Everybody can agree that music is a universal language. Many American musicians make note of the fact foreign audiences don’t understand what they’re saying when they are speaking, but the audience sings every word to their songs. Well, what happens when an audience speaks a musician’s native tongue fluently and they still don’t understand what the musician is talking about? I was at a party and the DJ had the beats knocking, until he threw Kriss Kross on . (Forgive him.)
On “Jump,” the boys from the A rap, “‘Cause I’m the miggity, miggity, miggity, miggity Mac Daddy.” Can someone explain what a “miggity mac” is because I didn’t understand it then and still don’t. We will discuss a few of the most confusing lyrics in songs. If you think you can explain some of our selections, sound off in the comments.
Labelle – “Lady Marmalade”
This signature hit from the ladies of Labelle has it all–a racy subject matter, a funky groove, and a little bit of French thrown in there. The few lines in French translate to “Will you sleep with me tonight?” However, what in the world is a “gitchy gitchy ya ya?” I’ve heard of singers scatting, but that was never in the scat sounds dictionary. “Gitchy gitchy ya ya” sounds like a pause worthy slang term for a sexually transmitted disease. “Yo, Son, you was messing with that girl around the block? You better get checked or something. I heard she got that gitchy gitchy ya ya, if you know what I mean!” To which a person would respond, “Pause. Damn, I’m going straight to the clinic!”
Kanye West – “Roses”
In 2005, Kanye West put out his sophomore album, Late Registration. The set was more introspective than his debut. His introspection was on full display on the track dedicated to his grandmother’s ordeal with being hospitalized. “Roses” documented how he had to deal with his popularity when he just wanted to be a human and look after his grandmother. While the song is remarkable, one line baffles even the most intellectual people I know. “So many aunties, we could have an auntie team.” Kanye, we know you like to act like you’re more forward thinking than the rest of us commoners. So could you explain what an auntie team is? To clarify, are we talking about a basketball team full of aunties? What kind of team are we talking here? Commoners, like myself, know you don’t write lyrics down. With lines like that, you might want to start putting the pen to paper again.
Whitney Houston – “Million Dollar Bill”
When Whitney Houston was recording her comeback disc, I Look To You, she called upon some of today’s hottest songwriters to provide the material for her to reclaim her throne atop the music charts. The second single from the effort was the Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz confection, “Million Dollar Bill.” The disco-lite uptempo number had us in a groove until she sang, “I can see the way he’s making me feel this way about his love.” Honestly, I can’t blame Whitney. She was just looking for another hit song to flesh out her album. The real blame is on Alicia Keys. She’s a great artist and all, but for a woman who graduated high school at 16 and was accepted to Columbia University, she is all over the place with her writing. A few of her songs don’t make good use of a little thing we like to call subject-verb agreement. This line in “Million Dollar Bill” feels Mrs. Swizz Beatz threw some words at a wall and whichever stuck, she put in a song. No dice.
Lionel Richie – “All Night Long”
In the 80s, light skinned fellas were all the rage. The leader of that light skinned male crusade was the crooner, Lionel Richie. One of his biggest hits is the party anthem, “All Night Long.” The word “party” is said in many different languages. The questionable thing about the song is about the chant at the end. If anyone has an explanation for “tom bol li de se de moi ya, hey jambo jumbo,” please holla at a player. Are those actual words in another language? I’m not too sure. My theory is baby Nicole Richie was learning to talk and she said this, instead of a real sentence and Poppa Richie just went with it. I could be wrong, but my theory is probably cooler than the actual story. At least, I’d like to think so.
Michael Jackson – “Wanna Be Startin Somethin”
Michael Jackson released the seminal project, Thriller, in 1982. Though every song on there is a classic, one of the biggest fan favorites is “Wanna Be Startin Somethin.” When I was a kid, I was obsessed with this song. I played it so much my mom bought me a Walkman so she didn’t wind up breaking my tape. One thing about that song annoys me to this day. What the hell does “ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa” mean?! My mom told me it was Swahili and I believed her. Come to find out, she wasn’t far off.
The King of Pop claimed the phrase was Swahili, in order to keep all royalties for himself. Apparently, the words come from a song by a Cameroonian artist, Dibango. Dibango’s words were, “ma ma ko, ma ma sa, ma ma ko sa.” Dibango sued Jackson in the 80s and sued him again in 2007 when Rihanna sampled the chant for her dance hit, “Don’t Stop The Music.” Rihanna got permission from Michael Jackson, but neglected to get permission from Dibango. They settled out of court for the second time before Rihanna’s album dropped. By the way, there is no clear translation of the chant, but it does have something to do with dancing.