Friday, April 1, 2022

Kowebunga! The Original Ninja Turtle Dance Rap

If you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, you're more than familiar with the smash hit "Turtle Power" Hip-Hop theme song to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.  And, of course, Vanilla Ice scored one of his few post-"Ice, Ice Baby" hits with "Ninja Rap" from the sequel.  The third one had a song called "Turtle Jam" by house rapper Loose Bruce.  More recently, Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign recorded "Shell Shocked" for the Michael Bay reboot.  Oh, and one of the animated movies also had a rap song called "Shell Shock" by the NY band Gym Class Heroes.  But before all of that, there was an earlier ninja turtle rap, an unauthorized entry into the canon: Jonny Chingas' "Kowebunga."  Yes, this is an April Fool's Day post, and yes this is a silly record, but this is real.

Jonny Chingas is behind half a billion records or so over the decades out in California.  Most of them were self-released on his own label(s), but they were occasionally picked up by CBS, UA or Columbia.  He started out in the 60's, releasing stuff under his real name, Rulie Garcia and a variety of band names.  As you can safely surmise, none of this was Hip-Hop.  But for the 1980s, and into the 90s, he came up with a new persona: Jonny Chingas.  As Chingas, he started releasing a lot of disco/ techno music, and he slowly worked his way towards actual rap.  He had an LP in 1984 called Break Pop Lock, which is obviously leaning into breakdance and street music, but he still wasn't really rapping much.  "Hey Mother F*****r" is sort of a proto-rap about getting pulled over by the police, and he was using vocoders and everything.  So it was only a matter of time.

Oh, and lest I forget to mention, A lot of his material is dirty, humorous stuff (even his earlier material consists of songs like "Horny Lover," "Hairy Situation" and "I'm Horny"), so it all kind of dovetailed into a natural fit by the mid 80's when many of his records had become definitively Hip-Hop.  He had a song in 1986 called "Night Stalker" where he was rapping pretty slick about, you guessed it, Richard Ramirez.  1988's "Mini Truck Lover" is a Miami bass-influenced sex rap with lines like, "she pulled down my khakis down past my ass, and by that time I had to pass a little gas."  His 12" "I Wish" has "A COMEDY RAP" handily printed right on the label and features a (hopefully!) ironically intended litany of extremely racist lyrics like, "I wish my skin was black, so I could make a lot of money, honey, selling crack."  That's not even one of the most offensive lines.  So you get the idea: sort of a cross between early Arabian Prince music and Blowfly shock-value humor.

And now you know I had to jump on it when I discovered one of his final records was, as the sticker cover boldly proclaims, a "NINJA TURTLE DANCE."  Actually, 1990's "Kowebunga," featuring The Turtle Soup Company, is surprisingly tame.  The joke, if there is one, is that the bold TMNT quotes shouted out for the hook "Cow-ca-ca-ca-ca-cowabunga!  Hey dude, what's happening, compadre?" are all so inauthentic-sounding and glibly betray their Mexican accent.  Or maybe it's just meant to be an earnest dance track (as are many of his recordings).  It's certainly a funky, high energy track with a cool bassline and an enthusiastic electric guitar solo at the end.  The raps are strictly perfunctory, straight-forward urges to dance, "shake your body and make your move; pump it up, baby, get in the groove."  The fact that there are rap verses at all feels like an afterthought, which is a little disappointing if you went in expecting rude rhymes about Donatello fingering April O'Neil.  But it's a catchy, low-fi dance tune in its own right, and certainly a novelty just by virtue of its existence.

The concept is credited to Ray Mejia, who executive produced one or two of Chingos' other records, but otherwise I believe all the music and everything is by Garcia, and Billionaire Records is his own label.  The few artists they've had that weren't him, like The Unbelievables, seem to have been at least working for him, if they weren't just aliases.  The 12" has three versions of the song: the Long Version on the A-side and then the Short Version - Vocal and Instrumental on the flip.  The B-side is practically the Long version with a fade out/ in halfway through.  If the next Ninja Turtles movie wants to impress me, they'll pay the (surely nominal) licensing fee and include this on their next soundtrack.  And if they really want to make some waves, they could find a way to work "I Wish" in there, too.

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