I remember going to a school dance—probably the only one I ever went to—in 8th grade and hearing this song. Obviously I had heard it before then, because it was all over MTV and the radio since its release in the spring of 1986. It is at once quintessentially 80s and a throwback to Cameo’s funky days of the 70s. I was not aware of them before “Word Up,” but that song was certainly enough for me when I was 13 and way into being an expert on 80s music.
It’s impossibly funky, and singing along with Larry Blackmon’s nasally interpretation of the lyrics—which he achieved by singing into a transistor radio speaker—makes it even more awesome. From the jump, “Word Up” grabs you by the short and curlies and you are more than ready to be swept away into its strange and hip world.
Now all you sucker DJs who think you’re fly
There’s got to be a reason
And we know the reason why
You try to put on those airs
And act real cool
But ya got to realize
That you’re acting like fools
So he’s callin’ out not just DJs who think they’re saving the world (and I think we know from the current trend of EDM that many of those DJs really do have an inflated sense of their importance), but anyone who tries to impress people. I had some friends in elementary and junior high school who made shit up a lot, not because they necessarily thought they were cool but because they wanted the rest of us to think they were. I don’t think these words resonated with me in that way at the time, but I see how people who don’t spin for a living can also get caught up in their self-created hype.
Instead of being phony, let’s just have fun and follow Cameo’s advice:
Wave your hands in the air
Like you don’t care
Glide by the people
As they start to look and stare
Do your dance, do your dance
Do your dance quick, mama
Come on, baby, tell me what’s the word
And let’s talk for a quick minute about that video. I had forgotten about it until I sat down to write this, and when I watched it for the first time in God knows how many years, I was hypnotized by Larry’s bright red codpiece. That was one trend that never took off in the 80s like it should have. It’s a great focal point in an otherwise mostly dark video, so it’s no wonder we really can’t see anything else while he’s onscreen. Everything else about the video is pure 80s cheese, and I cannot believe I don’t remember it better.