A brief oral history of Baha Men's 'Who Let The Dogs Out'
Fifteen years after its release, the wild story of how Baha Men unleashed 'Who Let the Dogs Out' upon the world.
In the summer of 2000, sports arenas and kids with landlines anointed the ultimate jock jam as five words captured the nation’s collective fascination: “Who Let the Dogs Out.” Fifteen years later, EW tracked down some of the key players behind the Bahamian group to look back on the legacy of their massive, undeniably abrasive earworm.
STEVE GREENBERG, record producer: It was after Carnival of 1998 in Trinidad and Tobago and this guy comes in to pitch, Fat Jakk and His Pack of Pets, and it just…wasn’t a good record. But the hook was so strong that it stayed in my head, literally for years. The original was called “Doggie” by Anslem Douglas. Every once in a while it would pop into my head and I’d go, if I can figure out the right way to do this record, I could have a big hit. I finally just gave in to the temptation and said, I’m gonna do this with the Baha Men.
ISAIAH TAYLOR, co-founder of the Baha Men: I knew about the song before Steve brought it to my attention. When he had called me in the Bahamas, at first I did refuse. I didn’t want to do it, because at that time, I’m not sure that the song would have even worked for us.
GREENBERG: It Isaiah’s world, it had already been a hit—for someone else. It hadn’t been out outside the Caribbean. It took a second to get his head around it.
TAYLOR: I finally said okay, we’ll do the song, because Steve had a plan. He didn’t say what the plan was, but he had a plan.
GREENBERG: I was 100 percent sure that it was just going to be the biggest thing in the world. I knew it had to be done by somebody who was Caribbean, to make it authentic. Then the worst thing happened, which is that the lead singer Nehemiah Hield quit. And I was crestfallen because I had this song and nobody to sing it. Now, it turned out that that was the best thing that could have ever happened to the band—it enabled us to go down to the Bahamas to hold open try-outs. We were able to find these three young guys who were great singers, great dancers, really charismatic, and totally changed the vibe of the group.
The group found Rik Carey, Marvin Prosper, and Omerit Hield (nephew of Nehemiah) at the open call in Nassau. Greenberg and producer Mike Mangini flew the band to Miami to record vocals for “Who Let the Dogs Out” in Mangini’s home studio.
RIK CAREY, LEAD SINGER: I had heard the song back at carnival, and I never would have thought I would be doing a song like that. But I was just excited to be in the studio and in the professional recording environment working. The hardest part for me was getting the verses down. It was hours and hours of vocals. That’s a huge type of sound to get, a huge vocal delivery. This wasn’t a 15-minute recording process.
TAYLOR: [The finished track] was completely different from what we heard previously. Completely different. Because of the sound itself, the way it was structured, the way the music and vocals were laid out. It was really ready for the world.
GREENBERG: So, I was about to sign a deal with this other record label. I walked into their office and said, “Here’s the first record I’m going to put out.” And I played “Who Let the Dogs Out” and they just laughed at me. The general manager did this very dramatic thing where she turned on the radio and said, “This is what Z100 sounds like. Does this record sound like it belongs on Z100?” And I realized that if I signed this deal, the record would never come out.
Greenberg founded his own label, S-Curve, and signed the Baha Men as his first act. Because Baha Men had released two platinum albums in Japan, an indie label offered to finance the track, and distribution companies Edel and Artemis got the track to retail and radio “in about five seconds,” says Greenberg.
DANIEL GLASS, THEN-PRESIDENT AT ARTEMIS RECORDS: The first bridge we had to cross was giving retail the confidence to stock this record. We were an indie label. I remember Danny Goldberg and I called the heads of every retail chain—Trans World, Target, Best Buy, HMV—and saying, “Whatever you want to order, order triple.” It was very risky, but just knew it would sell like hotcakes.
GREENBERG: It didn’t turn out to be a big hit on the radio. If you look at the Billboard Hot 100, “Who Let the Dogs Out” peaked at like number 40. It was too polarizing. For everybody who loved it, there was somebody who didn’t like it. It didn’t research well so it didn’t last very long on the air, but it was enough. The spark got it in front of people, and the sports people and the kids ran with it. The song really broke from two things—kids and sports. I had a friend who had been a radio promo guy, and I called him and said, “I want you to figure out who picks the records in every baseball stadium in the country, and I want you to find that guy and work that guy like he was a program director of a radio station.” And he goes and gets pretty much everybody in the universe to play this record, which no one had ever done before. That was really the innovation. I was sure that this thing would be the biggest sports anthem in the world.
GLASS: Our head of marketing was very good at sports marketing. I had never seen a record company do mailers. We sent it out to every football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey team. We sent it to everybody. It became like a new world where the programmer at the sports places became an actual personality. They could break records, and this was a phenomenon.
GREENBERG: The Baha Men were so big, by the time the season ended, that they were literally getting flown all over the country to stadiums to play on the field before significant games for teams.
GLASS: It just spread like wildfire. The expression was, our phones are lighting up. It was the stadiums and the arenas that kept playing the song. It was the young kids calling the request lines. This wasn’t an adult record. This was young kids wanting to chant “who let the dogs out.”
TAYLOR: I didn’t get a sense at first. When it really hit home to me, I think we were in Sweden and when the call came through that we were number one in Israel, then I realized one thing for sure: this song was big. We did stadiums, arenas, you name it, we did it. We went just about all over flying back and forth. I think we left for Europe one day, came back to the U.S., and by night were back in Europe again.
CAREY: We were young at the time and we had tons of energy to spare. We’d find ourselves performing twice, three times a day, but with no problems. It was a rush. It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time, a new experience. I just lived in it, man. It was like a dream come true. Once you got a hit song like that, everybody loves you. The audience was always excited. I can only speak for myself because I’m the one who had to sing it all the time: I definitely got tired of it—anyone who has to sing a song that many times, they would get naturally tired of it—but when we got on the stage to perform it, it’s like we were performing it for the first time. The audience always gave it new life.
GREENBERG: At the same time that we worked the sports angle, we did this deal with Nickelodeon. We wound up having a bidding war between Nickelodeon and Disney. Disney wanted it to be in the movie 101 Dalmatians, and Nickelodeon wanted it to be in Rugrats in Paris, and they were tripping over each other to outbid the other. In the end, Nickelodeon offered the band their own half-hour live concert special, and paid the cost of the video.
The album’s first run sold 3 million copies, and bidding wars broke out to exclusively license the song. Nickelodeon beat Disney to get it in front of kids; the New York Mets made it their theme song for the 2000 World Series; the Baha Men appeared in Apple commercials, on The Simpsons, at MTV’s starry World AIDS Day concert, and at Al Gore’s Election Day rally.
GREENBERG: Nickelodeon was crucial because they had a thing called Nick Video Picks. Every afternoon they would show like 15 seconds of three different videos and they would direct you to their website where you could vote on which of the videos you wanted to play in its entirety at 8 o’clock at night on Nickelodeon. That was a huge deal. Every time we were in the three, we galvanized the troops and got everybody we knew to vote as much as possible. It was our mission in life. We knew that the most important thing we could do that day for the record was to win the Nick Video Pick.
CAREY: We were still in the height of the success of the single, but it was bittersweet. There were times when I wished that they would actually put focus on our other songs. But what do you do with the song’s success? Do you stop putting focus on it? Of course not. You’ve got to keep going and milk it while it’s hot.
GLASS: I can’t imagine if YouTube was around [at the time]. It would have been a monster.
GREENBERG: We had The Today Show, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning all trying to outbid each other to get the Baha Men on the air to perform the week of the World Series. That kind of thing only happens in your fantasy life.
GLASS: One of the funniest stories is that they did a west-east coast run, I think in 48 hours. They might have played Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and worked their way back to New York in two days. And the joke was, they had no clothing! It was November in New York and they had no clothes! We had to get them sweaters and scarves and hats. They had been working on the west coast, and we never gave them five minutes to breathe.
TAYLOR: We performed at the Billboard and ESPY Awards—I think that’s where we met Toni Braxton and Destiny’s Child.
CAREY: Destiny’s Child were big fans of the group. Everywhere we would promote our records, they would be right there. We’d be traveling to Europe and coincidentally we’re on the same promotional tour. Next thing you know, they’re inviting us to the nightclub to share the VIP with them and we’re hanging and chilling and dancing. Beyonce’s father has Bahamian roots.
Though the song was dissed by critics and over saturated airwaves and stadiums, the group scored a Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2001.
CAREY: The Grammys was basically the peak for me. I think a lot of the members in the group will agree. To receive the highest accolade that you could get in the music business was definitely one of the things that stood out the most in our career.
TAYLOR: I think the Grammys is really the peak for everybody. I don’t care who you are, when you’re in the music world, everybody would like to have a Grammy.
GREENBERG: The Grammy was a huge vindication. My friends used to joke with me about the Baha Men. Anytime I would get a new job at a new label, the first thing I would do would be to sign the Baha Men. It was kind of a joke to people, but I really believed in these guys! So this was big.
CAREY: “Who Let the Dogs Out” did a lot for us as a group, and as individuals, and as a country. It was about promoting the Bahamas as well. It’s done a lot for us tourism-wise. People around here in the tourism business will tell you that they had to hire [staff] for all the people who would come looking for the Baha Men. And it’s still like that.
GREENBERG: They had a very, very minor hit with their next single, and we went back and recorded another album and that had a pretty decent-sized hit on it called “Move It Like This.” What I feel good about with the Baha Men is that they’re not really a one-hit wonder because the truth is, there’s a generation of kids that also know “Move It Like This.”
GLASS: It’s a very hard A&R thing. You try and create an album which has follow-up hits. You try and make it credible, you try and get great songwriters. It’s hard. I don’t remember the other songs from the album, to be honest. It’s very hard to follow up a hit that big. The nice part of it is that a group like that can work their entire career forever off of that song. The downside is, the hit is like this albatross, like this thing around your neck. I don’t know if they ever had a repeat after that.
GREENBERG: The final chapter of the story was in May of 2001, when a parade was held for the Baha Men in the Bahamas, in honor of them being (presumably) the first Bahamians to win Grammys. We rode around the whole island of Nassau in convertibles while holding our Grammys, with people lining the streets. It was pretty surreal. For me, the capper was at the end of the parade, when the Prime Minister presented me with the key to the city as a thank you for my part in making it happen. Leaving aside the fact that the Bahamas is a country and not a city, it was a truly amazing moment for me—and I still cherish the key!
CAREY: It’s opened doors that I could never dream about. I could explain these things to my kids, what I have done, and they wouldn’t believe me until I show them the pictures.
The group has since changed its roster of members again, and together they’ll release their first new album in ten years, Ride With Me, in September. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of “Dogs,” the Baha Men released the June single, “Off The Leash.” “It celebrates the longevity of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and how far it’s gone,” says Carey. “I feel like it’s only right that we do a song that celebrates that fact.”
This story originally appears in the Sept. 11 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Pick it up on stands today, or subscribe digitally at ew.com/allaccess.