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Second Friday of the month (third Friday in five-week months) at 6:45 am, 8:45 am and 5:44 pm. Why's That? explores the things in Southwest Michigan – people, places, names – that spark your curiosity. We want to know what makes you wonder when you're out and about.

Why’s That: Why is there a Kalamazoo version of the Sir Mix-a-Lot song "Jump on It?"

Sir Mix-a-Lot performs at the NHL Winter Classic hockey game between the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Seattle.
Lindsey Wasson
AP Photo
Sir Mix-a-Lot performs before the NHL Winter Classic hockey game between the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Seattle.

Also, did you know there was once a plan to turn two old storage tanks in Kalamazoo into abstract art? We explore both stories in this episode.

"Is this a parody?"

In 1996, rapper Sir-Mix-a-Lot released a dance song called “Jump on It.”

“What’s up Dallas, what’s up? What's up Dallas, what's up? Dallas, jump on it, jump on it, jump on it," he sings in the chorus. The song is from Mix-a-Lot's album “Return of the Bumpasaurus.”

Todd Freestone of Kalamazoo said he was driving a few weeks ago when the song came on local Top 40 station WKFR. But the lyrics were different.

“You all want me to say Kalamazoo all squeezed into one line? What’s up? What’s up Kalamazoo, what’s up?”

Todd said this was a head-scratcher.

“Is this a parody? Where did this song come from? Why is Kalamazoo in this song?”

Sir-Mix-a-Lot doesn’t stop with Kalamazoo. He calls out Battle Creek, Three Rivers, Coldwater, Marshall and Paw Paw.

Sir-Mix-a-Lot, his manager, and his publicist did not return my messages. But I did reach retired WKFR DJ Dave Benson.

Benson started at WKFR in 1987 and was on the air during afternoon drive time for 33 years.

Benson met Todd and me at WMUK, with a copy of Southwest Michigan “Jump on It.”

He said after the original “Jump on It” came out, the record label offered WKFR an exclusive customized version.

“It's a great business decision. If you customize it for a radio station, you're gonna get airplay.”

Benson said WKFR has been the number one Top-40 station in Southwest Michigan for decades. That’s why Sir Mix-a-Lot remixed the song for WKFR and never sold it to the public.

“They called influential radio stations. They needed us as much as we needed them,” he said.

An MTV article from October 1996 confirms Sir Mix-A-Lot recorded at least 15 market-specific versions, including the one for Kalamazoo.

Benson said the rapper did not come up with the names of local towns on his own.

“That's a dirty little secret," Benson said.

"No, they asked us, 'give us five or six cities.' And we gave him the information.”

Benson said that when he added “Jump on It” to his Friday Festivities show, “It took off. People went nuts for it.”

Benson told me and our question-asker, Todd Freestone, that big cities are used to the attention. He said this type of marketing is really more effective in smaller towns, like Kalamazoo.

“Hey, the spotlight's on us. And that was really cool 'cause you don't expect that in a town, as you said, of 70,000.”

Sir Mix-A-Lot even performed the local version at Bell's Brewery in 2018.

Did our question-asker get his question answered?

“I did,” Todd said, but added, “I wish we had this more available. That people could access this song.”

Benson said he used to hear that all the time.

“’Why can't you sell it to me?’ Because I'm not the record company. We don't own the rights to it.”

WKFR told me the song dropped out of rotation a while ago, when Benson retired from Townsquare Media in 2022.

But Todd said he heard it in the spring.

Maybe the station will jump on it, and put the song back in the regular lineup.

From storage tank to sculpture

A photocopy of a photo of a proposed art project to repurpose the tanks. The model for a larger structure sits in the grass and is a little out of focus. To the right of the photo is a note signed by Jack Urban.  The note reads, "Maquettes for reshaped oil tanks on Cork St. with possible colors. Orange is not optional. Green, lavender for contrast."  The note is dated June 5, 2024.
Courtesy image
Jack Urban
Photos of the models for the proposed design to repurpose the old Cork Street storage tanks into public art are hard to come by. Jack Urban provided a photocopy of the project design, along with a signed note.

In April on Why’s That, WMUK reporter Michael Symonds took a look at the history of the tanks by the railroad tracks on Cork Street. We learned that while they were once used to store fuel oil, they are now empty and unused.

But we missed something. There was once a plan to turn these tanks into art.

“I brought up the, the unsightliness of these oil tanks, they're just sitting there waiting to be made into sculptures,” said

Jack Urban, a former Kalamazoo city commissioner and former chair of the county's Public Arts Commission.

The project, proposed about 12 years ago, would have seen the tanks cut into softly-curving organic shapes, with two arm-like pieces outstretched to one another. The rusty metal would have been painted pastel colors.

Urban said the abstract sculptures would have represented the bond between Kalamazoo and its neighbor city Portage.

Urban shared an image of the mock-ups that were made when the project was still in-development.

“I have them with these large wings here, basically looking like they're big bears about ready to hug. And now they're kind of embracing each other,” he said.

But the project stalled. The county and property owner, E.M. Sergeant, struggled to agree on points such as who would be liable for an accident during construction.

WMUK reporter Michael Symonds shared what he’d learned with Laurie Kaniarz, the question-asker from the original Cork Street tank story. He wanted to get her reaction to this once planned project.

“Anyway, that they could correct the blight that the two tanks currently represent would be fantastic. And that part of Kalamazoo is sort of, it isn't as beautiful as it could be.”

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.
Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.