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I recently heard the word banger used by a young man in Chicago to describe a catchy, up-beat song. Checking Green's Dictionary of Slang, I found a definition attested in 2016 that to my mind seems a bit too broad:

4. (US black) an outstanding success.

However, a combination of googling the term and looking at the specific citation used in GDoS seems to confirm to me that the term refers specifically to songs that are excellent or outstanding, especially in hip-hop.

The citation in GDoS:

Even though it might not be a club banger. Or it might not be a radio banger or none of that shit. It’s going to set a tone.

  • 2016 - Jeezy annotation to ‘Let Em Know’ on genius.com [Internet]

On another thread on Genius.com, the term is discussed. It looks like this thread appeared in 2015:

What Makes a Song a Banger?

I’ve seen that on this site a bunch of people are obsessed with bangers. I made a thread a while back asking for people to show me some bangers, and I got a wide range of songs. They didn’t sound alike obviously, but I wanted to know what makes a song a banger?

The consensus in the answers on that thread is that a "banger" is just a great song.

So is the slang definition in GDoS too broad, is the meaning of "banger" in this slang sense specific to outstanding songs? Is it even more particularly limited to hip-hop music? When did this particular slang sense of the word start getting traction?


Sometimes questions about recent slang are met with skepticism on this site, so here are some cited uses from the past year:

2017 is halfway done, which means hip-hop has been blessing us with bangers for six months straight. Rappers are having a great year, coming up off a single track more than ever.

Here's some of the current bangers from the last 1-2 months that I've seen work at the club, along with some that are on the bubble and might get big

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    I don't have a source for this being the etymology, but when listening to rock, metal, house, and a couple other genres people often shake their head up and down when they get really into a song. This mimics banging one's head and is referred to as "head-banging". Therefore I suspect that a song is "a banger" if its a song that someone might bang their head to. Similar comments apply to people's tendencies to tap out beats to songs that they enjoy. – Stella Biderman Nov 22 '17 at 18:22
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    @user159691 thanks for all the research, you could probably craft a good answer with all that you've found here. – RaceYouAnytime Nov 22 '17 at 19:46
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It appears that the term “banger” entered the music scene from the 70s according to the Dictionary of American Slang with the word headbanger:

A devotee of heavy metal rock music, a style dating from the mid-1960s : Hip headbangers, it seems, want nothing more than to see Bon Jovi fall off the face of the earth/ The show's naked emotionality feels as false and forced as an arena full of headbangers holding their lighters aloft during a power ballad.

[1970s+; from the frenetic reactions of such persons to the music, including actual banging of the head]

Wikipedia suggests a precise event in which headbanging was possibly first used:

The origin of the term "headbanging" is contested. It is possible that the term "headbanger" was coined during Led Zeppelin's first US tour in 1969. During a show at the Boston Tea Party, audience members in the first row were banging their heads against the stage in rhythm with the music.

Furthermore, concert footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Royal Albert Hall January 9, 1970 on the Led Zeppelin DVD released in 2003, the front row can be seen headbanging throughout the performance.

It is plausible that banger, in the current sense of a successful song derives from the above meaning of headbanger. The idea is of a successful piece of music to which rhythm people move and dance.

The earliest mention of banger in that respect is from the UD in 2005, but it is very likely that its usage dates earlier. Among the main online dictionaries it appears that only Merriam-Webster offers a definition of banger in the music sense:

(slang) : an energetic song that is very striking or extraordinary:

… it's a near-perfect hip-hop album for 2008, loaded with hardcore bangers, pop-friendly hooks, party anthems and confessional lyrics … —Chuck Arnold

also Wiktionary cites banger as:

(slang) A powerfully energetic piece of music, especially dance music. -

2008, Billboard (volume 120, number 32, page 44) “Morris' melding of influences ranging from mid-'80s computer technology to Baltimore club bangers to the U.K. rave scene has cemented his reputation as one of London's most formidable DJs.”

The definitions are similar and somewhat generically refer to a successful and rhythmic dance song. Though the hip-hop may have often used the term, a banger doesn’t appear to be limited to a specific music genre.

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I remember people in the 90s talking about banging techno. This would generally mean having harder sound with more 4/4 kick drums and harsher snares.

The bang was allways about the kickdrum. So much so that producers evolved sidechain compression to move all other bass frequencies out of the way when a kick drum hits to give it more kick. This creates a suction effect in the baseline ( a subtle woosh before the boom) which adds to the impact of the kick making the tune more banging especially on big powerful systems. You feel it hit you , it's awesome .

So I would consider a banger to be a piece of electronically made music with specifically engineered drum sounds. You cannot do that without compression , samplers and mixer automation.

This now happens in most genres if music but it's origins are in techno. It's not really the same as rock because it's about compression which was not at all what led Zeppelin were about, that was a huge wall of sound. Granted they had a drummer who hit so hard it nearly had the same effect but they weren't pulling the bass guitar out of the way. Modern rock production now uses some of these techniques as well.

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The term "banger" is definitely a lot older than 2016. For example take Ludacris' "Hip Hop Quotables", released in 2003:

"Every album that I drop has got more than ten bangers."

This term is quite widely used in the UK, especially in the grime scene and here it simply means a great song, no particular criteria. However, it's meaning is definitely not as broad as "an outstanding success", it only refers to music.

If people in the US were only beginning to take note of this in 2016, I would be tempted to claim a UK origin, as it has definitely been used in grime music since the 2006 release of Bearman's "Bear Necessities" album (I can't remember which track), in which he states:

"We got them bangers for ya."

However, Ludacris' use of the term in 2003 throws this into doubt. Perhaps, its spread has simply been slower in the US. Or it could be that Ludacris picked up the term from UK collaborators, such as Ms. Dynamite.

EDIT: Just found another relevant hip hop tune from 2003: Westside Connection = "Call 911":

"This right here is considered a banger"

And another grime track from 2006: Wiley - "You Would Get Wileup":

"So it's me, back with a banger"

So an American origin is looking more likely I think.

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    "We got them bangers for ya." Well, is that the songs or the sausages? – Lambie May 17 at 16:03
  • Haha, pretty sure it's the songs, no allusions to sausages in the rest of the track. – Tim Foster May 19 at 21:31

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