People always joke about the member of the band who plays the tambourine, but think about it: Where would live music be without the back-up dancer, the ludicrously outfitted hand-clapper, the guy whose sole job is to amp up the crowd by shouting, “Hoookayyyy!” over and over? Not only can they be critical members of rock bands and rap crews, but it’s also a role that can lead to a solo career — both Jay-Z and Tupac started out as hype men. Below, we’ve collected the best representatives of the most underrated role in music.
Bob Nastanovich, Pavement
Bob Nastanovich isn’t a hype man alone — he sometimes sings lead vocals and plays various instruments — but his essential function in Pavement is to be their unofficial screamer, time-keeper, and enthusiastic repeater of lyrics. His spastic dancing and general racket-making are some of the most energetic and fun parts of a Pavement song. Just imagine “Conduit for Sale” without that yelping, and you’ll know what we mean.
Bez, Happy Mondays
Mark “Bez” Berry is the guy you can’t avert your eyes from in any clips of the Happy Mondays playing. His formula is a pretty simple one: herky dancing + maracas = party. But boy, does it work.
Flavor Flav, Public Enemy
Before Flav launched his ongoing career as VH1 talking head/in-demand bachelor, he single-handedly popularized the role of hype man in rap groups through his work with Public Enemy. Every song has a healthy number of “Yeah, boy!” and “Flavor Flav!” interjections, and Flav’s trademark clock-swinging jumping around added a touch of party-down levity to the political anthems of the group.
Ben “The Bosstone” Carr, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are memorable for two things: their single infectious ska hit “The Impression That I Get” and their dancer/hype man Benn “The Bosstone” Carr, who seemed to constantly be doing the running man backwards, with occasional somersaults.
Beau Beau, Avail
Bands that hang out on the Vans Warped Tour circuit rarely have hype men, but Fat Wreck punkers Avail happened to have their very own combination cheerleader, go-go dancer, and professional crowd-surfer: Beau Beau Butler. And, oh yeah, he was their tour manager, too.
Waka Flocka Flame for Gucci Mane
Before making it on his own terms, Waka Flocka Flame was one of rap’s best hype men, dropping his trademark exclamations to Gucci Mane tracks. Mane even added “Flocka Flame” to his sidekick’s childhood nickname, “Waka.”
Jerome Green for Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley’s friend, constant companion, and back-up guitarist Jerome Green made up the second part of a Diddley-led call-and-response team. He’s one of rock’s first hype men, but also one of the most memorable. You can hear him on many Chess mainstays’ records, including Chuck Berry and Willie Dixon.
Cowboy for Grandmaster Flash
Cowboy, born Keith Wiggins, was Grandmaster Flash’s hype man for about a decade beginning in the mid-1970s. The original party motivator, he was always throwing out lines like “Hold your hands in the air/ And wave them them like you just don’t care.”
Memphis Bleek for Jay-Z
Memphis Bleek was a Roc-a-Fella stalwart for years and appears on all of Hova’s big records from the ’90s and aughts, including Reasonable Doubt and Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life.
Jerome Benton, The Time
Jerome Benton was the counterpoint to the swagger of ultra-smooth funk Prince associates The Time, the member who knew how to play up a song from the background. In Purple Rain, he played Morris Day’s hapless valet, a welcome point of comic relief from the self-serious cool that Prince and his rival projected.