What's the meaning of rollin in this context?


They see me rollin

They hatin

Patrolling they tryin to catch me ridin dirty

Tryin to catch me ridin dirty

Tryin to catch me ridin dirty

This is from Ridin' by Chamillionaire, featuring Krayzie Bone.

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    One thing that may help you look at the use of language in this particular song from a different angle (and thus understand it better) is the Wierd Al parody "White and Nerdy". ..not to mention that it is frigging hilarious. For example, the video shows the protagonist "rollin" on his Segway. – T.E.D. Jul 31 '12 at 19:17
  • "Fluent in Javascript as well as Klingon" - that's an unbeatable line. – notablytipsy Aug 1 '12 at 3:28
  • @asymptotically - Actually, the part that always kills me in the video is when the black folks see him looking at them and roll their windows up in a panic. – T.E.D. Aug 1 '12 at 4:50

"And now, today's Ebonics language lesson":

Rollin: This means that the singer is "rolling" down the street in his car.

Patrolling: Oh Sh#$! It's the cops!

Ridin dirty: Rollin' with drugs, guns, or other items of questionable legality.

For those who are interested, this is from "Ridin'" by "Chamillionaire" featuring "Krayzie Bone" :)

  • Surely ebonics lessons fall either into “Translation and non-English languages” or “Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature” per the FAQ. – tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 17:23
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    @tchrist :) Ebonics are essential English language skills for anybody visiting the US :P "Drop dem nikes off yo ass befo i blast u mu-er f-er!" – coleopterist Jul 31 '12 at 17:48
  • Thanks @coleopterist. Would you mind if I add the reference to the question in an edit? (or would you?). I like to see quotations given their proper citation -- in fairness to the artists. – JAM Jul 31 '12 at 17:51
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    To be sure, the best term to use rather than Ebonics is AAVE. – Mark Beadles Jul 31 '12 at 18:10
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    To echo @MarkBeadles , the term typically used by professional linguists, and on this site, is African American Vernacular English (AAVE). We even have a tag for it (which I added to the question). It is a fully-fledged English dialect. There are lots of other terms for this dialect, but they all tend to be rather laden with racial or political baggage. "ebonics" is certainly of that ilk. – T.E.D. Jul 31 '12 at 18:29

Most American rap music is phrased in an English Dialect called African American Vernacular English (AAVE). This song is certainly in that category (which is why I added the AAVE tag to the question). Because it is traditionally spoken by poorer African-Americans, this hasn't traditionally been considered a "prestige" dialect. But it is a fully-fleged English dialect, in theory every bit as valid as Midland American or RP. These days it tends to get used as a cultural marker to show the speaker (of pretty much any racial background) is quite far from being a member of the USA's rich (and melanin-poor) elite classes.

There are lots of other names for this dialect floating around (eg: ebonics, Black English, Spoken Soul, or my favorite Jive), but they all tend to have a lot of racial or political baggage. If you want to talk about the dialect on its own terms, apart from any pre-judgement, best to use the proper linguistic term.

The word "rollin'" is short for the fairly common phrase "rolling down the street", which refers to the act of riding in a moving car (typically, but not always, as the driver). The dropping of the "g" is charactaristic of the AAVE dialect, although it is actually quite common in many American dialects (and affected dialects by politicians, not to mention posing rap MC's).

(Note: This started as a comment on coleopterist's answer, but got long. Other than his use of the word "ebonics", I have no issue with his answer)

  • Great answer. I rather hate the fact that all dialects are now considered equal but my inner nice guy knows its only fair. However he too is quite sad to think there may be a time when Standard English has drifted to the point where it is closer to something like AAVE or its British counterpart than to the English of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. – 5arx Jul 31 '12 at 18:59
  • @5arx - Well, to paraphrase George Orwell, some dialects are certianly "more equal" than others. If you live in England or Australia or the USA and want to get a bank loan, there is one and only one dialect that you'll be best off using. Thus I think teachers would be negligent in not ensuring their students have fluency in that one dialect. The problem is that which dialect that is happens to be different in those three places. – T.E.D. Jul 31 '12 at 19:05

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