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A Rap Hit Without Violence, Sex or Profanity? There It Is : Pop music: Tag Team breaks the rules with the No. 3 single 'Whoomp!' The duo's first album is released this week.

July 21, 1993|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOLLYWOOD — "A rap single with no shooting, maiming, complaining, cussing, politics or anything degrading to women: Sounds like a sure flop doesn't it?," asks Cecil (DC) Glenn of the Atlanta-based rap duo Tag Team.

A flop it is not.

The song, Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)," is No. 3 on the pop charts and has shot Glenn and his partner Steve Roll'n into national prominence.

"Occasionally, people need a break from all the grimness and vulgarity in these rap songs," explains Glenn, who does most of the rapping while Roll'n does the music.

"There are a few songs out there like that, in the pop-rap vein, but a lot people generally look down on pop rap. We figured it might be a good time for a song about nothing but fun. Everybody was saying, 'Whoomp! There it is,' so it seemed like something to build a song around."

A catch phrase in hip circles, the song's title spread nationwide in the last few months, with a big boost from Chicago Bulls fans who chanted it during home playoff games in the team's championship drive last month.

For those who are not quite sure what the phrase means, Roll'n offered a definition: "A response to something you agree with or like--but something positive."

Sample usage:

"You see a great-looking lady walking down the street," Glenn said, pausing for Roll'n to respond: "Whoomp! There it is."

Second example: Glenn says, "Your momma just made some greens that taste incredible." Roll'n: "Whoomp! there it is."

An intriguing bass line and what Roll'n calls a "whoomping" beat are also part of the lure of the single, which is not to be confused with "Whoot, There It Is," the rival hit single by the group 95 South.

Remarkably, the Tag Team single exploded without an album or a major-label push.

The pair's debut album--also called "Whoomp! (There It Is)"--just came out Tuesday on Bellmark Records, a tiny Hollywood company. Even more surprising: The single shot into the Top 5 without a video.

In a conference room at Bellmark headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard last week, the duo--both outgoing, talkative and in a merry mood--had finished perusing the just-completed video and were gleefully speculating about how it would increase sales. The single may sidestep violence and vulgarity, but the video does feature some women in sexy attire.

"We're not against sex--just stuff that's offensive to women," Roll'n explains. "But there's nothing offensive or sexist in the video. There are some suggestive songs on the album--but just suggestive. The challenge in hip-hop these days is to get your point across without cussing and raunchiness."

They weren't always champions of inoffensive pop rap. "We used to cuss on records but we decided we should be responsible and mature," Glenn says. "Kids listen to this stuff, and they don't need to hear all that. 'Whoomp! There It Is' had some swearing on it when we first did the single last year, but it's been edited out. We saw the light;--the cussing was hurting rather than helping."

"Whoomp! (There It Is)" was a turning point for Roll'n, 27, and Glenn, 26, who had been recording underground singles, basically financed by their own money, for 10 years without any success.

Their collaboration started in Denver, where they grew up, and continued in Atlanta. Roll'n, a hair stylist, moved there first and Glenn followed after college, landing a job as a deejay at an Atlanta nightclub called Magic City.

Last October, they recorded "Whoomp! (There It Is)," which was resoundingly rejected by all the major labels. "A big problem was that they didn't like the record's Southeastern sound, which has a lot of bass and a raw, sort of amateurish sound," Roll'n says. "It's the kind of low-down, up-tempo hip-hop they didn't think would sell around the country. We were very discouraged."

But not enough to quit.

They borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents (his mother is Denver's supervisor of juvenile affairs and his father is the University of Colorado's dean of ethnic studies) to finance a pressing of 800 singles, which sold out quickly in the Atlanta area just on word of mouth--with help from exposure in the dance club Magic City. That was enough to sell Bellmark on the record and the duo.

With the hit record under their belts and the debut album just out, Roll'n and Glenn have one more goal: to land a spot on a major tour. "We've been performing and we're improving all the time," Roll'n says. "Are you listening, Janet Jackson?"

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