Jookin is a style of dance that evolved from styles like Gangsta Walking, Buckin, Ticking, Bovan Dance has been in the culture of Memphis for more than 30 years, it’s a part of the music and the lifestyle of the city. It started on the streets…and on the wooden floors of the Crystal Palace Roller Rink (now closed) in Memphis, Tennessee. One of its ambassadors is Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and this is where he learned the smooth art of Memphis jookin, it is his passion and this dance style and his extraordinary skill enabled him to travel the world and share this form of “urban ballet” with the masses.
From the time he was 12 years old, Lil Buck perfected the dance style of jookin, this style evolved from the Gangsta Walk, and bucking into the phenomenon is today. Later Lil Buck was awarded a scholarship to study ballet which enabled him to, further perfect his unique style merging street-style jookin with more classical techniques. Lil Buck, rapidly became one of the most sought after street dancers ushering in a new generation of dancers from the south.
Lil Buck was interviewed for Dance Magazine and he shared; “I trained myself well enough to be a backup dancer. I thought that was the most lucrative living you could make—dancing next to Lil Wayne or Busta Rhymes, smiling, looking all fly, knowing the artist personally. I knew I wanted to move to L.A. and I knew I had the skills. I knew I could be a game changer.
Then it started to happen. Janelle Monáe saw one of my videos on YouTube and asked us to perform in her “Tightrope” video, which was nominated for Best Choreography at the MTV Video Music Awards. Then I met Yo-Yo Ma, and our performance together, The Swan, went viral.
After that, I earned a spot on Madonna’s tour, and fulfilled a longtime dream of dancing in an Apple commercial (see below). With a friend, I even launched a film production company, Movement Art Is (MAI). We produce short films that touch on social issues through movement and dance.”
The Music Origins Project learned more about this style and the dancer Lil Buck in the exuberant documentary “Lil Buck Real Swan”, by director Louis Wallecan that was featured in Tribeca Film Festival (2019). The film takes an in-depth look at the dancer, his rise to the top and how he now mentors other young dance students and is a strong advocate for arts education.
The dance style is deeply coupled with a musical style that evolved with hip hop in the 80’s. Memphis is known around the world as the “Home of the Blues” and “Birthplace of Rock n Roll” so it has always had a deep history in music, which meant it naturally had its own distinct underground hip hop sound. Artists like DJ Squeeky, DJ Zirk, Playa Fly, Skinny Pimp, 8Ball & MJG, 3-6 Mafia, Tommy Wright III, La Chat, and many others laid the foundation for the Memphis underground rap sound. Typified by hard bass, rolling hi-hats, steady snare combinations, matched up with gangster lyrics. This foundation of hip hop beats and lyrics would become the basis of the musical style shared the name Memphis Jookin. It is a mix that comes from hip hop styles that originated in New York, Miami, Atlanta and beyond. Listen to some examples of this unique sound here: