Who You Calling Ratchet?

From LL's new song to Issa Rae's Web series, the word is the new "ghetto," and it's everywhere.

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LL Cool J (Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment); Issa Rae (BET.com)

(The Root) -- LL Cool J's new single, "Ratchet," describes a "hit it and quit it" session with a trashy young lady, a disrespectful departure for the man behind such tender cuts as "I Need Love."

"A little money for gas?" coos a whiny female voice on the hook.

"I shoulda never been with your ratchet ass!" replies Uncle L.

The song is a pretty strong indication of how far the word "ratchet" has shot up to the top of mainstream urban slang in recent times. (Note: The usage should not be confused with "ratchet" as a euphemism for a handgun. See Cam'Ron's "Get Ya Gun," on which he rhymes: " The car's far, I'm at the bar, got my gat in the club (poppin' Sizzurp)/And my ratchet is snub (snub) ... ")

What arguably started as a Southern rap dance at the turn of the century and then expanded to describe a relatively positive expression of energy has now become a worthy rival to the word "ghetto." It is most typically used to describe outrageously uncivilized behaviors and music -- often with women as the butt of the joke. (See Emmanuel and Phillip Hudson's "Ratchet Girl Anthem," which has snagged 30 million-plus views on YouTube since January.)

"I can't give a dictionary definition," says filmmaker Issa Rae -- creator of The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl Web series -- in the first episode of her spin-off Web series, Ratchetpiece Theatre, "but I can say that it's like if 'ghetto' and 'hot sh--ty mess' had a baby. And that baby had no father and became a stripper, then made a sex tape with an athlete and then became a reality star."

When Rae, who also does a "This Week in Ratchet" segment on Don't Sleep, the T.J. Holmes-hosted talk show on BET, caught up with The Root recently, she offered a deeper explanation. "In college, my friend Tova introduced us to this dance from down South called the Ratchet. That was the first time I heard the term and saw the dance," Rae told The Root. "Then, over the years, the term evolved into something to describe a type of behavior or way of life."

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 The origin of the dance and term is largely given to Shreveport, La. (aka "Ratchet City"), where the word has been in circulation since the late 1990s. Local label Lava House Records released "Do Da Ratchet" by Lava House, featuring Baton Rouge, La., artist Lil Boosie, in 2005 to set the elbow-jerking dance moves to music; and a remix featuring Baton Rouge's Webbie, released the next year, brought the word out of the immediate area.

While Boosie and Webbie have gone on to international fame (despite well-documented run-ins with the law), the self-proclaimed "ratchet king," Lava House's Anthony Mandigo, is currently serving a life sentence in the Louisiana State Penitentiary on drug charges.

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