Deconstructing the 'Dab'

Find out the backstory behind 2015's biggest dance craze.

I’ve recently had to explain what dabbin’ is about six times over the past two weeks. Since it’s making its rounds in social media with memes, Vines, and clips from television news broadcasts, there was an obligation to help a few people to get it straight and understand the recent dance phenomenon. The questions started pouring in back in October, after numerous NFL players (like Cam Newton, who has the cleanest dab immortalized in a picture) began incorporating dabs into their victory dances. Jay Z even hit the dab during his performance of “F**kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” at the Tidal 10/20 concert in Brooklyn, which sent social media into a frenzy and potentially raised more curiosity over the move. The dance has gone viral, and there seems to be confusion over when it started, where it started, and when it’s appropriate to dab. Since we’re nearing into a new year, leave your lack of knowledge in 2015 and start 2016 with a clear understanding. I’m sure hip hop will give us a new dance to learn in a few months anyway.

The dab originated in Atlanta.

According to Migos member Quavo, the dab has been around “for about two years.” Who exactly started the dab is unclear, but it’s clear that the dance originated in Atlanta and has circulated the Internet with the help of Atlanta artists Skippa Da Flippa, Migos, PeeWee Longway and Jose Guapo. Atlanta or “the Mecca of Hip Hop,” as coined by ATL producer Mike WilLL Made It, has been the birthplace of many viral dances over the past decade: Nae Nae, Snap and more. Dabbin’ is just the latest one that caught fire in the last quarter of 2015.

The dance doesn’t belong to a specific song.

There isn’t one song that originated the dab, but there is a song and music video that helped propel it outside of Atlanta. In the summer of 2014, Skippa Da Flippa released his video for “How Fast Can You Count It,” where he dabbed multiple times on the beat. Fans of the Atlanta rap scene started noticing the move more and more in the artists’ videos and eventually the word “dab” moved its way into song titles. Migos came out with “Look at My Dab” and “Dab Daddy,” both in the past five months.

It isn’t named after a man named Dabo.

A rumor about where the term “dab” came from quickly circulated for a second in mid-November. A South Carolina FOX affiliate wrote, “After [Cam] Newton scored a two-yard rushing touchdown, he let loose a few dance moves in the end zone, including ‘The Dab,’ named after Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.” Clemson is a university in South Carolina. Readers corrected the false fact. Good try FOX, but dances aren’t named after the first white man who does it. According to Quavo, “It wasn’t even called dab. We didn’t even know it was called dab. Y’all just called it the dab.” And the mystery continues.

Dabbin’ has nothing to do with marijuana.

For weed enthusiasts, dabs are also known as butane hash oil and wax and, to simply put it, are highly concentrated cannabis extracts. It’s supposed to be stronger than a joint. But all that has nothing to do with the dance. However, a rapper from Ohio by the name of Bow Wow (ever heard of him?) did try to tie it all together. In a video on social media, Bow Wow explained that dabs are so strong that you cough after one hit and that the dance comes from the motion of coughing into your bended arm. Wrong. Dab defenders Rich the Kid and Migos didn’t let it slide.

It’s a way of fashion.

“When you put your favorite outfit on, you dabbin’ at the moment,” said PeeWee Longway in an interview with DJ Smallz Eyes. You’re confident, feeling yourself and ready to dominate the dab when the beat drops. The aplomb has to be there, or else you’ll look like Bow Wow’s dab theory of coughing into your arm. In Migos’s “Look at My Dab,” Takeoff raps that people think “it’s just a dance, when dabbin’ is a way of fashion.” It’s swag. It’s dab.

(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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