Monday, February 27, 2017

A Few Hip Hop Examples Of What "Break It Down" & "Break It On Down" Mean In The Context Of Communicating Or Dancing

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post explores some colloquial meanings of the African American Vernacular English expression "Break it down" (also given as "Break it on down").

The content of this post is presented for etymological and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those Hip Hop artists whose tracks are featured in this post and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Click for a pancocojams post on What "Breakdowns" Mean In The Context Of 19th Century/ Early 20th Century American Dance Music.

I'm intrigued by the possibility that the 19th century/early 20th century use of the "term Breakdown" for dance/s and music might have influenced the use of the term "break it down" and "break it on down" in Hip Hop music, R&B music, and elsewhere.

"break something down
(for someone) Fig. to explain something to someone in simple terms or in an orderly fashion. (Alludes to breaking a complex problem into smaller segments which can be explained more easily....

She doesn't understand. You will have to break it down for her. I can help. This is a confusing question. Let me break down the problem for you.

I believe that the Hip Hop group 2 Live Crew's use of "break it down" in their 1989 hit track "Break It Down" fits one of the standard colloquial definition for that term i.e. to explain something. But 2 Live Crew's use of the term "break it down" may also have the additional meaning or meanings as given in Sections A & B of this post. And, that Hip Hop group's use of "break it on down" also included a play on the Hip Hop meaning of the word "break"*.

Here's an excerpt from that 2 Live Crew track's "Break It On Down"
[Warning the entire track contains some profanity and the n word]

Break it on down
Break it on down
Break it on down
Break it on down
Break it on down

Now let me break it on down and tell the story
When they say "2 Live," your mama gets worried
When they speak of us, the negative get mentioned
But we don't care; thanks for your attention


Now I can go the distance, I can go the length
It's not the weak, because it's all in the strength
You don't know? You mean you ain't heard?
Yours truly, Marquis, can

Break it on down
Break it on down
Break it on down
Break it on down


We'll make you feel the beat
(Break it on down)
Break 1, break 2, break 3, break 4
(Break it on down)
(Break it on down)
(Break it on down)
..."in Hip Hop, today the term break refers to any segment of music (usually four measures or less) that could be sampled and repeated. A break is any expanse of music that is thought of as a break by a producer....

A break beat is the sampling of breaks as (drum loop) beats, (originally found in soul tracks) and their subsequent use as the rhythmic basis for hip hop and rap. It was invented by DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican, the first to buy two copies of one record so as to be able to mix between the same break[citation needed] or, as Bronx DJ Afrika Bambaataa describes, "that certain part of the record that everybody waits for--they just let their inner self go and get wild," extending its length through repetition.[4] A particularly innovative style of street dance was created to accompany break beat-based music, and was hence referred to as "The Break", or breaking. In the 1980s, charismatic dancers like Crazy Legs, Frosty Freeze, and the Rock Steady Crew revived the breaking movement. More recently, electronic artists have created "break beats" from other electronic music"...


[These uses are given in no particular order]

1. an exclamation of agreement, approval, and/or encouragement for something a person is saying or has said or written

"Tell it like it is!", "Tell it!", and "Preach!" are some additional African American Vernacular English synonyms for "Break it down!; "break it on down" and/or "___ is breaking it on down" in the context of communication.

This urban entry for "break it down" is rated the top definition [on Feb. 27, 2017]. Notice the tags (synonyms) after the word "explain" and not including the term "blowin smoke":
break it down
To explain at length, clearly, and indisputably.
"Break it down Oblio, break it down."

"Let me break it down for ya."
#explain #right on #blowin smoke #tell it #hallelujah
by dahv August 08, 2006
"Right on!", "Tell it!", and "Hallelujah!" are also synonyms for "Break it down!" and "Break it on down!" -although I doubt that the exclamation "Hallelujah" is often used that way.

The other tag in that urban dictionary entry "blowin smoke" implies that the person who is saying that the person is "breaking it down" is being fake.

2. a bragging statement about a person's verbal skills - including a Hip Hop MC's [a rapper's] skills

Example: LL Cool J's 1987 hit Hip Hop track ".357 - Break it On Down"

Excerpt from

..."Ain't a rapper alive that can fill my shoes
I'm dope on a rope, virgins wanna elope
I do the hustle and the shuffle and the rope-a-dope
Cause I'm the hardest hard rock in the hard rock town
I gotta .357 and I break it on down..


Callin all cars for the brother in black
L-E-L the Mack back bone of this track
The force full of force to put you on your back
Makin' hit after hit, while you search for a contract
Hotter than hot now watch how hot I can get
Leavin' rappers freeze-dried and skimmer's dimmer's wet
Cause I'm the hardest hard rock in the hard rock town
I gotta .357 and I break it on down

A Magnum .357 [revolver] is known for its power.

1. a demand that a person show of his or her best social dance skills or a statement/exclamation that affirms that a person is showing of his or her best social dance skills ["Break it down!" also given as "Break it on down!"]

Some additional African American Vernacular English synonyms for "Break it down!" or "Break it on down!"
in the context of dancing are "Get down!", Get on down!, "Get on down to the real nitty gritty"*, ""Work
it!”, “Work!”, and "Do it!"

My guess is that the word "it" in "Break it down" and "Work it" (if not "Do it") refers to the dancer's body, and, even more specifically, the dancer's behind. And the word "down" may have initially actually referred to dancing down to the ground or close to the ground.

*Click for a pancocojams post on the term "nitty gritty" and Shirley Ellis's 1963 R&B song "The Nitty Gritty" ("Let's Get On Down To The Real Nitty Gritty").

This excerpt from M.C. Hammer's late 1989/1990's hit Hip Hop record "U Can't Touch This" serves as one example of the expression "break it down" in a dance context:

Excerpt from
...."Give me a song or rhythm
Making 'em sweat that's what I'm giving 'em
Now they know when you talk about the Hammer
You talk about a show that's hyped and tight
Singers are sweatin' so pass them a mic
Or a tape to learn what it's gonna take
And now he's gonna burn
The charts legit either work hard
Or you might as well quit
That's word because you know
Can't touch this (oh-oh oh oh-oh-oh)
Can't touch this (oh-oh oh oh-oh-oh)
Break it down
(Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh oh-oh)
(Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh oh-oh)
Hammer time....
In this Hip Hop composition, "break it down" is short for "Watch me and my crew break it down" (meaning: show off our best fast dance moves).

That said, M.C. Hammer's line "Break it down" might [also] be a variation of the standard colloquial definition for "break it down" [to deconstruct something complicated so that it can be understood] as he might be implying that because of his great dancing skills, complicated dance sequences appear to be easy and effortless for him & his dancers to do.
Click for the pancocojams post African American Slang In M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This"

Also note this reference to M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" in
"2) To dance/begin dancing/dance wildly -- In his song "U Can't Touch This" MC Hammer says, "Break it down." Note that this is always "break it down" and not "break down"."
Instead of "wildly", I'd use the term "vigorously" or "to dance fast without regard to any rigid dancing instructions"

2. a description of the level of skill that is shown in the dancing
Breaking it down
Definition #1: When a person is feeling the song and dancing dancing either vigorously or in high energy/intensity choreographed number. The skill with which the person is dancing is usually unexpected.


*Hip hop remix comes on and white girl starts dancing*
Black person: "Dang, look at white girl breaking it down!"

by Dann326 June 14, 2016
I'm not sure that I agree with this entry's qualifier that the complimentary expression "break it down" is usually used when the skill with which the person is dancing is unexpected.

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1 comment:

  1. I'm curious about the word "on" in the phrases "Get on down" and "break it on down".

    I think those phrases are older than their shortened versions "Get down" and "break it down".

    My guess is that the word "on" in those phrases is an adverb which means "all the way", i.e. "Let's get right on down to the real nitty gritty" means "Let's get all the way down etc." And "Break it on down" means "break it all the way down".

    But even if that's correct, where did this use of "on" come from? Is it a Southern custom that can be traced to the French (via Louisiana?). Or is it African American Vernacular English that has it roots in an African language?

    But there's also the saying "Right On!" from the late 1960s/1970s..."Right on" means "That's right".

    How does the "on" in that saying fit with the other examples that I've mentioned-or does the "on" in Right on" have a different source and is a different part of speech than the word "on" in "Get right on down to the real nitty gritty" and "break it on down" phrases?