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.

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

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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.

By 2007, A&R directors from outside the area were salivating at the prospect of putting out the Next Big Thing after crunk. Bryan Leach, a former TVT executive who had launched his own Polo Grounds label, signed a teenager named Hurricane Chris (of “A Bay Bay” fame) to a deal and released a full-length album called 51/50 Ratchet, which debuted at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 charts.

“People try to categorize the term ‘ratchet’ and try to make it something ghetto or something negative, but I just think it’s letting loose a little bit,” says Charlamagne Tha God, co-host of New York’s Power 105 radio morning show The Breakfast Club and a Southern native. “Anything young, wild and free. ‘Ratchet’ is an old term that I first heard from Lil Boosie and Webbie and that whole camp. The word was kind of like ‘crunk,’ and before crunk music, there was the term ‘crunk.’ “

Charlamagne often talks about “intelligent ratchetness” on The Breakfast Club. “Just like Kanye [West] coined the phrase ‘sophisticated ignorance,’ I think there is intelligent ratchetness and ignorant ratchetness,” he says. “The fighting on WorldStar[HipHop.com] or getting a tattoo of a pit bull on your face — that’s ratchetness, but ignorant ratchetness. Intelligent ratchetness is going out, getting drunk on Remy Martin, but taking a car service home. There’s nothing too crazy going on.

“I think everybody has to have a little ratchetness in them,” he adds. “The yin and the yang between ratchetness and righteousness. I think when you have just the right amount of both, it’s a great balance. Last night is a perfect example: I went from a strip club to a charity event called Girl Power, all in the span of two hours.”