April 18th, 2007

Seeplist in Seattle

Off to Seattle tomorrow to participate in this. I’ll be following what I’ve been calling the “Zunguzung Meme” from Kingston to Brooklyn to San Juan and back (w/ several stops along the way).

That ol’ Yellowman melody sure seeps into some interesting (and often seminal) performances, telling the intertwined stories of hip-hop and reggae (and reggaeton [and religious rock?]) in an intensely audible fashion. I won’t be able to touch on all the occurrences I’ve catalogued to date, e.g. —

1982 – Yellowman, “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng” (see also, Live at Aces version, w/ Fathead)
1984 – Frankie Paul, “Alesha”
1984 – Toyan, “Hot Bubble Gum”
1985 – Super Cat, “Boops”
1987 – BDP, “Remix For P Is Free”
1987 – Sublime, “Roots of Creation”
1988 – BDP, “Tcha Tcha”
1993 – K7, “Zunga Zeng”
1993 – KRS-One, “P Is Still Free”
1993 – Buju Banton, “Big It Up”
1994 – Bounty Killer, “Kill Or Be Killed”
1995 – Buju Banton, “Man a Look Yu”
1995 – Junior M.A.F.I.A. (ft. Biggie Smalls), “Player’s Anthem”
1996 – Tupac, “Hit ‘Em Up”
1998 – Black Star, “Definition”
1998 – Notty Man, “Sentencia de Muerte”
2000 – dead prez, “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop”
2001 – Nejo, track 14 (DJ Joe’s Fatal Fantassy 1)
2003 – Joe Budden, “Pump It Up”
2004 – Jin, “Learn Chinese”
2005 – DJ /rupture (Filastine + dead prez), “Judas Goat” + “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop (acapella)”
2006 – POD, featuring Matisyahu, “Roots in Stereo”
2007 – Blue Team (The White Rapper Show), “One Night Stand” (see ep.4)

— but I’m gonna do my best to gesture to the breadth and depth of all these musical migrations, and to think about what various instantiations might tell us about the way such a traveling tune informs meaning-making processes and cultural-political projects, from conscious invocations to subconscious rehearsals (esp as King Yellow’s catchy contour disappears into hip-hop lexicon).

One way of many to tell the story, this mini-mega-mix connects lots of sonic dots:

wayne&wax, “Zunguzung Mix”
(disclaimer: the tracks are of varying quality, as sometimes all I’ve got to work with is crappy vinyl or crappy compression, but you get the gist all the same; thanks to the kind collectors & selectors out there who helped me source some of these)

Sometimes cultural politics bleeds directly into, er, political politics, or politics qua politics, or electoral / “party” politics. E.g., watch how Cutty Ranks meks the meme big up Michael Manley & move the crowd at a mid-80s PNP rally. In such a socially and musically compelling context, wouldn’t you “put up your hand”?

Nuff to say. 20 minutes to say it. 6 million ways. Guess I’ll have to choose one.

Maybe see you in Seattle? Otherwise, more soon come —


  • 1. g  |  April 19th, 2007 at 9:59 am

    wayne, what a sick post! i knew that this existed, someplace in the corner of my hiphopmindseye, just from having heard people flip the melody. i hadn’t explicitly taken it so far back- just slight realizations that people were referencing other mc’s i’d heard. one thing i think is cool is the balance between mc’s that are obviously referencing other hiphop and how many are explicitly referencing yellowman. and the mix between and betwixt (beatrix?)

    a small bit on ‘ride to this if you miss tupac/bounce to this if you miss big pop’ : the fact that both biggie and tupac flip the line (probably in a v. self aware sytlee) AND given the history/hype/marketing of the east coast/west coast 90s hiphop divide, the aforementioned line is esp a mind blower. signs, cultural leverage, legitimacy, et cetera

    awesome work tracking this thing down. wicked meme.

    postin a comment cuz i love this stufffffff/
    it’s what i what i wrote but its not enoughhhhhhh!

  • 2. b.art  |  April 19th, 2007 at 10:18 am

    I absolutely LOVE that cutty ranks video for what it represents about that era – Live excitment, raw mic skills. [begin shameless plug ] http://bartart.thischick.com/blog2/?p=122 [end shameless plug].

    re the zunguzeng meme – Should I take the liberty of bookmarking this post in hopes of you updating it with more additions?

  • 3. vamanos  |  April 20th, 2007 at 3:38 am

    This is like a hiphop-reggae geek’s field day ! Great post. So many of those tracks are familiar but i’d never really traced that phrase back to Yellowman. Nice one.

  • 4. AndiChapple  |  April 20th, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Wayne, you have definitely got the hang of this! great mix and what a pair of ears. and memory … now, where did Yellowman get it from? I’m having that almost-hearing-it trainspotter moment, I think what I’m nearly hearing will turn out to be more recent though … enjoy the conference, cheers a>

  • 5. wayneandwax  |  April 21st, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Thanks, y’all. Glad people are digging this. Yesterday’s presentation went well, and I’m looking forward to sharing more mixes and text along these lines in the near future. (Btw, Andrew, the questions you raise are good ones — quite central to what I’m trying to tease out in all of this, the fine lines between self-conscious/explicit articulations of cultural politics via the meme and, on the other hand, the disappearance of reggae figures into hip-hop’s very vocabulary.)

    b.art — I’ll definitely be updating this page in some capacity, even if to add a link to a more thorough mix at a later date. Indeed, only a couple hours after posting this someone brought to my attention yet another example, Sister Nancy’s “Coward of the County” (1982) [thx, isaiah!], which I was even able to work into my talk yesterday. I’ll try to add it in at some point, though a much larger, overarching mix — on the Mad Mad riddim — is in the works, and it’ll fit quite well into that.

    And if anyone else knows of an instances that I’m missing here, do let me know!

  • 6. Raquel Z  |  April 23rd, 2007 at 11:55 am

    This is so inspiring! I look forward to the Mad Mad Meme.

  • 7. wayneandwax  |  April 23rd, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    thx, rzr! soon come!

    also, let me note that for anyone really rearing to put these musical migrations into greater context, i’ve written a couple of pieces over the years that attempt to trace some of this out. hope to have more and newer text up shortly —



  • 8. guillaume  |  April 25th, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    Nice post as always!

  • 9. kevin r hollo  |  May 3rd, 2007 at 8:00 am


    i’m coming in late (but hot) cuz this post is exactly why i love my musics!

    tracing memes through one or several musics is a wonderful way to get into the semiotic systems at work in our cultures. i find myself doing this for both the music i cut teeth on (80’s pop, classic rock), the avant pop stuff, and on through hip hop + reggae + dancehall. this is definitely a subject worth a book length project, and if you ever needed a long-range collaborator, just lemme know!

    a neat way to approach the meme is via function: how does the meme’s semiotic structure change (or is altered/shaped) by the genre in which it finds itself? that is, why and how is it gathering so much semantic force as it moves? this one in particular (and it could be traced via melody back to a guttural or growl place) has become a reference point, not just to yellowman or reggae or a genre, but an attitude, a posture, a lifestyle, etc. how does this function in the different modes, be it ‘backpack,’ ‘west coast gangster,’ ‘so-cal reggae punk,’ etc? i love the idea of an ever-shifting piece of semiotic code, a sign that has an buried and blurring signified, something that has been erased and redrawn through the years until the meme has become much more important than any single performer. which is what you’ve shown us! so i thank you.

    i’m currently in the middle of a doc about the genesis of the hardcore punk, appropriately titled ‘american hardcore.’ i’ll be posting on this in some regards (trying to get this website off the ground, may end up breaking down and buying server space), perhaps just pop a line to you here. it’s a fascinating film, and sparking topoi in mi hed.


  • 10. kevin r hollo  |  May 3rd, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    an addendum:

    listening to some tracks on imeem today here at the office, and stumbled upon a few great examples of similar semiotic shifts. the first is in the cutty ranks’ track ‘the stopper,’ which sees the frere jaques traditional getting the patios cut up. interesting to note this melody/lyric, which has surfaced in tunes as disparate as the same-titled blues traveler and victor wooten numbers.

    ditto for the classic ‘murder dem’ from ninjaman, where the ‘my guy’ melody turns into a rousting taunt to rival MC’s. is this kind of intro common during this particular era? or does it trace itself back further or forwards? the insertion and quotation of popular memes is nothing new in the world of jazz, but this kind of translation in reggae is new to me! it’s great to hear (with newly tuned ears).


  • 11. wayneandwax  |  May 6th, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    you raise some good questions, kevin. many of which i hope to address in future writings around this amazing lil melody. i’m not sure that i’m willing to go down the road to guttural/growl land, but i definitely like the idea of pushing at what the meme means in different contexts, when introduced into new aesthetic systems, especially when performers use it to explicitly invoke its origins (and the connotations thereof) or, alternately, when others seem to demonstrate little familiarity with the various routes it has traveled, testifying (I’d argue) to the figure’s absorption into a new lexicon (with plenty of implications for matters of cultural identity, etc.).

    as for the re-use of well-worn melodies, that’s certainly a common practice in reggae more generally, emerging both from the longstanding practice of versioning (if sometimes glossed as “t(h)iefing”) and to the foundational tradition of making cover songs and other allusions in reggae. see the following site for copious examples of cover versions in jamaican popular music:

    Cutty Ranks’s “The Stopper,” incidentally, also references Super Cat’s “Don Dada” — not to mention connects to dozens of other songs, recorded before and after it, which use the same tune that propels both choruses (including, notably, Shy FX & Apache’s jungle classic, “Original Nuttah”). Yellowman was notorious for borrowing/tiefing melodies from his fellow DJs, from Jamaican folk and pop music, and from such seemingly distant/ironic sources as My Fair Lady. & indeed, I’ve long suspected that hip-hop’s own tradition of interpolating well-known pop melodies is itself largely influenced by reggae’s practice. KRS-One, for instance, also references the Beatles and Billy Joel on Criminal Minded, while contemporaries like Slick Rick (himself quite versed in the reggae trad) were also famous for doing so, quoting everything from Burt Bacharach to the Davey Crockett theme. A more recent example, though also someone well acquainted with reggae, Mos Def has been known to throw in a snippet from Gregory Isaacs and other singers&rappers in order to give his songs a kind of referential texture and put them firmly, soundly into Brooklyn’s sonic and cultural frame.

    Of course, hip-hop has its own oral traditions full of this sort of practice (think of the old schoolers’ use of nursery rhymes), and as plenty have compellingly argued — e.g., Larry Lessig, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Kembrew MacLeod, and Jonathan Lethem — this sort of practice, of reusing other works in the creation of new ones, is about as commonplace as it gets in the worlds of art, literature, music, culture, etc.

  • 12. kevin r hollo  |  May 7th, 2007 at 11:30 am

    thanks for all the good feedback, wayne!

    funny you should mention the use of ‘tief,’ i recently returned from jamaica with a bunch of new writing, and one of the semiotic units i couldn’t get out of my head was this notion of the “light tief” (via a public service announcement on the TV about folks “stealing” electricity by patching their own wires into the electric company’s, a very common practice there as i overstand it). it surfaced recently in a perfomance of mine, in this live writing i have been doing, the video from which the performance was based on (tho much longer and without music) can bee seen here>.


  • 13. VEe  |  May 8th, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I didn’t realize it was used that much. I know a lot of people are not aware of Yellowman’s tune. HE NEEDS TO SEE THIS POST!

  • 14. wayneandwax  |  May 8th, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    More here.

  • 15. wayneandwax  |  May 10th, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    FYI — I’ve posted the “full” Zunguzung paper (at least the version I offered at EMP and IASPM last month) here.


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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