MODESTO, Calif. - “Ghost riding the whip” — a stunt in which a driver gets out of his car and dances around and on top of the slowly moving vehicle to a thumping hip-hop beat — has gotten at least two people killed, led to numerous injuries and alarmed police on the West Coast and beyond.
A fad among devotees of a West Coast strain of hip-hop music called “hyphy,” the stunt has been celebrated in song and performed in numerous homemade videos posted on YouTube.
“It did not take Einstein to look at this thing and say this was a recipe for disaster,” said Pete Smith, a police spokesman in Stockton. “We could see the potential for great injury or death.”
Earlier this month, Davender Gulley, a ghost-riding 18-year-old, died after his head slammed into a parked car while he was hanging out the window of an SUV in Stockton, police said. In October, a 36-year-old man dancing on top of a moving car fell off, hit his head and died in what authorities said was Canada’s first ghost riding fatality.
The stunt has also led to numerous minor injuries.
Hyphy was born in the San Francisco Bay cities of Oakland, Richmond and Vallejo in the late 1990s, and devotees often hold late-night car rallies called “sideshows” where crowds perform risky stunts, including ghost riding.
“Ghost riding” refers to the absence of a driver. “The whip” is urban slang for your car. Typically, the driver drops the car into neutral and dances around and on top of the vehicle while it inches forward.
Sometimes it is a solo act; sometimes a half-dozen or more passengers get out and dance, too. The stunt is usually performed late at night, on a deserted road or in a parking lot.
The Vallejo-bred rapper E-40 introduced mainstream listeners to ghost riding with the single “Tell Me When to Go,” whose lyrics describe how to pull it off. Another single, “Ghostride It,” by Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B., offers a step-by-step guide: “Pull up. Hop out, all in one motion. Dancing on the hood, while the car still rollin’.”
The antics have gone nationwide thanks in large part to YouTube, where a search for ghost riding turns up hundreds of grainy videos of young people pulling the stunt. The videos were shot from Portland, Ore., to Chicago and many places in between, and judging from the backdrops, the phenomenon has crossed over from the inner city to the suburbs.
‘Mom wasn’t too thrilled’
Joe Calderon, 17, of San Diego, posted a YouTube video of himself dancing alongside his moving, driverless 2005 Mazda. “We love that style of music,” he said. But “my mom wasn’t too thrilled about it.”
Another video shows a man sitting on the roof of his fast-moving pickup truck and leaping clear seconds before it crashes into a telephone pole.
Where record labels see hyphy as hip hop’s next big thing, police see a menace.
Stockton police said they have written more than 1,500 citations and impounded about 400 vehicles since late March for sideshow antics.
The spontaneous nature of the sideshows — which are staged on interstates, in deserted parking lots, and on downtown streets — keeps police guessing. Departments have spent millions in overtime policing the outlaw rallies.
Even F.A.B. concedes that sideshows have gotten out of control. He said he would like to stage sideshows in large arenas where organizers could charge admission.
“It would be like a ghetto NASCAR,” he said