Hip Hop Hits Sung Wonderfully in Sign Language: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” & More

The first time I went to see David Sedaris read some of his hilar­i­ous essays live, I end­ed up laugh­ing much more than I expect­ed. By luck of seat­ing, I found myself at the right of the stage, fac­ing his sign lan­guage inter­preter. She didn’t just quick­ly parse what he said. No, she also became a sort of dou­ble act with the author, throw­ing her whole body and facial expres­sions into mak­ing Sedaris’ prose sing. Espe­cial­ly when he came to some sex­u­al idiom or turn of phrase, we all became aware of the audience’s gaze shift­ing right­ward to see what his sign­er would do. (The won­drous Inter­net has not revealed her name–possibly one of our read­ers knows.)

That’s a pre­am­ble to say that the lat­est YouTube sen­sa­tion above, Shel­by Mitchus­son, who signs her way through Eminem’s “Lose Your­self,” should come as no sur­prise to those who have encoun­tered such live­ly inter­pre­ta­tion, turn­ing lan­guage for the deaf into a per­for­mance art. Mitchus­son admits she’s still a begin­ner, but her 3 mil­lion views says she has made fans of the deaf and hear­ing alike. (And for once the YouTube com­ments don’t make you sad for human­i­ty.)

But Mitchusson’s “hit” leads to a whole world of Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage (ASL) stars once you jump down the YouTube rab­bit hole. Just over a year ago, Jim­my Kim­mel had on three ASL inter­preters to com­pete in a rap bat­tle to Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yel­low” which you can see below.

One of them, the pink-haired Amber Gal­loway Gal­lego, had her own time in the viral video lime­light back in 2013. Her spir­it­ed ver­sions of Snoop Lion, Kendrick Lamar, and oth­ers dur­ing Lol­la­palooza earned her many Inter­net views, no doubt for her las­civ­i­ous per­for­mance of rap and r’n’b’s smut­ti­est lyrics. She even received cov­er­age in Rolling Stone, where the San Anto­nio, TX native tells sto­ries of sign­ing “Baby Got Back” at a bar­be­cue at the begin­ning of her career. Her YouTube chan­nel fea­tures her own ver­sions of all the cur­rent pop hits (Tay­lor Swift, Car­ly Rae Jepsen) and clas­sics (The Human League, Celine Dion).

The his­to­ry of sign lan­guage is long and deep, with a rough guess at 137 rec­og­nized ver­sions around the globe, accord­ing to Eth­no­logue. (But as deaf com­mu­ni­ties often devel­op their own dialects, it’s hard to tell.)

And the Inter­net, specif­i­cal­ly YouTube–along with the beat-heavy genre of hip hop–has brought a sub­cul­ture into the main­stream, some­thing that years of advo­ca­cy by deaf groups could­n’t quite man­age to do. Thanks again, Inter­net!

You can find some online ASL lessons here, or in our meta col­lec­tion of Free Lan­guage Lessons.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Helen Keller & Annie Sul­li­van Appear Togeth­er in Mov­ing 1930 News­reel

Baba Brinkman: The Rap Guide to Evo­lu­tion

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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  • Daniel B. says:

    You might also want to remem­ber Kim­ber­ly Rae Schae­fer, who famous­ly signed a spe­cial ren­di­tion of Pearl Jam’s “Giv­en to Fly” live in St. Louis in 2000 and became the high­light of both Youtube and the “Tour­ing Band” DVD, where you can see Eddie Ved­der bring­ing her onstage and shar­ing a nice lit­tle moment with her. Sad­ly, she passed away this March, and was fond­ly trib­uted and remem­bered by the Pearl Jam com­mu­ni­ty. Watch her do her mag­ic here:

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