I was six years old when I first heard the terse, yet bluntly delivered question: Who let the dogs out? It was the audition song of choice for the Big Bad Wolf on Shrek Idol, a post-credit interactive game on the Shrek 2 DVD. “Who Let The Dogs Out” by The Baha Men is a song that has permeated mass cultural consciousness, whether in a film soundtrack, a karaoke bar, or in a bonus feature to an animated cinematic masterpiece. However, this song is more than just an aural novelty. It is a cultural enigma, a song with no one proven author, and the subject of a near-decade-long investigation.
On Sept. 25, Cinéma Moderne hosted the first day of Montreal’s Film POP, part of the POP Montreal International Music Festival beginning with the comedy documentary by Brent Hodge Who Let The Dogs Out. The film follows Ben Sisto, an unemployed music enthusiast on a boredom and curiosity-fueled quest to determine who really wrote the famous song.
The documentary opens on a bird’s eye view of a Caribbean beach. We hear a phone conversation between Sisto and music industry lawyer Lita Rosario. Sisto questions Rosario about the rights of “Who Let The Dogs Out,” and the docu-plot is revealed.
Over the course of 70 minutes, Sisto takes the audience on an intricate journey, a whodunnit filled with twists and turns. “I am the world’s foremost expert on ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’,” Sisto announces before correcting himself and joking: “undisputed expert.” He then begins his story of how he spent eight years tracking down all the individuals who claimed to have come up with the catchy hit’s hook, all prompted by the observation of an incomplete Wikipedia entry in the song’s authorship section. Sisto goes to the Baha Men, who freely admit that the song is a cover that they got from their producer, who concedes that he heard it from a hairdresser in London, who heard it from his friend who brought the song on a tape recorded at a festival in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sisto traces the origins of the lyrics back decades before the Baha Men song became a hit. He takes the audience from the Caribbean, to the UK, to the US, each interview adding to the web of mystery surrounding the song. Every producer, singer, rapper, and pop group interviewed offers legitimate evidence of having written the chorus, making the mystery all the more exciting.
The tone of the film is comic, yet honest. Sisto is aware that his quest is incredibly random and specific, yet his investigative process is utterly captivating. From start to finish, one is both bewildered and in awe at how enthralling this very niche story is. Every player’s evidence-backed claim to the “Who Let The Dogs Out” chorus sheds light on the rough waters of copyright attainment in the music industry. Yet it also sheds light on the nature of creativity and originality. There is something eerily beautiful about the Bermuda triangle that is the origin of “Who Let the Dogs Out”; it shows that such creation is a shared part of the human artistic experience. Ultimately, the question of authorship becomes less important than the resulting legacy of the track. The mere privilege to have been submerged—albeit, by accident—into this subculture of “Who Let The Dogs Out” fanaticism may just be enough. The dogs were never let out by one single person, as Hodge’s film suggests, but rather by all of us, ready to be released when the right moment of inspiration hits.