dishes [African American popular food choices], other people like those food items.

2. It's racist to imply that this parody is racist because it's about a person featured in the parody wanted (or, in some versions, who stole) one or two items of food that have been associated with soul food - chicken wings or chicken wings and collard greens. Not all Black people eat or love chicken wings and/or collard greens. Furthermore, many people who aren't Black love one or both of those food items.

3. It's racist to assume that the person in some versions of this parody who stole from Burger King or wherever was Black or that the person that who got shot by, killed by, or chased by the FBI was Black

I don't believe that anti-Black mocking racist connotations are or were meant to be a part of any version of this parody.

I believe that many people who sang or who sing "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies aren't aware that versions of those parodies might be considered racist in any way. That said, intent and awareness of racism in children's rhymes & songs doesn't preclude those examples from being racist - for instance, the old, mostly retired versions of "Eenie Meenie Mo" and some of the contemporary versions of the handclap rhyme "I Went To The Chinese Resturant".****

I have a MUCH stronger reaction to racist connotations found in some versions of those above mentioned playground rhymes than I do to "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies. Actually, my bottom line is that I refuse to buy into any automatic racial implications of the "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies. My main concerns about those parodies are that those parodies may further contribute to the normalizing of violence that is so prevalent in American and other societies.

****Click for a pancocojams post on that playground rhyme.

This ends Part I of this series.

Thanks to all those who I quoted in this post and thanks to R. Kelly for his musical legacy.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


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  2. That isn't how I learned it it was...
    I believe I can fly
    I believe I can touch the sky
    All I wanted was a chicken wing
    So I blew up burger king
    I hit my mom straw. (Something like that)
    She hit me back with a bra (or something that rhymed with the previous line)
    That's all I could remember
    Because she died in December

    1. Thanks for sharing your version of "I Believe I Can Fly", Natacha Josue.

      Parodies of that R. Kelly song used to be very popular. When did you learn your version?