How the Fantastic Four took Double Dutch to new heights The ties between Double Dutch and hip-hop can be traced to Nelly's "Country Grammar," Missy Elliott's "Gossip Folks" and "Throw It Back," and the Cartoon Network animated series Craig of the Creek.

How the Fantastic Four took Double Dutch to new heights

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, hundreds of athletes from around the world competed in the 31st annual Double Dutch Holiday Classic at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Among this year's judges was a team that took the sport to new heights in the 1980s and had a lasting impact. Allyson McCabe has the story of the Fantastic Four.

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: In the 1970s, musician and educator Dr. Edna Smith-Edet recorded New York City schoolkids singing popular rhyming songs like "Miss Mary Mack."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black.

MCCABE: Ethnomusicologist Kyra D. Gaunt says some of those kids put their own spin on the songs and brought them into the ropes - into double Dutch, which was played on the streets.

KYRA D GAUNT: You learn from your elder siblings. You learn from your same-age peer group in schools, hanging out on the stoop.

MCCABE: Lauren Walker says it was more than just a game.

LAUREN WALKER: Double Dutch is Black girl magic. I mean, that's what double Dutch came from. It came from a union of young girls in a community getting together to socialize, to engage in each other's dreams and ambitions.

MCCABE: Walker is president of the National Double Dutch League. Two New York City policemen, Lauren's father, David, and Ulysses Williams, established double Dutch as a team sport in 1973 and got it into schools. A year later, nearly 600 kids participated in the first tournament. Many more were inspired.

DE'SHONE ADAMS GOODSON: We would actually practice, like, 3 to 4 hours every day.

MCCABE: That's De'Shone Adams Goodson. In 1978, she met Adrienne "Nikki" Howell, Delores Brown Finlayson and Robin Oakes Watterson in junior high school on the Lower East Side. Howell says they meshed immediately.

ADRIENNE NIKKI HOWELL: Everyone had their own creative ideas and everyone had their own different strengths. You know, everything came together for us.

MCCABE: Calling themselves The Added Touch, their team placed second and third in the singles and doubles division of the 1979 World Wide Double Dutch Championship. Then they took it higher.

GOODSON: I would like to say we, like, reinvented ourselves.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes.

GOODSON: It was like, we're the Fantastic Four. We changed our name, changed our attitude, and we brought it.

MCCABE: In 1980, the Fantastic Four became worldwide champions and earned a spot in commercials for McDonald's.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French fries, icy Coke, thick shakes, sundaes, apple pies.

MCCABE: They appeared on the TV show "That's My Line" and Skip Blumberg's 1981 Emmy Award-winning documentary, "Pick Up Your Feet."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The Fantastic Four.

MCCABE: And the Fantastic Four demonstrated double Dutch at schools across the country. Goodson remembers being rushed by young fans back home in New York and realizing that her team was representing more than just the sport.

GOODSON: I could just remember them knocking us down to the ground, actually, you know, with hugs. And they showed so much love.

MCCABE: As the Fantastic Four star rose, double Dutch had a moment, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOUBLE DUTCH BUS")

FRANKIE SMITH: (Singing) There's a double Dutch bus coming down the street. Moving pretty fast, so kind of shuffle your feet.

MCCABE: In 1981, Frankie Smith released "Double Dutch Bus." In 1982, the Fantastic Four performed at the Roxy and on the New York City Rap Tour, which introduced hip-hop to audiences in Europe. But they were identified generically on the bill as the double Dutch girls. And Kyra D. Gaunt says many people don't know that double Dutch was an integral part of hip-hop history.

GAUNT: What's missing and the reason why people don't know it is that that narrative is not perpetuated by most of the men who tell the story of hip-hop.

MCCABE: Yet those ties still appear in Nelly's 2000 hit "Country Grammar," which borrows from "Down Down Baby"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COUNTRY GRAMMAR")

NELLY: (Singing) I'm going down, down, baby, yo street in a Range Rover. Boom, boom, baby.

MCCABE: ...A 2011 ad for Jay-Z's Rocawear and songs by Missy Elliott, including "Throw It Back," whose music video features a scene where her braids double as jump ropes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THROW IT BACK")

MISSY ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Watch me throw it back. Watch me throw it back.

MCCABE: Ashleigh Hairston co-wrote an upcoming episode of the Cartoon Network show "Craig Of The Creek."

ASHLEIGH HAIRSTON: My dad is a pastor in Seattle, Wash., and I grew up, like, playing double Dutch and stuff in the parking lot. And we would just go for hours and hours. And I was really excited to put a lot of, like, my own experiences into this episode.

MCCABE: When Craig's friend is accused of slacking by her hyper-competitive double Dutch teammates, he challenges them to a jump-off, even though he has no idea how to jump. Unbeknownst to Craig, his mother was once a double Dutch champion until she was bested by a character voiced by Missy Elliott.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CRAIG OF THE CREEK")

PHILLIP SOLOMON: (as Craig Williams) Wow. Man, those moves are sick. One day I hope I could double Dutch just like you.

KIMBERLY HERBERT GREGORY: (as Nicole Williams) I didn't think anything of it until she showed up at regionals and won.

MCCABE: At first, Craig's mom vows revenge. But then she comes to an important realization.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CRAIG OF THE CREEK")

GREGORY: (as Nicole Williams) It was all about being the best instead of being my best.

MCCABE: She's empowered to reframe the experience and inspire the kids to jump for joy. As for the real-life champs, the Fantastic Four went on to college, family and careers and stayed involved as coaches and judges at this year's Holiday Classic, hoping to pay forward what double Dutch gave them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Structure, discipline, working with others.

MCCABE: And most of all, friendship.

HOWELL: These are my sisters for life.

MCCABE: For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Rapping) When fools and clowns knock your friends down, pick them up, pick them up. Come on, pick them up. Ain't no one around can bring your crew down. Pick them up, pick them up. Come on and pick them up. We bouncing and flouncing. We're skipping and we're jumping.

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