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Being in Hayward was a culture shock. Although it's only twenty miles from West Oakland, it was a totally different world. "When I rolled out to Hayward, I saw nicer houses," Carter said. "Even apartments out there were nice. It was also a different thing as far as culture: I was from a predominantly all-black school, and it was the first time I intertwined with people outside my race."
Being exposed to different people, diving into his studies, and being a key member of the track and football teams at Hayward helped Carter become more secure with who he was. With this newfound security, he actively pursued his favorite hobby — dancing.
As a kid, he had idolized Michael Jackson. He grew a big Jackson 5 Afro and emulated the artist's dance moves. His mom made him and his two brothers do the robot dance for her friends at parties to earn a few extra dollars. By high school he had formed a dance crew with some friends; they practiced together and went to talent shows.
"I used to do all the James Brown type of stuff," he recalled. "Then my senior year dancing changed and everyone did that preppy kind of dance stuff and I got pushed to the back." He's talking about when people cut their hair into hi-top fades, wore argyle patterns, penny-loafer shoes and Guess, Jordache, and Sergio Valente jeans. Carter couldn't afford these expensive brand-name clothes and didn't care much for the unorganized dance moves associated with that look. This is when he began following MC Hammer, who was just coming onto the scene. Hammer had his own style of dressing and dancing. "I remember seeing MC Hammer, and I was like, 'Wow, there goes James Brown again,'" Carter said.
During his freshman year at Hayward, Carter formed a dance crew called Club Nu-Ho — for them, the word "ho" meant party, and the name was a reference to the band Club Nouveau. He meant for the crew to serve as a social club and fraternity alternative where members were not hazed and everyone was accepted. Each member had a nickname: There was Frosty Ho, Jamma Ho, Tally Ho, and Heavy Ho. Carter's name was King Ho after Run DMC's King of Rock. The crew started with a handful of members and grew to sixty or seventy guys. "We used to always hang out at this club called the Palladium in San Francisco," said Keir Abrams, one of Carter's oldest friends. "That was the hot spot, 'cause it was the only eighteen-and-over club." They'd show up to the club dressed in matching outfits: tight black biker shorts, red tops, and baseball hats that had their nicknames and "respect me" embroidered on them.
"Back then it was all about battling," or winning dance-offs against other dance crews, Carter recalled. "You would battle for your respect. I was always in the circle, going off, dancing and sweating." Dancing took his mind off the stresses in his life: being an eighteen-year-old dad, working to get good grades and earn an income. "When I'd go to the club, all that would disappear. I got to be the man for those three or four hours."
Carter also attended all the live hip-hop and R&B shows that toured through the Bay Area. At the time, most rappers just got on stage and prowled back and forth, but Carter's favorites were the acts that mixed dancing and rap, like Whodini and Salt-N-Pepa. New Edition was his ultimate favorite because the performers fully choreographed their shows and videos. "I would visualize myself up there and I would just enjoy the flow of the concert," Carter said.
New Edition, and particularly member Bobby Brown, proved influential on Carter's growing interest in a performing career. "A lot of what you see in Hammer came from that direct influence of Bobby Brown," Carter said. "Like, Bobby Brown was the first one to wear diaper pants," the peg-legged billowy baggy pants with a low crotch that MC Hammer made famous.
By then, Carter idolized MC Hammer. He began following the emcee wherever he performed. His devotion was soon rewarded; when MC Hammer signed his major record deal with Capitol Records, he chose Carter and two other Club Nu-Ho members to be extras in his video shoots. During one of the shoots, while waiting in the parking lot, Carter and his two partners began battling two other dance extras. When the music ended, one of the guys came over to talk to Carter. "You guys in a frat?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" asked Carter.
"You guys are doing Omega step," he said. "I'm a Kappa."
Even though they weren't in a fraternity, the Kappa liked that they were mixing fraternity step dancing into their routines. Traditionally done by black fraternities and sororities, step is a type of movement in which dancers use their entire bodies to generate tempo and sound, usually with loud stomping in rhythmic unison and handclaps. That night, out at the club, instead of battling against each other, they joined forces to become the dance crew that would back MC Hammer onstage for the next five years, Ho Frat Ho. The crew would create the dance style that epitomized the beginning of the 1990s.
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