Believe the Hype: Music history’s greatest non-musicians

This is a post by associate editor Blake Madden.

The term “Hype Man” may initially conjure up an image of a grease-palmed, Don King-type huckster. But musical terms, The Hype Man is the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that is a high-energy musical performance.

He moves. He grooves. He jumps, dances, shouts, waves towels – Furiously. He does everything except anything that is performing actual music. He’s a wingman, a cheerleader, sometimes just a best friend you wish you could’ve started a band with, despite the fact that he doesn’t have any, um, musical talent. “But he’s got such great energy!” you lament. If only we could have him do something

The origins of the hype man can be traced back to early 1800s Vienna, when Baron Wilhelm Mutt would wave his wig about excitedly to engage audiences before Beethoven’s performances (*author’s note: may not actually be true). The profession hit its stride in the last thirty years, as this TMimaS Salute to Hype Men will show. Yeah! Get up for this article! *waves towel over head*

Ben Carr (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones)

Hype Superpowers: Dancing, jumping, shouting, Bosstone-ing

Hype Analysis:
Let’s face it – Carr’s moves are a bit lukewarm, the kind of stuff your overweight cousin is bringing to the table after two many glasses of champagne at a wedding.

But Carr gets high marks for longevity; believe it or not, the Bosstones are now in their 27th year of existence, and Carr is an original member (legend has it lead singer Dicky Barrett declared the band’s dancing friend a band-member at an early show so that he wouldn’t be kicked out of the club for being underage).

Smartly, he has also worked himself into the position of becoming the band’s tour manager, something that in 27 years has surely ended at least one band conversation beginning with “Hey, why does the guy who hops around in circles get an equal share as me?”

Jerome (The Time)

Hype Superpowers: Mirror-holding, synchronized dancing, excellent hygiene.

Hype Analysis:
In a world of hand-me-down station wagons, Jerome Benton is the Rolls Royce of hype men.

As the below video shows, Jerome is like a hype-ninja: there one moment, gone the next. He lovingly holds a mirror to set up leader Morris Day, then disappears in a heartbeat, only to re-appear for synchronized dance at a pivotal moment.

He moves in perfect harmony with Day but makes sure never to upstage him, and their straight man/comedic foil schtick is unparalleled in the Prince spin-off universe.

Mark “Bez” Berry (Happy Mondays)

Hype Superpowers: Dancing, Drug-dealing.

Hype Analysis:
Like the Bosstones’ Carr, Bez was a dual-purpose hype man, his mediocre dancing prowess augmented by a far more useful skill: his ability to consistently sell the band drugs.

As the premier chemically-altered band of the Madchester era, The Mondays had a reputation to uphold, and Bez made sure they were hyped themselves before he turned his attention to audiences.

Putting your dealer on the band payroll as a dancer may be an effective way to ensure that you’re always properly medicated, but it also set an unfortunate precedent for the world’s pot dealers, who ever since, have been asking their clients if they just want to ‘hang out for a bit, maybe listen to some tunes.’


Here we see Bez not quite understanding common usages for sunglasses, maracas.

S1W (Public Enemy)

Hype Superpowers: Synchronized exercises, stoicism, militant blackness.

Hype Analysis:
If you’re trying to inspire fear of a black planet, having a private security force comprised of uniformed, stone-faced martial artists and Nation of Islam members probably helps.

Before joining Public Enemy, S1W (short for Security of the First World) provided security for hip-hop parties in the 80s. Led by Professor Grif, their primary role in Public Enemy was to scare the shit out of white people who thought they were going to see The Fat Boys.Also: to re-establish the serious tone of the group initially established by leader Chuck D, then destroyed on a nightly basis by Flavor Flav.

Unfortunately the 2000s were unkind to S1W, as they were subject to the same stop-loss programs as our nation’s security forces.

Everyone in The Prodigy not named Liam Howlett

Hype Superpowers: High-energy dancing, water-spitting, snarling, sneering, providing poison, then remedy.

Hype Analysis:
Ah, remember the mid 90s? Before Deadmaus and Skrillex, The Prodigy was the electronic act worshipped by American candy-ravers and the college frathouse set alike. With a three-headed hype monster comprised of Keith Flint, Maxim Reality, and Leeroy Thornhill flanking musical mastermind Howlett, one can see why.

Technically, Thornhill was the only full-time dancer. But while Flint was dubbed the “singer” and Maxim the “MC”, these designations are generous to say the least. Their real talents lay in making hype an Olympic sport.

In the videos below, all their hype-pageantry is in full effect: the nuanced sneering of Maxim Reality behind his colored contact lenses, Flint’s constant lurking, Thornhill’s workman-like herky-jerkyness- all of it surely contributing to The Prodigy staying relevant at least five years longer than it should have.


We hope Keith Flint brushed his teeth beforehand


Leeroy Thornhill herks and jerks his way into our hearts

Blake Madden is a musician and author who lives and works in Seattle, WA.

This entry was posted in August 2012, Featured Stories, Rants and Raves. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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