Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What "That's The Way We Roll" Means

Edited by Azizi Powell

Infamous New York City Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner refused to quit the Democratic mayoral race today saying "Quit isn't the way we roll in New York City".

In my opinion, it makes no sense for Weiner to have resigned from the United States Congress because of his inappropriate actions but now refuses to quit the New York Democratic mayoral primary after it became known that he continued those same egregious sexual actions. However, since this is a folkloric and a music blog and not a political blog, I'd like to focus on Weiner's use of the African American vernacular phrase "the way we roll".

"That's the way we roll" ("This is the way we roll") means "That's the way we are". Another way of saying "That's the way we roll" is "That's the way we do things when we are being true to ourselves."

"The way we roll" is how people behave when they aren't "putting on a front" (faking it) but are expressing their true nature or their "real" attitude or reaction/s to that time and place. "That's the way we roll" or "That's the way I roll" is bluntly and unapologetically said with the unspoken addition of "and if you don't like it, I couldn't care less".

"To roll *
A word used to describe a particular person's behavior or idiosyncrasies.

I work hard and party hard. That's how I roll.
-olivesmarch, 4th Jun 22, 2005

* This was the eight definition for "to roll" that was submitted to urban dictionary. That infinitive has other meanings that aren't related to the phrase "This is the way we roll" or "This is the way I roll". African Americans gave "to roll" that particular vernacular meaning at least by the early 1990s.

The core meaning of "to roll" is "to move a certain way". It's my position that the slang meaning of "to roll" = "to behave in an intrinsic manner" comes from the belief that the way a person "lives and moves" reflects and determines that person's being.

In 1991 Mc Hammer recorded the song "This Is The Way We Roll". A video of that song is embedded below. Here's an excerpt of the lyrics of that song:

"Down the highway
I'm doing it all my way...

My tank is full
My fame is strong
I got it like that
So I'm rollin' on...

This is the way we roll
We roll... We roll
This is the way we roll... Rollin'
(Rollin'... Rollin'... I'm rollin' on)
This is the way we roll
We roll... We roll
This is the way we roll... Rollin'
(Rollin'... Rollin'
All through Oaktown I'm rollin' on)
Click for the complete lyrics of that Mc Hammer song.
It's my position that "we roll" in that song has a double meaning of
1."goes from one place to another"
2. "the style that [the manner in which] those particular people move (behave, live, approach other people and different situations)".

That said the way a person "rolls" could change dependent on time & circumstances, but it seems to me that within that statement is the declaration that this way of moving (or "stylin") is the person's or the people's real way of being.

When Anthony Weiner said that "Quit isn't how New Yorkers roll", he meant that quitting is against the intrinsic nature of New Yorkers.

(These examples are presented in chronological order with the oldest example posted first.)

Example #1: Mc Hammer - This is the way we roll (1991)

videovideosvideo, Published on Apr 7, 2012
"This Is the Way We Roll is a single released by Hammer from the album Too Legit to Quit.[1]

The song was featured in the film, The Addams Family, and was performed by Hammer on Saturday Night Live.[2] A music video was produced for the track as well.
Another song from that album is "Rollin' on Oaktown Style".

Example #2: Jonas Brothers - Thats The Way We Roll - Official Video (HQ)

Jonas Brothers, Uploaded on Dec 27, 2007

Taken from the Bonus Jonas Edition CD/DVD. In stores now!
This song is included in "the Jonas Brothers' self-titled second studio album and the international debut album released by the Jonas Brothers... The album was released on August 7, 2007".
The title of this Jonas Brothers' song is the only similarity between that song & the earlier Mc Hammer song. Here's the chorus of that Jonas Brothers' song:
And I know
We get a little crazy
And I know
We get a little loud
And I know
We're never gonna fake it
We are wild, we are free
We are more than you think
So call us freaks
'but that's just the way we roll"

Click for the lyrics to this song.
For what it's worth, as an African American, the sentence "That's the way I roll" appears to be used much more often than "This is the way we roll". This might be partly attributed to the fact that the former song title is more contemporary than the latter. However, I don't recall many people saying "This is the way we (or "I") roll" back in the day when Mc Hammer made his record. The preference for "That's the way we roll" is understandable given the American [both Black and non-Black] propensity for informality and our custom of shortening words, using abbreviations, and using whatever part of speech "that's" is (instead of "that is" or "this is").

Notice that Anthony Weiner- and Mc Hammer - used the not-as-cool version of that "way we roll" phrase. Hmm.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post - with the possible exception of Anthony Weiner...

Special thanks to Mc Hammer and the Jonas Brothers and to those who published their video on YouTube.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, folkloric, and entertainment purposes.

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1 comment:

  1. "I'm A-Rolling Through This Unfriendly World" is an African American Gospel song. In that song the word "rolling" means "moving"/"traveling".

    Click for the lyrics of that song.

    Also, click for a video of that song.