Mainly in the hands — and feet — of urban kids, krumping and clowning are making an evolutionary leap.
The sunburned film crew had been working all day, starting on a residential street in Inglewood that basically had to be shut down because of the crowd. The only promotion for the shoot happened a day earlier, when Ben J and Legacy, the two teenage members of New Boyz, announced the address in the away messages of their AOL Instant Messenger accounts. Asked if he expected such a turnout, DJ Skee, the video's executive producer, replied, "I had no idea."
"You're a Jerk" is a simple but appealing concoction. There's little to it besides a methodically pacing keyboard line, twitching electronic drums, some serious bass and a couple of 17-year-old rappers who deliver their lyrics in a manner that borders on blasé. Yet the song has become the best bet to bring national attention to jerk music and the dance style associated with this L.A.-born sound.
As a dance, jerkin' is bouncy and loose-limbed. Moves like dips and pin drops revolve around nimble lower-body work. The reject, the staple jerkin' move, can be best compared to doing the running man, a late-1980s dance-floor classic, in reverse. Of course each dancer has his individualized way of jerkin' -- some more acrobatic, aggressive or suggestive than others.
Male-dominated dance crews such as Action Figure$, U.C.L.A. Jerk Kings, LOL Kid$z and the Ranger$ make names for themselves by battling other crews and by uploading self-produced videos to YouTube. These clips are largely improvised showcases, since after claims of stealing moves, the most common attack leveled against another crew is that its videos are choreographed.
"You can practice if you want to, but people will think you're weak," said Ranger$ founder Julian Goins, 16. "It looks like you're a robot."
Jerk culture has been spreading around Los Angeles' high schools and all-ages clubs for more than two years, but it's because of "You're a Jerk" that the music industry started paying attention. "You're a Jerk" isn't the first jerk song, but it was the first to get play on L.A.'s urban radio stations, the first to break through in non-local markets from Phoenix to Birmingham, Ala., and the first to signal to other jerk music artists that fame really can extend beyond MySpace and house parties.
"When 'You're a Jerk' got played on Power 106 [in March], that's when this coalesced as a culture," said Shariff Hasan, the 30-year-old filmmaker behind "Jerkin," an upcoming feature film set in this world.