Who let the dogs out? It’s a question that’s been posed to us many times over the years, but the answer has always remained a mystery.
Little did Ben Sisto know when he visited Wikipedia one day in 2010, he was about to go on a journey to discover the answers.
The recent documentary “Who Let the Dogs Out?” is the culmination of Sisto’s ten year investigation into the song’s origins. In the film, we see him travel to the Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, England, Florida, Michigan, and Texas to explore the fascinatingly complex lineage of Baha Men’s hit and the legal battles around it.
Andrew had the opportunity to chat with Ben about making the documentary. Read the interview below and be sure to catch “Who Let the Dogs Out?” streaming now!
Why did you start investigating “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
There was a period of time where I was without a job and I was spending time just looking at the internet for work. It was 2010, so it was the ten year anniversary of when the Baha Men version was released. I came across an article about it and I thought I’d look it up on Wikipedia also. On the Wikipedia page, there was a missing citation. It was a missing last name. At the time I just thought it would be a funny little project to do and tell people that I fixed the page for “Who Let the Dogs Out?” But when I ended up tracking the guy down and he ended up being very fascinating. Keith Wainwright was kind of this legendary hair stylist in the UK punk scene. It was just a great conversation and one thing kind of led to another. Every time I asked somebody a question, it would open up three more questions. I figured I would just follow this to the watchable end. It could have ended up being like a week, but it ended up being about a decade.
At what point in your investigation did you decide to make a documentary?
The documentary came about when a friend of mine had met a producer who had previously made a movie called “The Pistol Shrimps” which was about Chelsea Peretti’s basketball team. He had also done a documentary on Chris Farley. He’s the kind of dude who’s interested in the hybrid between comedy and documentary. So my friend met this guy and said “Hey, if this is your genre you should consider talking to my friend Ben.” Then the film company reached out to me. Through the years, a lot of different people said “Oh, you should make this a movie,” but I don’t have those kinds of resources. So I met up with the company Hodgee Films. I think me and the director Brent Hodge are a little on the same wavelength in terms of if you’re going to do something, do it in a sort of big screen way. What was nice was the project for me was funny and there’s humor in it, but I take it very seriously. They were very good about understanding that it wasn’t slapstick or something like that. So we linked up and they helped me make this movie.
I was curious about how you tracked some of these people down. How long did it take you to find Keith Wainwright? How did you search for him?
Keith was actually the first person I spoke with. He was pretty easy because his salon was still operating. Or maybe I found a salon that he was just working in at the time and I called up and asked if Keith was there. He’s kind of like a high ranking person and he doesn’t just take cold calls. I said “Well this is what I want to talk to him about” and I think that intrigued him a little bit. He got on the phone with me pretty quickly and his story was fairly cut and dry.
Some of the other people like Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams were different. Part of the reason why this project took so long was because characters like that would kind of talk to me very intensely for a week and then drop communication for years. I think some people were intentionally dodging me. Not because they were trying to hide anything, but because it was a long time ago and there’s some bad memories for people. I think in some cases, people just didn’t want to relive it.
The earliest known recording of the song you tracked down was on an old floppy disc from 1992 by Miami Boom Productions. How did you become aware of their version?
Funny enough, in a different life I used to run nightclubs and was involved with DJ booking. This guy who I used to book at parties had DJ’d in the past with Joe from Miami Boom. Joe for a while lived in New York and he’s a very technically skilled all vinyl DJ. There were two or three DJ people I knew who either knew him from actually playing together or through the fact that Joe used to run sort of the predominant yahoo message board type site for Miami bass music. He was a known entity and when I was doing my web searches years in the past, there were a couple of posts he had made on his forum that mentioned how he originally authored the song, but no one really paid attention to it. It was just something he sorta threw out there. So I met him through friends of friends. He was pretty quick to meet, but his partner Brett was another person who took me years to get him to email me back.
Do you feel pretty confident that their version is definitely the earliest recording of the song?
This project has taught me to not really speak in absolutes, but I’ll say that I would be very surprised if the hook existed in another song prior. I do think, legally speaking, they’re the copyright holders of that work whether or not they have the ability to enforce it.
Do you think anyone truly deserves ownership of the song? In a perfect world, should the song be public domain since it seems to have originated from chants at sporting events?
I think it depends on who’s perfect world it is. In Brett and Joe’s perfect world, anyone who uses that song in a commercial setting would have to pay them some type of royalty. When you hear it licensed in movies or whatever, there’s a couple of parties that are in control of the master rights and they should definitely be getting a percentage of those sales. There’s the joke that copyright is the right to be held up in court until you’re bankrupt. The calculation is kind of like, will the ultimate financial payoff be worth all of the time, stress, and everything that you would spend in court to get it? I don’t think it would be a net positive financial win for them at this point. Maybe if this was all happening in 2002, but I think the bulk of the money from that song has already been made.
What do you think it is about “Who Let the Dogs Out?” that made it become such an iconic hit?
I think it’s a couple things. It’s super annoying and it’s very polarizing. It’s one of those things where people who hate it don’t just hate it, they actively love to hate it. When people are speaking about it, whether they’re fans or not, there’s an intensity behind it. I think that kind of intensity is what fuels a lot of the meme culture type stuff today. It’s also a very malleable song. It’s application in sports is very different from how it’s used in Disney movies, but it’s used in a similar effect. You can sort of do whatever you want with it. I think people also just like dogs a lot [laughs]. It just kind of has a lot going for it.
Do you have a favorite version of the song?
There’s sort of two answers. My favorite version of the song itself is the Miami Boom one because from a production standpoint it’s just super classic early 90s DIY Miami bass culture. The samples are great. The production is solid. I think it’s a very well constructed track. There’s also an instrumental remix of the Gillette song. I know this is kind of a cop out, but the instrumental only remix of that version is quite good.
If you had to estimate, how many times have you listened to the song throughout the entire investigation?
It’s not like I listened to it everyday, but I would say roughly once a day for ten years plus the times I’ve given live talks about it. Probably like 4,000 times [laughs].
I know you stopped researching the song, but do you feel satisfied with the conclusion? Could there be more to uncover?
I feel that if there is more story to tell, it’s sort of not my story. It’s my research, but it’s all these other people’s stories. It would please me greatly to hear that some other person that I’ve never met before came along and took it back ten years even further. But for me, I think ten years is enough time to put into this. I’m not a quitter, but as soon as I’m more or less content with something, I’ve moved on. With the movie, it was obviously extremely exciting when it premiered at SXSW or when we learned it was going to be on Hulu, but I’m onto other stuff at this point.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now, I’ve been doing research about prepaid debit and gift cards and the economy of gift cards and history of social gift giving. I think they’re very bad for people and for the economy. I’ve also been reading about this other aspect of law called Escheat law. Escheat law is like how unclaimed property is regulated state to state. So I’ve been doing that. I’ve also been collecting vintage novelty decision making toys. They give you binary yes or no answers. I really don’t know where that one’s going [laughs].
Do you see yourself ever dabbling in the world of film making again?
I wouldn’t say I’m a filmmaker. I’m more somebody who just follows the project where it needs to go. For “Who Let the Dogs Out?” the film made a lot of sense. I found the learning process of making a movie, editing, sound mixing and all that stuff really intriguing and I would love an opportunity to do it again, but I’m not currently planning on it.
Who do you think really let the dogs out? Let us know in the comments!