By now you’ve probably heard “6 Foot, 7 Foot,” the monster first single from Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter IV featuring Corey Gunz. For that matter so has Harry Belafonte, who sung the iconic “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” that’s sampled by the rap track. “How could I not hear it? It’s played everywhere!” said Belafonte at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Annual Gala, which honored Sidney Poitier on May 2 in New York.
On Belafonte’s version of the folk song—a worker’s call-and-response melody—he croons, “Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch / Daylight come and me wan' go home.” Those lyrics, along with another splice of the song’s words—“stack banana”—were sampled to create the beat for Lil Wayne’s ear-catching club banger.
The song was first officially recorded in 1952 by Edric Connor and The Caribbeans and became a hit for other artists, including The Tarriers and Shirley Bassey, but Belafonte’s version of the song is the most recognizable. The single reached No. 5 on the Billboard charts in 1957 and rehashed at various moments in pop culture history, including a scene in Tim Burton’s 1988 movie Beetlejuice.
Belafonte noted he doesn’t think the original song “belongs” to any one person, certainly not himself. "It’s not my song. It’s a song that belongs to millions of people in the Caribbean,” he said. “An ancient work song that people, of which my family was one of them, [who] were plantation workers ... sang in the day and they sang in the night. They sang every opportunity they could get to throw off the burdens of poverty, and therefore the song has great significance.”
With help from the sample, Lil’ Wayne’s “6 foot, 7 foot” debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and peaked at No. 2 on both the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop and Rap Songs charts.
For Belafonte, it’s been exciting to see the folk song continue to evolve. “I’m just glad to see that the younger generations have picked it up and are carrying the song forward in their own way, just like I picked it up in my time,” he said.
(Photo: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images)