It was born in 1992 to a young Ice Cube on the hip-hop album The Predator. With the help of producer DJ Muggs, it appeared as the first line of the song “Now I Gotta Wet’cha.” Its siblings, “You wanted that fast buck” and “Now I gotta light that ass up” didn’t survive, but the phrase itself became well-known within the hip-hop community, enjoying mild fame before living a relatively quiet adolescence.
Content warning: Liberal use of the "N" word by an African-American rapperThe phrase was named after the extremely popular 1981 video game Donkey Kong, a favorite in arcades worldwide. “It’s On Like Donkey Kong” referred to the frenzy that surrounded the arcade cabinets as video game enthusiasts controlled an early portrayal of the famous video game character Mario to save a damsel from the eponymous giant ape.
Good friend Urban Dictionary shed some light on the phrase’s legacy: “It was a phrase used to denote that it was time to throw down or compete at a high level; that something was about to go down. I’ll miss the fool.”
Though it had a bit of trouble as an adolescent in the mid-90s, things picked up in 2003 when it fully developed into a culturally ubiquitous phrase thanks to its use by the character Stifler in the movie American Wedding, though the “biotch” that appeared alongside of it didn’t catch on.
(“Biotch” would later confront “It’s On Like Donkey Kong” in an awkward encounter on Facebook after a couple years of abusing anabolic steroids and lifting weights.)
Great fame followed, and the phrase was a favorite of frat boys, high school students, and ironic t-shirts across America. For a significant period it was “the” hot phrase and enjoyed widespread fame, even being used by professional journalists in news publications as prominent as The Boston Herald.
However, things took a turn for the worse on Christmas Day, 2008, when Jetcomx published their article defaming the phrase, calling it silly and irrelevant, even in its original use by Ice Cube. In the article, Micah Nathan lamented that “Donkey Kong isn’t a gangster game. It’s not even close. It’s a mustached Italian guy trying to rescue his girlfriend while a giant ape throws barrels at him.” The article proved to be a crushing blow that the phrase never quite recovered from.
Late in life, the phrase appeared in a few movies including the 2010 rom-com The Switch. The phrase was even offered its own theme song by dark-comedy hip-hop act Blood on the Dance Floor, accepting the proposition as its fame began to wane, but the song never caught on, and “It’s On Like Donkey Kong” retreated from the public eye for several months.
Content warning: Liberal use of sexual innuendo by a tiny caucasian maleDuring this time of great struggle, Nintendo, the company who created the phrase’s namesake, began a campaign to raise awareness of the phrase. They filed a trademark request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office attempting to receive custody, and booked it for an appearance promoting the new video game Donkey Kong Country Returns. Unfortunately, it seems that it was just too late.
The phrase passed away on May 19, 2011, as E! News’ Jason Kennedy read it off of a teleprompter while referencing a news story about Maria Shriver filing for a divorce from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Exhausted, overused, and no longer culturally relevant, the nineteen-year-old phrase couldn’t take anymore and expired peacefully.
It is survived by its siblings “My Bad” and “Chillin’ Like a Villain.” Follow @torqtorq