[In which the court is now in session…]
Pigmeat Markham (born Dewey Markham) was a comedian and singer on the chitlin circuit in the segregated entertainment days. One of his characters was a judge that brought a street persona and slang to the scripted stuffiness of a courtroom. Sammy Davis, Jr. caught wind of the act and used the phrase “here come the judge” on an episode of Laugh-In and it went over so well that Markham was invited for multiple cameos to do the schtick himself. Pigmeat Markham also helped set the foundation for what would become rap a little over a decade later. “Here Comes the Judge” was released in 1968 and his cadence, flow, and humor—all set to legitimately funky music—would become the blueprint for the first big name rappers in and around the Bronx in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Hip hop started out as break beats and party music that paid homage to early ’70s funk like the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” and Baby Huey. Initially, MC’s at a hip hop party just broke in and spoke like DJs or Don Cornelius from Soul Train. It was primarily about the music and stretching those break beats like Kool Herc pioneered early on. When artists started rapping alongside the music, whether they knew it or not, they were emulating Pigmeat almost directly. Doc Hollywood, one of the first rappers to make a big name, specifically cites Markham as a direct influence with a voice and style he tried specifically to emulate. Even now, almost 50 years later it is impossible to listen to this track and not hear the roots of rap and hip hop.
Hear ye, hear ye, the court of swing
Is just about ready to do that thing
I don’t want no tears, I don’t want no lies
Above all, I don’t want no alibis
This judge is hip, and that ain’t all
He’ll give you time if you’re big or small
Fall in line, a-this court is neat
This is the first verse before the music kicks in. You can hear just about every early- and mid-’80s rapper in there. Even without having heard the song you can read these lyrics and pretty much know how the flow should go in reading them. And if you think it is weird that a comedian’s album that made it to Laugh-In became a root source for the last original musical genre that America has produced, it actually makes perfect sense as the early hip hop pioneers were constantly plumbing the catalogs of the previous ten years’ worth of soul and funk. As in rock music, the ’60s and ’70s are a gigantic magnet that pulled hip hop artists in for creative influence (even the gangsta rap of the ’90s kept going back to the wells of P-Funk and the Isleys for samples and ideas). “Here Comes the Judge” has aged remarkably well, a testament to its loose genius and forward-facing sound. This is one of the most influential songs in the history of modern American music.