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.
Rae gives the wild videos posted with the word "ratchet" to WorldStarHip-Hop.com 70 percent of the blame for popularizing this term in its current context, but she also points a finger at VH1. "Flavor of Love enabled so much ratchetivity to go down, it's ridiculous," she asserts, citing Flavor Flav's notoriously uncouth reality dating show.
Her Web series concentrates on ratchet music, which she calls "inappropriate, ignorant, disrespectful music" even as she is "embarrassingly fascinated" by it.
"It's so annoyingly degrading, but sometimes the beat is so seductive and the lyrics are so hilariously raunchy that you can't help but sing along to it," she admits. "With Ratchetpiece Theatre, I wanted to put my love for these songs out there but also poke fun at how horrible they are. Nobody should take this music literally, and I wanted to create a personality who kind of does."
"Ratchet" is a word that was intended to describe someone who is "all the way turnt up," "buck," "crunk," "hyphy" -- take your pick. It's now plumbing the depths of "Hood Gone Wild" waters but may prove to be buoyant enough to swing back in a positive direction with the passage of time.
"Often, negative terms are adopted as positive," says Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter on ratchet's possible future. " 'Ghetto' would be a classic example, as would be 'nigger,' of course, and 'funky' and so much else. That doesn't happen as much with slurs against women, though -- 'ho' and 'skank' and 'bitch' only go so far as a term of pride, for example, despite attempts to push them in that direction.
"So if that is the main meaning of 'ratchet,' then I doubt it will go positive," he continues. "However, if 'ratchet' comes to just mean 'ghetto' in general, then I can almost guarantee that in 10 years it will be a term of pride among people of a certain demographic."
"I think it's just like when 'ghetto' was becoming popular," reckons Rae. "Five years from now, white girls are going to start saying, 'Oh my God, my hair's so nappy, it's ratchet.' I'm hoping it will go out of style soon, but it will always be around as it has been for years. It's just been suppressed, so now is ratchet's time to rear its tacky lace-front head for the world to see."