Sunday, January 24, 2016

Questionable Lyrics #5: Shaq and the Kid From Quo Are Genie!

So, I just watched Kazaam, the 1996 Shaquille O'Neal vehicle where he plays a wish grantin' genie who decides he wants to become a rapper. That movie raises a lot of questions, but what struck me most was the song he performs in the film, "We Genie," where he explains his character's origins. Lyrically, it's a fascinating series of choices. You're constantly going, "wait, what was that? What does that even mean? Why did he way that?" And since I also just happen to have the soundtrack album, which does include that song, I decided I just had to analyze these crazy lyrics.

Update! 6/2/16: Somebody had the great idea (see the comments) to check out the subtitles/ closed captioning for the film. And that shed a little extra light on the mystery of the still puzzling lyrics, as well as pointed out a big error I made. So now, enjoy the corrected version of this still lyrical analysis. 8)

Before we start, though, I thought I'd point out a few interesting things. First of all, Da Brat has a sizable role in this film, as herself. She even performs a duet with Shaq. But she's not on the soundtrack album, and neither is that song. Curious. The only other rapper to appear as herself is Spinderella, who has a teeny tiny cameo, and she does have a song on here. This soundtrack also features the only commercially released song by The Almighty Arrogant, although I didn't hear it play anywhere in the film itself. Shaq has four songs in this flick, and all but the one with Da Brat are on the soundtrack. Two are solo, and the one I'm interested in today features Wade Robson.

Now, in the film, a 12 year-old kid finds Shaq's boombox (that's right, he's not in a lamp, he's in a boombox, because he's so hip-hop) and the whole film is a kiddie buddy picture about this boy and his genie. And when he asks Shaq about how he became a genie, the two of them perform "We Genie." But the kid actor is named Francis Capra; so he must've just been lip-syncing to a song recorded by somebody else in this movie. Specifically somebody named Wade Robson.

Now, when I first watched this film, there's this pack of bullies that pick on our protagonist, and I immediately looked at the one with the super short blonde hair and thought, he looks like that kid from Quo. Remember that ridiculous kiddie rap group from the early 90s, where it's one white kid and one black one and they both have shaved heads, earrings and are supposed to be the most hardcore rappers possible? Well, I didn't actually believe it was that kid, he just reminded me of them. But afterwards, when I decided to search online for the name "Wade Robson," he's that kid from Quo! You guys may know him better nowadays, though, from having that famous case against Michael Jackson for you-know-what; and he's been working primarily as a dancer for groups like N'Sync, Britney Spears and even hosting his own show on MTV. Meanwhile, I have no idea what become of the other kid from Quo.

Anyway, getting back on track, "We Genie" is the only point in the film where we learn Shaq's story. It's not like "Spirit," where Doug Fresh raps about the plot of Ghostbusters II, but we also have it all explained throughout the film, so we get the references to Vigo and the pink slime. Here, we only have the song lyrics to go on. Oh, and I poked around and the lyrics to this song aren't printed anywhere online, so I'm transcribing them myself. Future generations, you're welcome.

"My name is Kazaam,
I got the whole plan.
So listen to the man,
'Cause I'M the son of Sam sultan of sand."

Thanks to the subtitles, I now realize he said "sultan of sand," which is an admittedly much better line than what I'd understood as "son of Sam." The son of Sam, of course, was the serial killer David Berkowitz, who has admittedly been name-dropped in a whole ton of rap songs, and you've hard plenty of other MCs say they're the lyrical son of Sam, but it would still have been wildly inappropriate to drop in a kids movie like this. "Sultan of sand," on the other hand... I have to give it up, that's a good phrase.

Now the kid raps:

"Is that it?
Is that the whole deal?
You wanna be a hit,
You better get real."

Shaq fires back:

"I did have this friend in a thousand BC,
We discover a bevy of bathing beauties.
Habert[?] looks to me and I says to he,
Why don't we jump in that ol' Euphrates?"

I'm actually impressed that he keeps saying he's 3000 years old in the film, and they picked a date here that more or less syncs up. But being impressed goes right out the window for the next line, "I says to he." I understand he's forcing a rhyme by saying "he" instead of "him," which is already wack, but there's no reason to use "says" instead of "say."

Anyway, this song's already beginning to get confusing. I'm guessing on the spelling of Habert, which seems to be the name of his friend. The movie subtitles say "Hbur," which just tells me they can't figure it out either. It actually kinda sounds like he's saying "a bird" here, maybe like dame, broad, or chick. But it comes up again and seems to be a proper name. So the idea is these girls are bathing in the Euphraties river and Kazaam and his buddy decide to jump in and join them.

The kid responds:

"So that's the whole story?
That's all you gotta tell?"

And Shaq answers:

"You got to listen to my rap,
From bell to bell."

Minor nitpicks. Why would the kid think that's the end of a story, and there are no bells in this instrumental so what is Shaq even talking about?

"Those babies had rabies,
And we was in Hades,
'Cause we moved with the harem
Of the prince of Akbacarem[?]."

I'm also guessing on the spelling of Akbacarem. I feel like he's trying to make Akhetaten rhyme with harem, but I don't know; maybe there's a real city with a name pronounced that way. The subtitles say "Akba d'Karem," which seems to be another phonetic guess, because that's not a thing. There was a famous harem keeping emperor named Akbar, though, known for being huge, so that would make sense. But what's the part he's rhyming with "harem?" It's still confounding.

But anyway, what the heck else is going on in this song? Babies with rabies? Maybe he's calling the bathing beauties babies, like babes. And them having rabies is just the first half of a metaphor - the second half being that they were in Hades - just meant to say "these chicks turned out to be bad news." I feel like I'm doing a lot of twisting to get this to make sense, but that's my theory. The girls Shaq and his friend went swimming with were bad news because they were the prince's harem.

So the kid asks:

"So, it's you and Habert,
In a thousand BC?"

And Shaq adds:

"Buried to our necks in sand
Like the sea!"

Alright, this is the first time the kid's part isn't entirely pointless in this song. He's reiterating details, which if we weren't writing the lyrics down, listeners would be sure to miss. So I appreciate that. And again, I don't think a literal bird is actually Shaq's friend. I could see that in a way... why wouldn't a genie's best friend be a bird? But then we'd be expected to believe that someone, presumably the prince, buried a bird in the sand up to its neck? It's gotta be a dude.

Well, Shaq continues:

"By a sultan with a sword,
And a lock and a key."

The kid remarks:

"Woo, they're in deep!
Will they ever get free?"

Hold up. What the deal is with the sword, lock and key? Is this a reference we're just supposed to get? Like, it's so obvious, he doesn't even see a point in spelling it out? Is this a famous genie story he's telling? This is when I started googling the stories of the Arabian Nights with genies and stuff, but none of them seem to have a story anything like this. The only useful bit I found was this line from the Qur'an: "And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts, of jinn and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks." So, hey, maybe his friend really is a bird after all. Heck, maybe both guesses are right, and it's a bird named Habert! Or, y'know, "Hbur."

Also, the kid is an idiot for asking if they would ever get free, when he's talking to the person it supposedly happened to. Anyway, Shaq answers:

"And I looks to Habert,"

"And he says to thee?"

"At the end of this day,
We ain't gonna be!"

Now why is this New York kid suddenly speaking Shakespearian? Oh right, Shaq loves awkward, forced rhymes.

"So it's me and Habert
In a thousand BC,
Praying to the Gods,"

"And what do you see?"

"A man with a halo
And a nasty decree:
'I'll save your butt,
But you're gonna serve me'."

So now Shaq's reiterating, which is good, but I think we got the 1,000 BC part already. So I guess at this point, the prince and his harem fucked off, having left Kazaam and his friend - who's either named Habert or is a bird - buried in the sand, like the sea. Even though I don't think you can get buried in a sea. Anyway, now an angel(!) has come, looking for some free slaves. I was actually expecting to see in the subtitles that I'd gotten this part slightly wrong, but no; this is 100% correct. "A man with a halo and a nasty decree." Alright. That doesn't seem to characteristic of an angel, does it? Maybe the fallen angel... Is Shaq saying he's a servant of Satan in this movie? Because that definitely doesn't come across anywhere else in this film!

"So I nod to Habert,
He nods to me.
And when the magic is over,
We ain't men..."

Now the rest of this song is performed with Wade and Shaq saying every word in unison:

"We genie!
We were buried to our necks
In sand like the sea,
By the sultan with the sword
And a lock and a key.
I looks to Habert
And he says to me,
'When the magic is over,
We ain't men...
We genie!"

And that's basically it. Shaq adlibs some lines like, "bob ya head, Max," and they repeat the "we genie" refrain a couple of times. It's a short song, because I guess nobody's going to sit through three full verses and a bridge worth of exposition mid-movie. Also, are they using "genie" as an adjective, meaning "being a genie," or is the plural of genie not genies?And why isn't it we are. "We're genies," wouldn't adversely affect the meter of the song or anything.

One thing about this last bit: there's a lot of interchangeability. Who's this sultan they suddenly bring up? That must be the prince, with his sword, lock, key and harem. "Sultan" and "prince" are just being used synonymously here, even though I thought a sultan was more of a king than a junior. And Max singing "we genie" is just him getting caught up in the energy of the song, right?  Because I've seen the whole movie, and it never turns out that he was a genie all along or anything. Also Shaq isn't shown to have any friends from 1,000 BC, human or feathered. The song is all about two people becoming genies, but the movie is just about one. So why write the other one into the song at all? There's also no sword, lock or key in the film, so none of that pays off. Maybe this song syncs up better to an earlier draft of the screenplay we never saw?

The lyrics were definitely by the screenwriters, they have writing credit in the soundtrack notes. So this should add up more than it does. The producers, Chad Elliot and James "Big Jim" Wright also have co-writing credits, but I'm sure that's strictly instrumental. By the way, Shaq's other two songs on here were produced and co-written by dancehall greats Sly and Robbie, if you can believe it.

So okay. I think I've come away from this project with a better understanding of the song. I can track the narrative as far as it makes sense, though I can't help feeling that there's a genie legend I should be familiar with that he's paraphrasing, which would make things a lot clearer. I know Solomon supposedly trapped a genie in a bottle, but this ain't that story. But there's either some legend or a whole second act twist on the cutting room floor where the leader of the music pirates is Shaq's ancient friend gone bad. Please, though, nobody release a director's cut.


  1. Haha, I love these. Great job, Werner!

  2. "Oh, I know. Kazaam! You know, the one where Shaq plays a genie."

    "That's not a horror movie."

    "Yeah, well you've never seen Shaq act."

  3. He doesn't say he's the Son of Sam he says he's the sultan of sand. You have a few of the lyrics incorrect.
    There's a video on YouTube with the scene with the subtitles/closed captions on. You'll see where you misunderstood the song there.

    1. Oh wow, thanks for posting! I got the subtitles (great idea) and corrected/ updated the post using those. It seems like even the subtitles were guessing on a couple phrases, and the song is still pretty damn silly, but it was great to be able to check against it.

      And I have to admit, "sultan of sand" is a much better line.