“Word Up!” by Cameo is a well-loved track by music lovers, dance-party goers, and DJs. The song has been covered by several artists, including KORN, whose version was highly successful among the new generation of listeners. Cameo is a primarily funk and R&B group, which group leader and producer Larry Blackmon calls “Funk-n-Roll” (2016).
One of the reasons “Word Up!” was a unique track of its time was Blackmon’s singing technique, fully embracing and emphasizing his ordinarily nasal voice and crafting it artfully with the lyrics in a way that is incredibly catchy to listeners. The overall groove of the song has placed it “ahead of its time” in many reviewers opinions, and also Blackmon’s (Leach 2016).
Another variable that set the song apart was its timely grasp of new technology. Blackmon blended the group’s “funkier roots” with synthesizers and birthed an array of original and unique songs, including “Word Up!”
The cover of this song performed by KORN had a lot of radio play while I was in high school and in the most intense stages of my lyric writing and the development of my writing style. I think in some ways it inspired me to sing my lyrics in such a way that they fall on beats of the groove in a crafty and pleasant way that will make listeners sort of bob their heads and sway sometimes, even though the genre of my music is far from Cameo’s dance-friendly funk.
Another prominent trio of the time that got listeners swaying was the Beastie Boys. They were an American hip-hop and rap-rock band with punk-rock and alternative influences and also had a long-lasting musical career and impact on later artists. Beastie Boys wrote song lyrics in the same vein of the quick-witted and spontaneous lyrics of “Word Up!” They described in an interview with Rolling Stone how they often crafted song lyrics:
We would go out to Danceteria pretty much every night and hang out and come up with lines to make each other laugh… Every time we’d go out, we write rhymes and collect them all. Then eventually, we’d put them all together and try to figure out the best order for it to happen in. I remember there were a lot of really funny lines in that one. It definitely entertained us at the time. (Grow 2016)
The fascinating process behind the songwriting of Cameo for “Word Up!” isn’t greatly elaborated on, but fans have been left with a timeless dance classic.
CAMEO CELEBRATES “40 YEARS of FUNK…”. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://thehowardtheatre.com/show/2016/09/30/cameo/
Grow, K. (2016, February 11). Rick Rubin: My Life in 21 Songs. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/rick-rubin-my-life-in-21-songs-20160211/beastie-boys-no-sleep-till-brooklyn-1986-20160209
Leach, R. (2016, July 29). Cameo frontman Larry Blackmon: ‘Word Up’ was music before its time; paying tribute to Prince. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.reviewjournal.com/robin-leach/cameo-frontman-larry-blackmon-word-was-music-its-time-paying-tribute-prince