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 entertainment 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 categorized 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 #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 enthusiastically sing that parody, I didn't know that any parody of that song existed.

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.

(Rewritten- June 13, 2017)
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- the parodies begin with the lines "I believe I can fly" [or, in later versions "I believe I can die"), "I got shot by the FBI". But versions of this parody begin to diverge with the next "It's all because of..." lines.

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 that was watched by children even if that show wasn't primarily directed towards children.

My guess is that at least some of the clean "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies have their source in the 1999 episode of "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: 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 could have been one of the sources for those parodies.
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 across 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.

[June 14, 2017, edited Feb. 3, 2021]

I recently happened upon this online blog post about an example of an "I Believe I Can Fly" parody which suggested that "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies (and not just that particular example) were African American in origin. I'm quoting this entire post for folkloric purposes:

"Occupation: Student
Residence: CA
Performance Date: 3/06/14

"The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. Although he graduated from a public high school, he attended a private Islamic elementary school until the third grade. He says there were Muslims of many backgrounds at the school, and one of his friends (who also happened to be of Pakistani descent) used to sing this as a joke during rehearsals for school programs. It is a partial parody of a once-popular song by the artist R. Kelly.

I believe i can die

I got shot by the FBI

My momma hit me with a chicken wing

All the way to Burger King

Analysis: The informant (and, according to him, his other friends and classmates) always thought the song was funny, both because “the original song was about how, you know, you can do anything if you try hard and believe in yourself, and like… not letting your fears get in the way of…getting your dreams or whatever. And then it’s like, oh, I got shot by the FBI and my mom hates me…So, that was funny;” and also that the friend in question was also a bit of a troublemaker, so the just the fact of him singing the rather inappropriate song when he was supposed to be singing a school song, “made it even funnier” to the informant.

From a more objective point of view, the elementary school attended by the informant was located in South Los Angeles, which has a high population of African-American residents. It is quite possible that this parody was learned from neighbors or friends who were African-American, as it seems to give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government. It’s also a very stark contrast between the original song’s message of hope and inspiration and this version’s obvious (justified) pessimism about American society. On the other hand, the second and third lines seem to include stereotypes about African Americans’ supposed fondness for fried chicken and fast-food and their strict parenting style.

An online search reveals that parodies of this song are common among African Americans from LA to Pittsburgh, revealing how far and wide the common anxieties of this minority group spreads.

POSTED FRIDAY, 16TH OF MAY 2014 AT 05:32:19 PM"
The words "parodies of this song are common" is a hyperlink that leads to Part I of a 2013 pancocojams post about "I Believe I Can Fly Parodies"

I also 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 these comments:

I very much disagree with the comments that Rabia wrote in the above quoted article that "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies "give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government."

I also very much disagree that the boys and girls who enthusiastically and without prompting (except for my request for them to share what songs or rhymes they knew) sung "I Believe i Can Fly" parodies in the cultural presentations and recreational sessions that I held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1999 and the early 2000s were "revealing the common anxieties" [that probably are indeed actually] "felt by [many] African Americans far and wide"

I also disagree that references to chicken wings, collard greens, and -in other examples of "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies- cornbread automatically mean that these parodies are of African American origin. While its true that those food items are considered to be "soul food" dishes - i.e. African American popular food choices- other people in the United States South and elsewhere like those food items. I believe that it's probably well meaning but still socially incorrect to imply or assert that this parody is African American because the person voiced in the rhyme wanted (or, in some versions, stole) food that have been categorized as "soul food".

I also believe that it's probably well meaning but still socially incorrect to assume that the person in some versions of this parody who is shot, killed, or chased by the FBI was Black. And I don't believe that it's true that all (or maybe even most) African Americans have a stricter parenting style than other Americans. And if some African Americans do have a stricter parenting style than other Americans, I'm not convinced that the violence against the mother (hitting the mother with a garbage can or a frying pan or other such lines that -I believe- are in later versions of these parodies) have anything to do with actual dislike of or hatred for mothers.

Furthermore, in my years of informally directly and indirectly collecting and studying African American children's recreational compositions (from the mid 1980s to date), I can attest to the fact that it's rare to find examples of African American children's rhymes that even obliquely refer to "being victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government" even if you include such examples as the late 19th century or early 20th century "Massa Massa Don't Whip Me" (whip that other "n word" behind that tree)" and the "Bedbugs" rhymes:
"Oh, I'm walkin' round the corner
Doing little harm
Along comes a policeman
And grabs me by the arm
Oh, he walks me round the corner
Rings a little bell
Along comes a wagon
And knocks me in a cell"...

Note my assumption that both of those rhymes are probably of African American origin or adaptation.

The record "I Believe I Can Fly" record was written, produced, and performed in 1996 by [African] American American singer R. Kelly (as per and the earliest examples of the "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies that I've collected (from direct interactions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1999) were from African American boys and girls ages 5-12 years. However, these examples might not be the earliest parodies of "I Believe I Can Fly". Furthermore, most of the examples of "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies are found online on YouTube and other websites/blogs such as pancocojams. Online examples of children's rhymes -including I Believe I Can fly"- rarely include demographics. And I don't believe that any research project has been done to ascertain whether Black American children/teens know and have sung these parodies more than non-Black American children/teens.

However, "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies differ from most Black African and Black African Diaspora children's recreational compositions (rhymes, singing games, chants, and cheers) in that these examples don't have a percussive beat which facilitate the performance of some form of rhythmic body movement/s such as jumping rope, partner, group, or individual hand claps, skipping in a circle, dancing, or foot stomping (synchronized foot stepping) while the sung. rhyme is sung or chanted. It doesn't appear that "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies initially had any accompanying body movement activities, but the compositions became separated from that (or those) activity/activities, but that doesn't necessarily mean that these parodies weren't originally composed by African Americans. Also, it seems to me that few children's rhymes are parodies, although one group of rhymes that might fit that definition are the "I pledge allegiance to the flag/Michael Jackson makes me gag". This is in contrast to the "On Top Of Old Smokey" parodies that I believe are of White American origin and mostly chanted by non-Black Americans. Click for an article about those parodies.

It appears to me that "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies were sung -and continue to be sung- by children and pre-teens of all races, ethnic groups, and genders within the United States, and by extension, in some other nations. I believe these parodies remain popular with children and pre-teenagers (ages 5- 12 years) because they provide opportunities to engage in creative play (i.e. rhyming or near rhyming composing, singing/chanting) that often tests and flaunts societal limits with little or no consequences. This limit testing/flaunting societal norms includes children's and pre-teens's singing/chanting rhymes that include profanity or other taboo words -such as the "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat" rhymes in which the "taboo" word is given in such a way that there is plausible deniability. Other children's rhymes such as examples of "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies include references to taboo violence such as hitting one's mother or teacher, and sexual or sexualized content and often sexualized butt shaking dancing- which cause many children to describe these rhymes as "nasty" or "dirty".

If you have demographic information about late 1990s examples of "I Believe I Can Fly" parodies (including the race, ethnicity of those people chanting those parodies), please share that in the comment section below. Thanks.
This portion of this post is presented in the 2017 pancocojams post

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.


  1. 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?