The Accidental Success and Freaky Legacy of ‘Wait (The Whisper Song)’
Photo illustration; Source: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

The Accidental Success and Freaky Legacy of ‘Wait (The Whisper Song)’

15 years ago, the Ying Yang Twins created a raunchy rap classic with a surprising shelf life

In the early months of 2005, hip-hop found itself, yet again, in a state of transition. Although The Game had just released his debut album, The Documentary, 50 Cent and his G-Unit juggernaut were beginning to show signs of strain. Free mp3s of new and unreleased songs were spreading around the world faster than record labels could shut down the zShare links. But perhaps most importantly, folks nationwide were finally beginning to admit what had been true for years: The sound of hip-hop had firmly taken root in Atlanta.

Teenagers in the A weren’t yet the defining shapers of modern culture as we know it, but things were poppin’. T.I. was molding himself into the Jay-Z of the South on the strength of Urban Legend, Young Jeezy’s trap-or-die ethos was about to explode, and the Aphilliates’ Gangsta Grillz series was setting itself up to become the most important mixtape franchise of the decade. Into this reality came the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song),” a ridiculous, unexpected, transformative globule of pop culture freakiness. The no-frills track, composed entirely of vulgar whispering over a sparse instrumental, turned the ATL duo from strip-club anthemers into household names — and had fans and artists alike using their inside voices.

The style they developed turned down the tempo of Miami Bass — which got Atlanta’s asses shaking every Freaknik when they were growing up — but kept the same raucous, sexually explicit energy.

Like most hip-hop songs, the story of “Wait” begins with a beat. But the story of this song, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, doesn’t start with the beat you’d expect. Its history traces back to September 2004, when Mr. Collipark heard what The Neptunes had conjured up for Snoop Dogg’s sublime cruiser “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”

At the time, Collipark had already spent years working with the Ying Yang Twins, two non-blood related brothers going by the names Kaine and D-Roc. Collipark wasn’t just the Twins’ main producer and creative collaborator; he also ran their label, Collipark Music, and acted as both booking agent and road manager. He’d already produced goofy, raunchy hits for them like “Whistle While You Twurk” and “Say I Yi Yi.” The style they developed turned down the tempo of Miami Bass — which got Atlanta’s asses shaking every Freaknik when they were growing up — but kept the same raucous, sexually explicit energy.

“Drop It Like It’s Hot” inspired Collipark to try something different. Sleek and minimal like a spaceship in a sci-fi flick — exterior like fish eggs, no doubt — the Neptunes track was built from a few levitating synthesizer sounds, a pair of simple drum patterns, the clucking noise you make with your tongue when you’re counting something in your head, and the word “Snoooooooooop” repeated like it’s being played on a slide whistle. It was intoxicating.

“As far as hip-hop is concerned, you’ll rarely hear the word ‘funky,’” says Collipark. “But Pharrell [Williams] just continuously finds ways to make funky shit. That beat right there had nothing in it, but it was funky as hell.”

In response, Collipark created his own similarly stripped-down beat. His version was far slinkier, as he leaned on a synthesized bassline, then replaced those percussive clucks with finger snaps and eventually swapped “Snooooooooop” with a celebratory “Oooooooooh!”

Another burst of creative thinking happened one night when he and the Twins were up north in New York, eating at Harlem soul food institution Sylvia’s. Collipark came to them with the concept of whispering their lyrics for an entire song. (At the time, rap’s best-known example of the microtradition was the hook of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.”)

The Twins were ambivalent, but soon the trio found themselves back at the studio in Atlanta, waiting for Roy Jones Jr. They had convinced the superstar boxer to appear in the video for their 2004 single “What’s Happenin’” in exchange for them recording a song with his hip-hop outfit, Body Head Bangerz — but Jones was driving up from Florida, and the Twins were getting restless. Collipark loaded up his “Drop It Like It’s Hot”-inspired beat and told the pair to give the whisper flow a whirl.

“There are a lot of artists who be scared to try certain things — for us it don’t matter,” says Kaine today. “You can call me what you want, just call me with the check when that thing hits, because it’s gonna hit.”

The Twins decided to write the filthiest lyrics possible, with the idea that these would be the words you’d whisper into a woman’s ear while inside a loud club to get her intrigued and turned on at the same time. They knew they had something when Kaine came up with the key line of the chorus: “Wait ’til you see my dick.

“It was the most immaculate line ever,” D-Roc says now.

On the other hand, some would consider that line (and the song in general) not just creepy, but borderline predatory — especially since the Twins followed the refrain with the words, “I’ma beat that pussy up.”

Though it’s dirty as hell, Kaine sees “Wait” in the tradition of the soul ballads that his parents and their friends moved to when they were young. “Most of the ’70s babies was conceived to groovy songs,” he says. “Could have been Teddy P[endergrass], could have been Isley Brothers, could have been Al Green — it didn’t matter.” He compares “Wait” to certified 1980s sex jams like “Moments in Love” by Art of Noise and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

Everyone in the studio liked the song but thought it was destined to be an album cut at most — another quirky experiment they cooked up. Then one of Collipark’s partners, who very soon became not one of his partners, leaked the rough version of “Wait” to WFXE in Columbus, Georgia. The radio station cleaned up the prodigious profanity and put it on the airwaves. It instantly blew up. Though Collipark was pissed, he soon realized the opportunity that had been presented to them. “It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “Because honestly, I would have never put that out as a single.”

As the attention and demand for “Wait” spread, Collipark mastered the Twins’ vocals and created their own radio edit with the less-leering refrain, “Wait ’til I show this/You will never get enough.” It became the first official single for the Ying Yang Twins’ United States of Atlanta, more than three months before the album’s late June release. “Wait” turned into a global smash, reaching #15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and eventually helped propel their full-length to the #2 spot. Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Lil Scrappy, and then-106 & Park hostess Free hopped on the remix. Even Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — the two guys from The Lonely Island who aren’t Andy Samberg — parodied the song as the Bing Bong Brothers.

“Wait (The Whisper Song)” came at a crucial point in the Ying Yang Twins’ career. They had previously attained national fame in 2003, when their chants on Lil Jon’s “Get Low” packed in new fans from the window to the wall. Then they rode the wave even further, as Jon returned the favor on their single “Salt Shaker.” Those hits may have earned the Twins enough recognition to land them a guest spot on “(I Got That) Boom Boom,” Britney Spears’ approximation of an Atlanta rap song from her 2003 album, In the Zone — but it was Lil Jon, not D-Roc and Kaine, who Dave Chappelle imitated in a series of classic sketches (one featuring the actual Lil Jon) on his Comedy Central show.

“You gotta understand, the twerk sound — we came up with that,” says Collipark as he explains how the two Atlanta rap acts became linked together. “Most of Jon’s stuff was crunk music, like ‘Bia Bia.’ So when they made ‘Get Low,’ it was kind of [the Ying Yangs Twins] giving Jon our shit, but they never got the credit. They struggled with that a little bit. We were all team players about it, and it did launch their career… [But] ‘The Whisper Song’ separated them.” The Ying Yang Twins had been the court jesters of Atlanta, hollering about ball sweat as the city affirmed its place as the new capital of hip-hop. It was a role they had gleefully embraced, but now they had shown listeners their potential to do something different.

“Wait” also opened up a new path for Collipark. He’d recently started a family and was no longer interested in spending his life on the road. Now, he could start planning his career beyond just what was happening in the coming weeks or months. He began to focus on his label, Collipark Music, which eventually released albums by Soulja Boy and V.I.C. through partnerships with Interscope and Warner Brothers. But in the more immediate moment, he became a hot producer, inundated with requests for “Wait” soundalikes.

Though he’d soon go on to create favorites like Bubba Sparxxx’s “Ms. New Booty” (which features more whispering from the Ying Yang Twins) and Young Jeezy’s “Trap Star.” David Banner’s “Play” was the closest cousin to what Collipark accomplished on “Wait.” That track was originally earmarked for E-40, but Banner heard it and went crazy for it.

In order to control his recording costs, Banner used an approach taught to him by Pimp C of UGK: To prevent his label from skimming off his budget, he’d pay for his entire album out of pocket, then make them reimburse him in exchange for the finished product. Banner told Collipark that he could pay him for the “Play” beat right away — probably at a lower rate than he expected, but without the holdup of record label red tape.

Collipark took the deal, hoping to build on the success of “Wait” by using “Play” to develop a sound he called “intimate club music.” He asked Banner, who at the time was known for getting super rowdy, to also try whispering his lascivious lyrics, which he did for about half the track.

“That’s when I went from being a gangster to a sex symbol, and it was really uncomfortable for me,” says Banner. “I used to be crunk and throwing bottles. My constituency went from just girls in the club, to super-rich girls all the way down to super-ratchet girls. That song was the beginning of what I am now. I’ll be called to be the first man in videos and movies and stuff, but ‘Play’ is what started it.”

Intimate club music may not have taken off like trap did as the defining sound of Atlanta, but these days “Wait” continues to live on in memes and Slack messages in which project managers make PowerPoint jokes about, “Wait ’til you see my deck.” Whispering in hip-hop has even seen a resurgence in recent songs by 21 Savage and Tyga. Some have misguidedly connected “Wait” to the increasingly popular phenomenon of ASMR, where people turn to certain sounds to produce a calming, tingling sensation in their head or to help them sleep.

“For some people, whispering does trigger their ASMR and for some people, whispering doesn’t — it is somewhat dependent on the person that’s listening,” says Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University and the author of Brain Tingles, a 2018 book about ASMR. “The other important factor is context and intent. So for the Ying Yang Twins, was their intent with their whispering to relax the listener? I would probably say not. I think to convey sexual suggestions was the main intent of that song, or to represent seduction, and that is not traditionally how ASMR is experienced.”

In February of 2006, one year after it made its way into the world, “Wait” by the Ying Yang Twins found itself up for a Grammy in the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group category. The award went to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Don’t Phunk With My Heart”— a song that, even then, didn’t feel like it’d have any lasting resonance.

And time proved just that. 15 years after its release, “Wait” has solidified its quirky, quiet place in the rap firmament — as a song and a symbol all at once. “We lost,” D-Roc says, “but we won.”

All they had to do was wait.