Informant: “The earliest place I’ve heard it is in Camp Lo tracks. Camp Lo is a hip hop group from the early 90s. And then, kind of I feel like I started hearing it simultaneously–it was never new to me, it never sounded like something people just started saying–but my friends started saying it recently. Friends from totally separate parts of the country started saying it simultaneously.”
[How do you use it?]
“You use it like you use any word that doesn’t mean anything. Substitute it for something you can’t think of. I don’t know, it’s just some ish.”
Ish sounds like a more refined way of saying “shit.” Rappers in the 90s sometimes used it to cover explicit tracks so that they could be played on the radio. In this way even censorship is subverted to give birth to new speech. It’s highly associated with urban culture, and above all an indication of style. It’s a flair of speech that joins you into a refined urban aesthetic. And you can use it in place of absolutely anything.