My quest to track down the origin of the most persistent recurring hip-hop memes brings me to this chant:
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
We don’t need no water, let the motherf***er burn
The chant made its first appearance in the hip-hop canon in “The Roof Is On Fire” by Rock Master Scott & The Dynamic Three, the B-side to their 1984 single “Request Line.” “The Roof Is On Fire” ended up being way more popular.
The recorded version of “The Roof Is On Fire” leaves out the mofo line. In 1984 people mostly weren’t using curses in hip-hop recordings, which now seems charmingly quaint. In live shows, Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three were less demure, and when they led the crowd in the chant, the mofo was included.