I want to preface this piece by saying that, much like me, hip-hop peaked in the mid-90s. So if you read this list and think to yourself, “hey, these terms are in no way reflective of hip-hop across its entire history, and are native only to the art form circa 1995,” that’s because I grew bored as hell with the genre by the mid 2000s. We would have all been better off if they stopped making Star Wars films after Return of the Jedi, and we didn’t really need new rap albums after Stankonia. Now let us proceed.
“Is y’all niggas crazy? I’ll bust you and be Swayze.”
— DMX, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”
To confirm what you are already thinking, yes, the term “Swayze” is indeed a reference to late actor Patrick Swayze. “Swayze” is slang for “disappear,” because in the 1990 film Ghost, Patrick Swayze played a phantom that could disappear at will.
I’ll let you wrap your head around that for a moment: Ghost, of pottery scene fame, the Bible of 90s caucasian female fantasy, left such an indelible impression in the mind of the 90s hip-hop world that the surname of the film’s lead became part of its lexicon.
To my knowledge, there are no other actors from 1990’s biggest blockbusters afforded such an honor. We never got the slang term “Culkin” for being abandoned by one’s family, “Gere” for hiring a prostitute and then falling in love with her, or “Fox” for using a DeLorean to go back in time to 1885.
Equally puzzling is that the choice was made to reference Ghost when Swayze’s canon offers several films laden with machismo. Point Break could have made Swayze’s name slang for robbery. Road House offers a reference to the ability to hold one’s own in a fight. Even Dirty Dancing represents a double-threat that could have implied either holding a woman aloft above you or making Jerry Orbach realize you’re a decent human being.
So we are left to conclude that Patrick Swayze’s portrayal of the doomed Sam Wheat held a special significance in the minds of the rap community. While that’s more than likely because Ghost was a gigantic hit of a movie that loomed large for years in pop culture, I like to imagine Method Man and The Notorious B.I.G. watching the film together in a NYC theater, bawling their eyes out, and pinkie swearing as the credits rolled to “make Swayze motherfuckin’ happen.”
“I rip it hardcore, like porno flick bitches/I roll with groups of ghetto bastards with biscuits.”
— Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck, “Bring Da Ruckus”
“Biscuit” was, for a time, popular as slang for a gun. Unlike “Swayze,” which makes at least passing sense as a way to express disappearing, 30 years later I still have no idea how a baked good evokes a firearm. So I started by making a list of the similarities between the two:
Despite this rather exhaustive list, however, I felt nowhere closer to getting an answer. So I cracked my knuckles and hunkered down for some research, the extent of which was clicking on the top two Google results for “why is a gun called a biscuit in rap music?” The links proffered two different answers, and I would have felt ridiculous clicking on more than that, so here’s what we have to go with:
A gun might be referred to as a “biscuit” because you get a biscuit as a “side piece” to your order, and a gun worn on the side is, well, a “side piece.” This is idiotic not only because we all know meals are there to compliment biscuits and not vice versa, but a “side piece” is, first and foremost, slang for a woman you’re having sex with on the side (or, in my case, the cornbread you eat when your biscuit isn’t looking).
Biscuit means not just a gun, but, specifically, a stolen gun. Thus, it’s “hot.” Again, I don’t care for this, because anything stolen is referred to as “hot.” By that logic, “Give me those seven biscuits from the car we robbed earlier today,” could mean, “Please hand me those seven CDs we stole that comprise the entire Sugar Ray discography.” P.S. – In this hypothetical example, the person robbed was the person most deserving of robbery that ever lived.
“When these streets keep calling, heard it when I was sleep/That this Gay-Z and Cockafella Records wanted beef”
— Nas, “Ether”
The term “beef” as an idiom for “a complaint or grievance” pre-dates hip-hop culture by a century, dating back to the latter part of the 19th Century. So I’m not laying the blame for its genesis at rap’s feet. No, what I always found curious was the genre’s desire to adapt the term when, as a child in the late 80s/early 90s, “beef” was extremely well known as slang for “fart.” Let me give an example:
“Hey, should we sit next to John on the bus?”
“No, he totally smells like he just beefed.”
“You know what would be funny? If I walked by him and beefed in his face, and then asked him, ’Hey, did you enjoy that Greek cologne?’ You know, because he’s Greek and smells like beef.”
“Yeah, I caught that much. I dunno, it just seems a little murky.”
“Really? How so?”
“Well, are you implying that he, as a Greek, inherently smells like a fart? Or are we exploring the space of all Greeks using flatus as cologne? Because I feel that’s something of a different joke than what I was going for.”
“You’re right. I see what you mean.”
“Do you ever wonder if, like, we’re inflicting permanent psychological scarring upon him?”
“Yeah. Like, I dunno. I don’t want to think that my behavior toward him is so vile that it will be recalled three decades later in some snide internet publication.”
“What’s the internet?”
“I dunno. Fuck it, let’s beef on that fat Greek fuck!”
And that’s why I think “beef” is a stupid term.
Any other hip-hop slang that you hate that I failed to include? Tweet me @papasbasement!