I came across a rumor recently that the origins of the University of Houston’s Spirit of Houston song “Womp Womp” song lay in the classic hip-hop album “400 Degreez” from New Orleans native and legendary musician Juvenile. At first I didn’t believe it but after doing some digging I think this may, in fact, be true but I’ll let you readers decide. If you have any other information on the song’s origins, please share in a comment.
Background and Context
In the early nineties an upstart hip-hop record label was founded in the gritty and violent public housing projects of New Orleans. Named for Nino Brown’s gang in the film New Jack City, Cash Money Records soon built up a loyal following in the Crescent City and soon spread across the south. By the mid-nineties, fueled by innovative producer Mannie Fresh and a stable of talented young emcees, the label grew to selling several hundred thousand cd’s and tapes independently and made a handsome profit in the process.
After noticing their growing success, Universal Music Group came calling in 1998 and soon Cash Money founders Brian “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Sugar Slim” Williams negotiated a $30 million distribution deal to take Cash Money from being a regional success to a worldwide powerhouse. One of the first albums released under the new deal would be Juvenile’s third studio album “400 Degreez” and the hip-hop landscape would be changed forever.
Backed by an unforgettable lead single “Ha” with its gritty video showing a day in the life in New Orleans’ infamous C.J. Peete Housing Projects, more commonly known as “The Magnolia”, the album soon rocketed to the top of the charts. The “Ha” single would be followed by “Follow Me Now” and “Back That Thang Up”, the latter song would be the catalyst for launching this album into the stratosphere as the album eventually reached quadruple platinum (for four million copies sold) in late 1999. The album is still considered a classic to this day and has influenced countless artists and producers since being released eighteen years ago.
Now that you understand the context of the album and it’s influence on music in the south we can dive into the Spirit of Houston band’s “Womp Womp” song. It’s the album’s sixteenth track, named after the album, that seems to be the basis for “Womp Womp”. Take a listen to the original song yourself:
[Warning: This song contains explicit language]
If you don’t want to hear the language or simply want to listen to the music without the words, here’s the instrumental:
After listening to the above videos, you probably don’t hear the “Womp Womp” on first listen. I didn’t either. But check out this marching band version of the song:
You can hear the “Womp Womp” part at 3 seconds in. When you finish listening, go back and listen to the original instrumental and you’ll be able to hear it in the song. Note that when a marching band re-works a song, they frequently make changes to the original, so it won’t be 100% identical. Then when new marching bands pick up the song, there will be some additional changes as well and they likely won’t be a 100% match to the original song.
Here’s some videos of marching bands playing it live. You can clearly hear the “Womp Womp” in their songs:
It’s possible a UH band director got a hold of the arrangement many years ago and redid the song specifically for UH. Hear the Houston Cougars version below:
At the UH 2015 Spring Game
At a UH football game
As mentioned above, the arrangement of the “Womp Womp” isn’t exactly the same as the original “400 Degreez” song or the marching band arrangement, but if you listen closely enough you may be able to see how the former has its origins in the latter. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
[Updated with more info below]
Marc Martin, the Interim Director of Athletic Bands and a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Houston Moores School of Music, chimed in on the Cardiac Coogs Facebook page with the following comment:
Yes. This is 100% accurate as to the origin of a background melody taken from that song and turned into the melody of what is now Womp Womp. The orchestrator of Womp Womp was playing with Cougar Brass yesterday at the Basketball Game. The bass line was created to provide a groove and the orchestration has undergone slight variations over the years since it was first played in the basketball band around 2004. So this is not rumor but instead a confirmed fact. Many grooves, songs and little repetitious vamps you hear marching bands play have origins in other music ranging from movie scores, blues, jazz, hip-hop, rock, and even classical music.