For a group that considers itself so creative, skateboarders sure suck at naming tricks. The sex change, benihana and even salad grind have all fallen out of fashion, and so have fun trick names altogether. Skaters have grown into stringent conservatives about trick names; QS is routinely lambasted for use of the term “nollie half cab” for nollie frontside 180s, as if 90% of the T.F. doesn’t call it that already. Even seemingly clever names e.g. “the fishhook” for the nollie frontside 180 switch nosegrind revert point to mechanical similarities rather than any hint of playful nomenclature.
But one name has stood strong over the past decade. Maybe it’s not an official name, but the “white rapper” B.K.A. the switch varial heelflip is still keeping the fun in trick names up and down the eastern seaboard, and evidently abroad as well. (Some corners will contend that it also refers to regular stance varial heelflips…more on that in a bit.) What genius came up with this name? Who did it refer to and where did it originate from? We decided to find out.
The most common origin story comes from Philadelphia, some ten-plus years ago. That is where we will begin our journey…
German Nieves: The address was 1636 Fitzwater Street, Philadelphia. During the time I lived there, my roommates were Brian Dale, Kevin Quackenbush and John Mehring. This crib was in bad shape — you know that real skate house shit — but we kept it clean. The living room held many talks of who did what at Love or what the skate mission was for that day. Dale spent most mornings with an eggplant parm from the pizza joint down the block and a forty for breakfast. I would spend mornings talking to homeboy about whatever, mostly skating.
I believe he coined the term “white rapper” describing Jimmy Gorecki’s varial heelflips during one of those mornings. Jimmy is a fly cat and much respect for the way he does varial heels.
Brian Dale: That’s a tough one to nail down. It was probably me, German or Pluhowski. It was definitely coined after Gorecki because he had them so consistently. It only referred to regular ones; switch was “switch white rap.” I remember losing games of skate on that trick and screaming “goddam white rappers!” That was usually the nail in the coffin for games of S.K.A.T.E. because not many people could really do them back then.
I do know that German nicknamed the fakie front crook the “Dirk Nowitzki” though.
Rob Pluhowski: I’m not sure if we called white kids who dressed like rappers “white rappers” or maybe it was kids who did heelflip varials “white rappers,” but whichever it was…the consensus was that heelflip varials were white kids’ way of being a little darker.
Jimmy Gorecki: It first came to my attention via Brian Dale. Dale’s terminology was derived out of Mike Sinclair’s Larry Perkins dialect. I would put money on it that that’s where the term originated from.
Varial heels were my shit. Dale had a vicious switch “white rapper,” too. Also, Kalis’ varial heel over the can was one of the most underrated tricks he ever did over it.
Mike Sinclair: What? I never heard of the “white rapper,” but I back it.
Josh Kalis: On the real…I’ve never heard it called the “white rapper.”
Ian Reid: I’ve sat on a lot of benches in my time, and I’ve never heard it called that. I watched a lot of dudes that dress like white rappers skate at Love — Baby Thug (Pat Corcoran) is an O.G. white rapper and even the most racist Philly motherfuckers wouldn’t think to say that to him.
Since some prominent Philly skaters of that time were unfamiliar with the “white rapper,” it was beginning to seem like it was a term exclusive to a specific friend group. Thus, we were forced to look elsewhere on the east coast for deeper meaning. We started with Washington, given its Aesthetics affiliations.
ELSEWHERE ON THE EAST COAST
Anonymous Pulaski Local: There is definitely a Philly/Jersey/Aesthetics/sweatpants connection relating to the origin of it. The first time I ever heard it was when the Aesthetics guys were at Pulaski wrapping up filming for Ride or Die, likely in spring 2000. I assumed it was in reference to one of the most prodigious varial heelflippers of all time, a quality individual who was riding for Aesthetics though not present at that particular moment.
Also, around the same time, I heard a particular Jersey transplant with a damn good varial heel of his own refer to the old varial heel as a “white rapper.” I don’t think it could have been invented in D.C., we were more into perfecting sarcasm at the time…and you’d get told the trick is easier switch anyways.
Joey Pepper: Maybe Eddie Rap Life, or is that the switch varial heel? I’m actually not exactly sure where that name came from. I didn’t hear about it until moving to New York. I’m guessing that’s some Sabback term or somewhere down Cacka way.
Jack Sabback: It came from either Brian Dale, Pluhowski or German Nieves in the early 2000s at Love. I’m gonna go with Dale though. For some reason, around 2003 or 2004, there was a polar shift and the “white rapper” was suddenly a switch varial heel. This might have something to do with Biebel’s rise to fame, sweatpants era Wenning or a few key S.F. locals.
Billy Rohan: The first time I heard it was from Lurker Lou during a game of S.K.A.T.E. at Tompkins. I did a switch varial heel and he goes, “Oh, the legendary white rapper.” I realized it’s a whole thing beyond Lou though, maybe because of Canadian kids who were super hip-hopped out. The personality of a skater who did that trick was just a Canadian who freestyle raps when he’s drunk.
Lurker Lou: I credit Steve Costello saying it at Concepts in Boston around 2000, but this dude Spongy worked there who was basically a white rapper himself, so maybe I’m basing it off him.
Stuck at a dead end in New England, we sought information from a hip-hop white guy epicenter across the Atlantic Ocean.
Lev Tanju: I thought a person from the old Brixton Palace skate house made it up — like Edson or someone. But maybe I was zooted and that was just the first place I heard it used. We always said a “white rapper” was only a regular shuv-it heel though. A switch one does not count as a “white rapper” because it works easier for white guys in tight pants who aren’t gangster.
James Edson: I always associated the “white rapper” with Brad Johnson and that whole FIT era of things. I used to do regular varial heels all the time, and in London, that blended into the same category — even though I am obviously black.
And so, we ended up at the birthplace of modern street skateboarding…
Brad Johnson: To be 100% honest, I don’t think I heard of it until now. The people I kicked it with just called them varial heels or heel shuvs. With the internet nowadays, things spread like wild fire, and before, things stayed a bit more regional.
Rob Welsh? Jason Wussler? Jimmy Gorecki? John Igei? Oh wait scratch that — John is Asian & can’t heelflip. If you play John in S.K.A.T.E, just do all heelflip variations and you’re sure to win. Besides John, the rest of those dudes had varial heels on lock.
I can only speculate that it possibly comes from the crouched stance that resembles a rap album cover of a dude crouched down next to his whip. Below is an example:
I could see Jimmy Gorecki coming up with that name. It was either him or Sal that coined the phrase hip-hop honkey, too. One time in L.A, we ran into Sal and he said, “Tight, you guys came down for the BET awards.”
Rob Welsh: James Kelch does one in the Credo video over the Pine Street Bump. There was also Joey Bast’s part in the Planet Earth video where he does one after tic-racing like fifteen times, and both of his last tricks were varial heels. Look at what Kelch is wearing when he does that trick, plus him skating to NWA — of course they’re going to call him a white rapper. The trick has been around forever, but that “white rapper” association really started with the FIT video and Joey Bast in Silver, based off the clothes they wore and the music they were into.
Skateboarding was still pretty segregated at that time. I think that was a nickname that other people made up for it, like, “Those rapper kids do that trick all the time.” The kind of skateboarders who were doing that trick were listening to rap and wearing baggy blue carpenter jeans. I feel like it wasn’t hip-hop kids who made that name up, it was someone from the outside, like “Oh, I don’t want to put another white rapper in the mag.” The FIT video came out in like 1996, 1997…the Aesthetics video didn’t come out until maybe 2001. I feel like the trick may have disappeared, then Gorecki brought it back, and the name made its way to Philly.
The finale of the “white rapper” turned out to be more Sopranos than True Detective — there was no clear-cut answer. There were clues, we had reason to believe some were more responsible for the term than others, but really, we may never know who coined the one fun trick name remaining in skateboarding. Hell, we don’t really even know what stance it refers to anymore…