A Brief History Of The Winamp Llama

Winamp is dead. Everyone's first music player is finally being killed off by AOL on 20 December after a glorious 15 year run. You know the history of the company, but what about the history of Mike the Llama, Winamp's mascot, and the sound clip about "whippin' the Llama's ass" that we all remember so fondly.

This is where it started.


"It really whips the Llama's ass!"


For many of us, Winamp was the first music player we ever downloaded to manage playlists and songs ripped from CDs and cassettes. It could play MP3s acquired from places like Limewire and Kazaa, and it packed a cool visualiser. I remember DJing a school disco with a few friends and using Winamp to control the tunes. We managed to hook up a shoddy projector to the laptop and project the visualiser onto the ceiling to turn our school hall into an underground disco hole. Or at least that's how four nerdy kids felt at the time.

It also made us laugh endlessly when we installed it on a new computer, because we'd get to hear that beautifully rounded voice say a rude word. We weren't the only ones who loved it.

Last.fm "scrobbles" tracks so that people can see their musical history, and one of the supported programs for the scrobbling program is Winamp. The sound clip featuring Llama whipping was shipped with its own ID3 tag, with the artist listed as DJ Mike Llama. That particular track has been scrobbled over 12,000 times.

That clip was originally recorded and mixed back in 1997 for the initial release of Winamp. The voice artist's name is JJ McKay, and sadly he looks to have vanished into thin air. There are voice artists online with the same name, but none of them have the same rounded yet gravelly voice of the original llama-whipper.

Various users on the Winamp forums requested contact details for Mr McKay, wanting him to do their voice over work, but he kept a fairly low profile and from the looks of things, charged handsomely for use of his pipes.

So we know who recorded the clip for the guys at Nullsoft, but why was it recorded to start with? The slogan was riffed off a Wesley Willis track called, unsurprisingly, Whip The Llama's Ass.

The clip became so popular that Winamp eventually adopted the Llama as its mascot, leading to the birth of Mike The Llama.

There are even reports that Justin Frankel, one of the co-founders of Winamp, owned his own Llama named Mike at one point.

Winamp 5.1, released in 2005, saw the re-recording of the famous jingle to reference the inclusion of surround sound support in the software. The drums were vanished and instead replaced with three whipping sounds. Winamp still "whipped the Llama's ass" but now did it "from every direction".

The clip used to be just a funny joke, but ended up causing problems for the company in the 90's when a pharmaceutical company reportedly wanted to acquire the software for use in medical programs. The only proviso was that Frankel drop the Llama whippin' clip.

The deal was off.

Winamp -- along with Frankel's other creation, Shoutcast -- was sold to AOL in 1999 for tens of millions, and AOL later squandered the software until its eventual demise today.

Winamp may be dead as of 20 December, but it will continue to whip Llama ass in our hearts and minds for years to come.

You can still download Winamp 5.66 for the briefest of spells. Get it before it's gone.


Top image: Nullsoft

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