Cardi B is trademarking “Okurrr.” The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that the rapper had filed paperwork with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to “to reserve the catchphrase for use on ‘paper goods, namely paper cups and posters,’ through her cosmetics company Washpoppin Inc. Page Six says there’s also an application for “Okurr” and the trademark would extend to clothing. And while it’s a cute idea, it’s a move that has sparked a conversation about who, exactly, should be profiting off the word.
To be clear: the idea that someone “invented okurr,” is hard to prove. The word is, basically, “okay” with a tongue trill, which anyone can think of. That said, it’s certainly received a boost or been introduced to segments of the mainstream by quite a few notable personalities over the last decade, of which Cardi is the latest, cementing it as her trademark of sorts (the Super Bowl Pepsi commercial being her crowning glory).
But before Cardi brought the fun saying to the forefront, there was one Ms. Khloe Kardashian. On Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the reality star used okurr heavily — so heavily, in fact, that her siblings caught on. At the time, the phrase got so connected with her in popular culture, that when Cardi began using it, fans accused the rapper of impersonating the Kardashians. But sis …
Shiiiiiettt you will be the first I call but you gotta teach me how to do the drop first with out me breakin my hip https://t.co/1oLF0k47y1
— iamcardib (@iamcardib) March 23, 2019
The one and ONLY @iamcardib replied to my tweet!! So can we please stop the negative comments?!? She didn’t steal anything... The word #okurrr originated from the ballroom scene, but Cardi was smart enough to capitalize on it!! Props to ya MAWMA!! pic.twitter.com/TvyVyMvfZk
— Laganja Estranja (@LaganjaEstranja) March 23, 2019
Any true RuPaul’s Drag Race fan knows that neither Cardi nor the Kardashians were the first to trill their tongue on television. Laganja Estranja had used the same signature on season six of the show in 2014. Cardi B seemed to acknowledge her predecessor over the weekend on Twitter: “Can I please do my iconic drop in the commercial for your new #Okurrr merch?!?” Estranja tweeted, referring to the dip she did for her work room entrance. “I was once made fun of for using this word, and now you can help me come full circle.”
“Shiiiiiettt you will be the first I call but you gotta teach me how to do the drop first with out me breakin my hip,” Cardi responded. Estranja followed up on the conversation with another tweet.
“Can we stop the negative comments?!?” she wrote, referring to a string of criticism pointing out that Cardi hadn’t come up with the phrase and was stealing it from Estranja, the Kardashians, or someone else. “The word #okurrr originated from the ballroom scene, but Cardi was smart enough to capitalize on it! Props to ya MAWMA!!”
There’s a lot to unpack there, but first: did okurr come from ballroom? In 2008, Rodney Chester playing Alex Kirby in Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (a feature-length continuation of the Logo series) said okurr. On Instagram, Noah’s Arc creator Patrik-Ian Polk credits Chester with having created the term. Maybe he did. Maybe he heard it from someone else. That person could have been from the ballroom community — the show included quite a few ballroom moments — or they could have just been Black. While ballroom is, in its origins, intrinsically Black and queer, everything Black and queer is not necessarily ballroom. So, to put it all to rest, we asked him.
Rodney Chester created “Okurrr”. As seen here in my 2008 film NOAH’S ARC: JUMPING THE BROOM. That’s right- 2008, as in ten years ago. I loves me some Cardi, Gawd KNOWS I do- and I don’t even mind the Kardashians. No tea, no shade— just receipts. @itsrodney_ #NoahsArc #blackgaypride #blackgayslay #everythingfierceinpopculturecomesfromus #yeahisaidit #facts #receipts @slaytv @tenzmag @thetenthzine @nativesonnow
“That was the scene where myself and Brandi were sitting next to each other and talking,” Chester tells Out over the phone from Los Angeles. “I just said it. It was just something I made up on the spot. I thought, instead of saying okay, it would be better to say okurr and they decided to keep it in.” Just like that, he just … said it.
According to him, it was a one time occurence. He didn’t hear it from anyone else — he also wasn’t in the ballroom community, though he knew of it and campaigned to include ballroom in Noah’s Arc — and he hasn’t made it a catchphrase of his own since. Instead, he plugged along saying other catchy things, some that he’s heard and some that he made up.
“I just know that, in all honesty, Patrik did let me do a lot of ad-libbing — he was a stickler, and usually wanted us to stick to the script but he would let me sometimes.” Chester says. “I did that but I would add stuff here and there; some would make it, some he would say no. But there’s some things that I said that I had heard and was just bringing back like ‘What’s the tea?’ — that’s been around forever. But I know that I said ‘Gurrr,’ and I hadn’t heard that before. I made that up, for sure.” And yet there were many of those phrases that you can hear repeated on television today, he didn’t pursue any legal paperwork for any of them.
So, who should get the money? Chester? Laura Bell Bundy who used it as her Shocantelle Brown character on YouTube in 2010? Did Estranja finally tip the scales because she brought it to Drag Race? Do the Kardashians have more of a stake, having taken it out of queer and internet subcultures and brought it to primetime? As for Cardi, her reason is simple.
Cardi B responds to the backlash of her trademarking her famous catchphrase, “okurr” pic.twitter.com/s05WQRclmy
— BallerAlert (@balleralert) March 22, 2019
“Let me tell you something,” she said in a video that surfaced over the weekend. “Everytime I go into a corporate meeting these folks be like ‘oh my god, can you please say okurr?’ Every time I go to a TV show ‘hey, hey, can you teach me how to say okurr?’ Every time I go do a commercial ‘hey, can you finish it off with okurr? You think I ain’t going to profit off this shit?!”
“Bitch, white folks do it all the motherfucking time,” she said. (Points were made.) “While I’m still here, I’m going to secure all the fucking bags.” But if she’s handing out a little bag to Estranja along the way, maybe there’s a little something for Chester?
“I can’t afford no lawyer or no heavy hitter to go against her or anything like that,” he says. “I can’t fight her but you know I was saying to a friend, I wish she would call me and say ‘I heard that you actually made this word up, and I’m going to send you a lil something.’ I sure would accept it.”
“We could even recreate that [Jumping the Broom scene] and it could be the two of us talking and then I say okurr, and then she says okurr.” he says. “That would be nice.”
Can you do that, Cardi? Just call Rodney Chester, okurr. (And you, can follow him on Instagram.)