“It’s a state of mind.” These are the words of Dominant, founder of the UK’s foremost krump family, Wet Wipez, as he explains what krump means to him. Fellow member Skullie elaborates: “It allows you to be free. That’s what krump is about, the freedom to express. People see krump as just a dance style, but really krump is a culture, it’s a movement.”
The wildly expressive artform, made famous by David LaChapelle’s vivid 05 documentaryRize, evolved from clowning, a dance style that began in early-90s LA. With its arm-swinging, pelvis-thrusting movements, often performed in battles, krump is fast and angry; LaChapelle aligned it with the tension that followed the LA riots in 1992, which gave the dance its fearsome provocative edge. But for many early krumpers, krump was explicitly a devotional Christian act, and it has been backronymed as “Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise”. Dance-wise, you could draw parallels with hip hop, street dance and voguing. As one krumper featured in Rize puts it, “You have organised balls, and you have street balls. Krumping is the street ball.”
Nine years after LaChapelle pushed krumping into the public consciousness, the dance form is enjoying a European renaissance, spearheaded by Wet Wipez and championed by FKA twigs. At her debut London headline show, seven of the members cleared a circle in the middle of the unsuspecting audience and took it in turns to tell personal stories through an explosive series of aggressive but microscopically precise moves as M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” shook the walls. It looked choreographed to the fingertips, but it was entirely freestyled – as krump always is. “Wet Wipez have been helping me for years,” twigs says later, explaining the perhaps not immediately apparent connection between her skewed, soft-footed R&B and their hard-hitting dance battles. “Before I had a tiny voice to talk to people, they helped me. When I was like, ‘I’ve never done krump before but I’d love to,’ they helped me do it. Now I want to get them involved in everything that I’m doing so then I can bring a different audience to what they’re doing. Everything they’ve taught me has informed my movement.”
FKA twigs has been affiliated with the collective for two years, ever since she expressed her interest in krump to Dominant. Her gut-wrenchingly tense video for “Ache” features a wild-eyed Skullie clawing at a constricting Nasir Mazhar headpiece like a basketball court Bane. This, too, is krump – Skullie didn’t have any dance training before he found a home in Wet Wipez; now he’s got a fully fledged character of his own, having drawn inspiration from cartoons to create a “monster” style.
Looking at the individual moves shows you only one layer of what’s going on in krump. At the Southbank Centre, the crew’s core members lift the lid on how to read between the lines of their jabs, arm swings and chest hits. Through their movements as well as words, they explain their krump names and characters. Dominant, the founder of the crew, is quiet and still, only loud when necessary, but has the rapt attention of everyone in the room when he speaks. He’s been krumping for ten years. “Dominant is someone who dominates everything, no matter what it is,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be dance. Whether it’s music, acting, film, editing, whatever, I dominate.” Wild G, aka Wild Gorilla, gets his name from being a “powerhouse” and a “beast”. He looms large over the space, performing at every opportunity. The relaxed and friendly Citrik (real name: Troy) gets his name from once throwing a lemon at an opponent during a battle. He thankfully doesn’t have any fruit on him today.
Wet Wipez were born six years ago when YouTube clips of tight US battles caught the imaginations of a bunch of east London teenagers. “It was in January and it was freezing cold,” says Citrik. “We had two cars, and we were like, ‘Let’s go out and find a car park.’ It was dark but we used headlights, and the explosion of energy made me feel like a power ranger. I was like, ‘This is it, man. This is my team,’ you know? I never felt part of something outside of my own family until I met these guys. And these were guys I’d only known for a couple of weeks.”
Wet Wipez have got the whole British krump scene on lock today, but they took a while to catch on. “It was not respected in the UK at first,” says Wild G. “A lot of people act like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been watching Wet Wipez for years, they’ve always been sick’ – they’re lying. Number one, we weren’t always sick. That’s just realness. And number two, even when we were first doing the style, there was not a lot of respect.” The movement may still be burgeoning in the UK, but it’s culturally embedded in LA, where musicians like TeeFlii, Kid Ink and trap-pop production heavyweight DJ Mustard are all linked to the scene. Dominant travelled there in 2012 to make a film called Los Adaptadores with some LA krumpers, and speaks about the trip like a pilgrimage. He’s got the two letters inked into his skin.
The family now spans nearly 30 members, with the youngest aged just 15. “He’s too serious,” says Dominant of his “lil homie”, with a definite streak of pride. “He goes by the name of Jr Dominant, aka Twin Prowler, his twin being Shush, the mentor of the Prowler style. Then I have Lady Dominant…” It’s as labyrinthine as an actual family tree, an elaborate system of mentors, mentees and twins. Their blood families are all part of it too – Dominant tells of uncles who discuss their latest YouTube videos at family meals, mums who can tell when they’ve been skipping training. “One of the most emotional moments for me was the first time I brought my son to meet the crew,” says Citrik. “Because that’s when I first realised that these guys will forever be my family.”
Their bond was cemented at a young age. “We’re all attached to each other because we grew together,” Dominant says. He started krumping at 16 and founded Wet Wipez at 20. “Krump is a lifestyle. You don’t come into it half-hearted, krump for a month and say you’re a krumper. There’s people hitting 50 that are krumping, there’s kids of three or four who are already learning to krump. It’s a house, it’s a lifestyle.” Latter-day member Rain (aka Rianna) is all flying hoop earrings and signature plaits. “I first got into krump as I was doing street dance at the age of 16,” she says. “But I already knew about krump and the history. Eventually I saw big Dominant, and we hung out in Leicester Square. I did a 15-second dance on the spot and he thought I had potential. My style is cocky, with a fearless attitude and very unpredictable.”
“Krump is a lifestyle. You don’t come into it half-hearted, krump for a month and say you’re a krumper” – Dominant
Most of the Wipez came to krump from breaking, popping, locking and hip hop backgrounds. “When I’m learning breaking, I’m learning moves,” says Wild G. “I apply the moves to the music. When I’m learning popping and hip hop, it’s the same. The reason I gel with krump more is because it’s not just about building the moves. I have the freedom to do anything I want. A lot of us in our crew, if you break it down, we wave, we pop, we tut, we break, we do everything within krump. But you’re building something completely different than a dance style. You’re building a character, a story, a confidence. In popping, it doesn’t have to be something that I’m passionate about, it can be science to me. You think of having the best food, you think of krump. You think of just having a couple of chips, you’re thinking of popping.”
Way back when, krump was an overt expression of religious faith: this London-based crew feel connected to the same devotion, and constantly refer to the spirit of the dance. Yet its nature is something more unspoken. “Have you ever punched a punching bag?” asks Citrik. “Did you feel good when you punched the punching bag? There’s a release – I don’t know what it is, there’s something inside your head that tells you every time you’re throwing something out – that feels good. The spiritual aspect, that’s it. We’re communicating something. We say that Wipez stands for When Individual People Enter the Zone. When Wipez are here, that’s their zone. You come near the circle, you start feeling it.”
Their moves are limitless, their plans even more so. “In five years’ time I see Wet Wipez being all over the world,” Dominant says. “Bigger than it is now.” Skullie adds: “You’ll never know what we’re gonna be doing in five years. It’s just the same as when we get into a session, we have no idea what we’re gonna do with our moves. But when we do it, it’s gonna bang. It’s always gonna bang. And it’s always gonna be big.”
Hair Paul Donovan at CLM using Redken; make-up Nami Yoshida at The Book =Agency; styling assistants Samia Giobellina, Max di Giacint