Search Results for ‘zunguzung’


I recently added a few “new” instances of ye olde zunguzung meme to the list, each helping to tease at this knotty tapestry we’ve been weaving.

First, thanks to the attentive ears of NYC-based Puerto Rican electronic act Balún, we discover that PR-based Nuyorican reggaeton pioneer Ivy Queen once wove a zunguzung allusion rather seamfully into her verse at ~1:52 in the Noise 6 excerpt here:

The reference appears as one would expect it might: as yet another of many, many nods to reggae and hip-hop knit together in the “Spanish reggae” (i.e., proto-reggaeton) of San Juan’s distinctive mid-90s underground scene. Indeed, the production is deliciously typical if you like connecting musical dots: it opens with the well-worn sample from ESG’s “UFO” (possibly a reference to Kane and, by 1996, who knows who else), then layers on a detuned loop of the “Method Man” riff while Ivy comes in chanting “Noise! Clan!” like “Wu! Tang!” before unloading a barrage of laser-precise syllables. At this menacing tempo, Ivy’s doubletime fliptongue bars — a clear stylistic nod to raggamuffin flows — manage to sound like the elder cousins of the Migosflow they are.

So with this allusion Ivy Queen joins such compatriots as Mr. Notty and Ñejo — and no doubt other reggaetoneros whose references have thus far eluded my dragnet. At this point, far as I know, she’s the first on record — in reggaeton — repping reggae with the zunguzung.

Like many other carriers of the meme, Ivy Queen invokes the tune at precisely the moment when she directly addresses the audience — no doubt something she also did in numerous live “freestyle” sessions in San Juan and Nueva York — which brings us to our next example(s)…


The second example — or perhaps, second-umpteenth — reveals how zunguzung works as a distinctive resource for live reggae performance practice, something that Ivy Queen’s reference registers in its desire to serve as functional address, as live and direct. In this sense, the session “tape” below can be heard alongside the myriad zunguzung deployments in other sound sessions, especially in the mid-80s.

In this case, and in Boston no less, we hear how zunguzung figures in state of the art toasting practice circa 1986. The tune cycles in and out of the performances, one of several stock figures on the tips of deejays’ tongues (alongside “call the police,” “money move,” and other allusions to allusions that don’t have proper names). And yet, zunguzung also emerges here as a powerful and special signal, a musical trigger nearly always hitting with the weight of a forward / pullup / wheel, or a chorus.

In this session featuring Jammy’s sound on a visit to town, I count no fewer than a baker’s dozen zunguzungs over the course of the 1.5 hour excerpt (and that’s omitting the repetitions when used as a chorus). That’s 13 distinct moments in the session — roughly, every few minutes — when the zunguzung erupts into presence, often stopping the music in its tracks.

Shifting shape as it goes by, the melody serves to big up the “Boston posse” as well as “all Yardies” — and as is so often the case with the zunguzung, the deejays here use it as a special means to enlist audience participation, crooning at listeners to push up a hand “if you love Jammy” or “beca’ you’re expensive.” The strong responses of both performers and audience to each of the zunguzung’s invocations bear consistent witness to the signal force of this tricky likkle earworm:

See, e.g., ~0:43, 4:00, 21:00, 26:40, 28:20, 38:30, 48:20, 51:20, 58:55. 1:11:20, 1:13:40, 1:17:25, 1:20:35 — or, better, just listen to the wole ting. Vibes nice, enuh.


The final addendum is perhaps more of a “footnote,” less interesting to this zigzagging genealogy given that it’s a novelty production nodding to Tupac rather than, say, grassroots media invoking Yellowman and dancehall tradition. On the other hand, as I’ve also pointed out, the ways the riff grows distant from being a reference to reggae culture is, in some sense, perhaps as interesting as its explicitly intertextual resonance in reggae, hip-hop, and kindred genres.

In 2011, the remarkably well-produced satire act Baracka Flacka Flames released a version of 2pac’s “Hit Em Up” and (inadvertently) invoked our familiar contour —

I gotta admit, though — research aside — for my money/time, “I Run the Military” is far superior:

Add comment January 5th, 2016

Zunguzung Variations: Singer-Songwriter Edition

Here’s something primarily for longtime readers of W&W, or for random devotees to Yellowman’s timeless tune. As you all know, the melody from “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng” — aka “the Zigzagging Zunguzung meme” — has traveled widely. And I’ve been on the case ever since I first began hearing its echoes everywhere (which really started for me back in 2003).

This summer I was invited to join a songwriting group in which all participants would compose one song each month according to that month’s “prompt” — some set of aesthetic criteria, broadly defined (i.e., pertaining to specific musical or textual cues or tending toward the impressionistic). The crew was assembled under the odd banner of Underwear Everywhere (I still don’t know why), and it mostly included pop/rock-leaning musicians, if with a wide range of influences and styles.

I have to confess that I only myself managed to generate a single song during the 6 months that the experiment lasted. In the first month, I rose to the challenge of producing some “Novel Sounds” — or, according to the prompt:

Pick a favorite book and use the title as the title of the song as well as inspiration. … Use 3/4 time for part or all of the song.

In my case, I decided to take flight from the opening pages of one of my favorite books of the last decade, Michael Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum. For curiosity’s sake — and boy is my version curious! — I share here with you my strange shanty:

Anyway, back to the point of the post: I was myself given the privilege of providing the prompt in June, and I just couldn’t resist asking the group to contribute ditties somehow incorporating my favorite little melody. Or as I put it to them —

This month’s songwriting conceit is that everyone should use a little melody that I’ve been chasing around the world for many years now. As you’ll hear in this mega-mix I made, the “Zunguzung” tune turns up in dozens and dozens of songs — sometimes to support the chorus, sometimes as a one-off allusion, and with varying degrees of fidelity to the Yellowman original(s). Here’s the mix —

Even (especially?) as it plays a little Heisenbergian game with my research, it’s really fun to hear the results. I’m especially charmed by how that familiar strain sounds on accordion, or ethereal and circus-y synths, or sung in a New Wavey style. These sorts of transpositions are not typical for a tune that mainly travels via reggae, hip-hop, and their offspring, but they speak just as strongly to the catchiness and flexibility of Yellowman’s lilting phrase. Hope you enjoy the subtle and not-so-subtle appearances of an old friend across these varied versions. I sure did!

November 8th, 2013

Zunguzung Revelations

photo by Brent Hagerman

In the first comment on my Zunguzung Meme post, Droid asked the perfectly reasonable question,

Is it possible that Zunguzung itself is an adaptation of someone else’s work?

It’s something I’d been wondering myself, of course — for about as long as I’d been noting the melody’s long legs, really. In my reply I said,

I’d love to ask him about it sometime.

Well, I’m happy to report that someone has.

That someone is Brent Hagerman, a PhD student in religion and culture writing a dissertation about Yellowman which, as he put it via email, “reads” his slackness “in terms of his Rastafarian faith.”

Here’s what Brent had to say about “[Zungu]Zung”:

I asked him once about Zung and he told me that he got the melody/phrasing from a Michael Manley political rally — similar to your Cutty Ranks clip, I assume, except it must have been earlier.

If you think that’s a revelation, you’ve got to hear the story for yourself. Many thanks to Brent for sharing it with me and allowing me to share it with you (and thx much to King Yellow too, of course!):

Allow me to transcribe the conversation, with some cuts for clarity sake:

Brent: What does zunguzunguzunguzeng mean?

Yellowman: Zunguzunguzeng is a slang, you know? It can mean anything. Like, I can say I’m gonna zunguzunguzeng you, which means I gwine kill you. And I can look on a girl and say, I want to zunguzunguzeng you. It mean I want to ‘f’ you. It have many meaning. … But it was a political song, for Michael Manley. Like, “zunguzungunguzunguzeng, you shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley, boy.” So I turned it into “zunguzungunguzunguzeng, jump for happiness and jump for joy” …

B: I thought you wrote that melody?

Y: No, the melody come from a political song.

B: A song that Manley used?

Y: Some guy used to go around with Manley and mic and say, “you shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley, boy.”

B: That was never recorded, though?

Y: No, that never recorded. I take my style, and record it. I use the melody.

B: And did he use the term zunguzung as well?

Y: No, no. He don’t use the term. I only use the melody. … “Jump for happiness and jump for joy, you no fi call Yellowman no boy.” … So that get ban off the radio. … The reason why they ban it in that time, it was the Labourite government was in power. …

B: Because you borrowed this [melody]? You were making fun of the melody?

Y: No, I’m taking it to an entertainment level. … It became #1, you know? For several months.

B: Without being played on the radio.

Y: Right.

B: So his lyric? …

Y: Him say zazazazazazazaza, but me say zunguzungunguzunguzeng.

B: And zaza has no meaning, right?

Y: No, it just a slang, like I would say zunguzunguzeng. It can mean anything, you know.

B: What was that guy’s name, do you know?

Y: No, no. I don’t know what his name, you know. But I heard that guy is in Miami now, you know.

B: So he was an artist?

Y: No. You know like how Obama carry around Oprah? Fi get crowd, y’know? So they just carry a entertainer. …

So much for Swahili theories.

For students of Jamaican democracy, the timing for such controversy might seem a little odd given that Yellowman’s song was released in 1982, but the JLP had been in power from 1980 and the 1983 election was boycotted by the PNP. No doubt there was still a lot of fraught politicking a gwaan at that time. I’d love to know more about how it seeped into Kingston’s soundscape.

It’s interesting to hear (and see!) how the melody remained a staple of PNP rallies into the mid-late 80s, as seen in the Cutty Ranks clip from a 1986 PNP rally. Browsing 80s dancehall videos on YouTube, I discovered a couple other clips that show the “zunguzung” melody doing a particular kind of political work (i.e., rallying people around the PNP). Indeed, invocations of the tune provoke some of the biggest responses from the crowd.

Take the following clip, for instance, which I think is from the same 1986 PNP rally as the Cutty Ranks excerpt, held at Skateland by Stereo Mars sound. After a lot of pro-Manley chatting, you hear the tune at the very end of video (“hold up your hand if you love the power”). Note the immediate call for pull-up!

There are a couple more examples in the following clip from the same rally (at 0:16 & 3:34), affirming again how common a reference (and rally-cry) it was. Selassie gets nuff shoutouts too, though. As do Spanglers and Junglists (“all spanglers hold tight, all junglists hold tight”) —

And, one year earlier, we behold a similar use at another PNP rally held by Stereo Mars at Skateland, this time featuring Tenor Saw, Burro Banton, Super Cat, and others. See Likkle John at the 5:00 mark and then at 5:40, and once again note the crowd response! Notice too, however, that for all the potential “political” connotations of the tune, Super Cat goes on to condemn politicians’ role in the island’s gun violence problems (even, ironically, as Joe Lick shot, er, “licks shots” in support) —

Despite all this activity, the zunguzung melody was so rapidly adopted by dancehall DJs — turning up in a flurry of recordings/performances from 83-86, and a little more sporadically thereafter — and often in songs that have nothing to do with politics, that I wonder about the degree to which the tune was heard as “political.” By whom? In what contexts? I’d love to know a little more about the instances in which Yellowman received any kind of pushback for using the tune. What does he mean that it was banned? (And yet was “#1”?)

Before this revelation, I had simply assumed that Cutty Ranks was making use of a well-worn riff, leveraging a powerful bit of musical memory for political ends. That may still be what is happening in his case. But I’m not sure whether the opposite is true, beyond Yellowman’s initial use. Did the melody also (just as often/powerfully?) mobilize political sentiment in the service of entertainment? Were artists like Sister Nancy, Toyan, and others who invoked the melody around that time always acutely aware of its political connotations? Or did Yellowman’s hit serve to “liberate” the tune from its partisan moorings, at least to some extent / for some listeners?

One relatively early example which seems to suggest an unmoored melody comes from a 1983 Gemini session in Jamaica, where Johnny Ringo casually weaves the tune into the beginning of his talkover spiel —

Another good example of the melody’s more free-floating character comes from Yellowman himself. In the following video, from a 1984 Volcano session, he uses the melody not to sing “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng” but to propel another routine, imploring the crowd (or a particular gyal?) to “boogie for me.” (Note: this video is a slightly odd assemblage; you’ll have to FF>> to around 26:10, when Yellowman grabs the mic; 10 seconds later he breaks out the familiar contour.)

Any others out there? Do tell/point/link. (One of these days I’ll make a montage.)

One final note, per recent discussions here about musical “borrowing” and ownership: b/c Yellowman plucked the zunguzung melody out of the air, as he did so much material — as we all do, don’t? — he doesn’t much mind if others take those same ideas and do something new with them. At least that’s what Brent surmises —

As you probably know he won the Tasty Patty competition in 1979 with an answer to Lone Ranger’s “Barnabus Collins” and often jumped on whatever thematic/lyrical/musical bandwagon was in fashion at the time, whether it be sleng teng, punanny riddim or whatever. So I really don’t think he minds if another deejay “borrows” something from him. The industry seems to thrive off that give and take, though Yellowman, like most artists, recognizes the need to receive credit for his inventions, even if it is just by insisting that he is the king of dancehall and the originator of several fashions/styles.

But Brent’s gonna ask him directly about this issue, to be sure.

If you want to follow along, or even lend a hand, to Brent’s research project. Check out, an online database devoted to Yellowman’s lyrics and discography. As he puts it, “I haven’t got a lot there yet but it is starting to take shape.” As he also puts it, much to my delight — and quite in line with the spirit of the zunguzung meme — “I was inspired by your work when I chose the domain name.”

And on and on and on and on and on we go…

8 comments February 5th, 2009


I first stumbled upon Aaron Bady’s blog, zunguzungu, when searching some keywords along the nationalism / imperialism axis. And though lots of his posts have provoked my imagination, from incisive readings of The Wire and The Office to shock’n’awe as modern-day lynching, it was his blog’s title — for obv reasons, if you’re familiar with my Zunguzung meme-tracking — that grabbed my attention.

I still haven’t been able to answer droid’s question (in the first comment here), which I’ve myself long wondered, about where, if anywhere, Yellowman got that phrase / melody from. (I know, I should probably just ask him. Who’s got a link to King Yellow?) [Update: Actually, mystery solved! Someone else has asked him, I’m happy to report.] So I’m always on the lookout for clues. And though it seemed implausible that Yellowman would have encountered and employed an East African term for a white/mobile/dizzy person (see below), I had to inquire with Mr.Bady to see whether he might know something I don’t. So I wrote him and asked

do you have any sense of how far “zunguzungu” travels? i ask b/c one of the main threads of my dissertation (in ethnomusicology) revolves around a melody associated with yellowman’s “zunguzunguguzunguzeng.” i always assumed king yellow was just playing around with nonsense syllables (especially since much of the actual words in the song are pretty nonsensical), but now i wonder. i’d be surprised to learn that the term made its way to jamaica, especially since i’ve never heard it in any other context there, but i’m curious.

to which, Aaron replied

… wow. I had no idea that “zunguzungu” had such an interesting genealogy, and as you might imagine, I’m really interested to know more; I’ll read your post more closely after I teach today. I took the pseudonym because of its strictly linguistic connotations in swahili; “mzungu” means white person, sort of, but its at least partially derived from the word for spinning, or going around, and the question of why that became the root for “European” potentially has fascinating answers. One of these days, I’ll dig up more on it (though I think, as with much african historiography, the guesswork outweighs what is concrete in ways that make it more symptomatic than analytic), but what caught my eye was the ways that “mzungu” doesn’t actually mean white (it is possible for westernized Africans to be called mzungu) but actually references other ways of understanding identity that reference mobility outside of power structures, or something like that. Very speculative, and I don’t have the resources, but it’s an interesting question anyway (and I just started the blog with that name becasue it needed a name). That said,I recently learned that there’s a popular zong, in Tanzania I believe, about how the singer’s lover makes him dizzy, and he sings “zunguzungu.” I’ll see if I can track that song down.

Well, I’m happy to report that Aaron has tracked down — via Keguru in the comments here — not one but two songs that employ zunguzungu in the title/chorus (actually, kizunguzungu about which, more below):

Saida Karoli’s “Mapenzi Kizunguzungu”:

“Kizunguzungu” by Carter:

Re: ki, I had to ask

Quick, swahili-ignant question: what does adding “ki” to “zunguzungu” as these songs do, do?

To which, Aaron replies

Regarding “ki”, that question is (like your comment on the post!) exactly the right one to ask, but one I don’t have a real answer to (yet). Partly it’s because my practical swahili isn’t good enough to say for sure. I can give you a limited grammatical answer (and I’m going to spend some time listening to these songs and trying to figure it out from context) but advanced swahili is (for me at least) really easy at the beginning and gets more and more incomprehensible the better I get. I can get by on the street, but actually analyzing swahili writing is still incredibly difficult for me, and the more I understand it, the more I perceive weird nuances which are not only uninterpretable by me but might be more intrinsically uninterpretable in linguistic terms full stop.

My first thoughts (I’m actually going to blog on this once I’ve spoken to some better swahili speakers about it):

“Ki” could be an adjectival prefix (and that seems to be the assumption of the wikipedia page translation), but it belongs to a different noun class than “mapenzi” (love), so if it were simply “spinning love ” I would think it should be “Mapenzi Mazungu.” Ki can also be an “adverb of manner” so love were a verb one could speak of “love spinningly” but Mapenzi is firmly the noun form. This seems like the best bet for what it literally means though. I’m interested in the question, though, because while the prefix “ki-” is also the prefix used for languages (swahili is properly “kiswahili” and English is “kiingereza”) but that meaning includes without being limited to languages, meaning something like “the way of” in the sense that to speak English is to speak the way of the English. And since “wazungu” means “white people” but also maybe means (in a more literal sense) people who go around (and the etymological narrative I find most attractive is that “whiteness” is defined not by skin color but by mobility, something that seems to accord with how I’ve seen the term used (Africans can be wazungu too, if they’ve become Westernized, though it’s hard to gauge how much irony that always implies)), I’m charmed by the notion that love that spins one around might also be love that links one to mobility and has something to do with larger issues of global identity (since mzungu is by far the most commonly used variant of the “zungu” root form). But I’m still trying to figure out if that’s plausible, or if I just want it to be true. Also, doubling a word (zunguzungu instead of zungu) adds emphasis.

Those are Aaron’s not-fully-baked thoughts via email. As promised, he’s now blogged about it, collecting his thoughts and questions while connecting them to his dissertation research on Henry Morton Stanley (of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” fame).

Any Swahili speakers out there want to chime in?

13 comments December 7th, 2008

Gungo Peas, Feng Shui, and Zen / Zunguzungunguzung-again!

Thanks to Gabriel from Heatwave (and happy earthday, y’all!) for bringing my attn to yet another iteration of the Zunguzung meme. This time around, Damian Marley and Gwen Stefani add their names to the long list of meme carriers. I’m not really feeling the track (which maybe goes without saying), but I like the way Yung Gong flips the script —

Nuff homemade videos for the tune on YouTube (which maybe also goes without saying these days?), including this surreal bit of Sims machinima —

1 comment September 20th, 2007

Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme

The text below was written in spring 2007 and delivered at EMP and IASPM. Since its initial publication, I have learned of many additional instances of the “zunguzung” meme, often thanks to readers. I will continue to update the tally at the end of the post, and searching “zunguzung” on this site will lead to other posts about the various shapes and forms of this zigzagging figure.

Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme
by Wayne Marshall (April 07)

What can we learn about hip-hop and reggae, about the US and Jamaica, about race and nation and place and migration, about music, from the movements of a musical meme? To put it more concretely, what might Mos Def mean when he says, at the beginning of Black Star’s 1998 lead single, “Definition” —

We might be tempted to dismiss Mos Def’s accented invitation — “follow me now” — as a bit of ethnic filigree, especially in a moment — the late 90s — when the sounds and images of Jamaica, including Bounty Killer’s signature “Lawdamercy,” had accrued as much cultural cache as ever, offering alluring mirror-mirror images of black heroes and gangsters and lovers and sufferers, as vividly portrayed, for example — perhaps too vividly — in the contemporary Hype Williams feature, Belly. And especially in a place like Brooklyn, a place which had been deeply reshaped by Jamaicans in the last few decades of the 20th century. We might be tempted, then, to ignore such accents, such foreign but familiar phrases. Why take Mos Def at his word when so many other MCs, across the boroughs and further afield, have often donned the trappings of Jamaicanness, often via some cliché or other? The melody that directly follows the call to follow, however, compels us to attend a little more closely. When we’re asked in this manner, implored even, to follow Mos Def, it’s not simply to follow his lyrics and flow, impeccable and engaging as they may be, it is also to follow him in song.

Like any torch bearer of tradition, Mos Def expects that we’re noting, or at least feeling, the deep degree of intertextuality at work in the song, an articulation of texts and times and places enabled by a set of indexical musical figures. Mobilizing the power of musical memory, he invokes two well-worn late 80s hip-hop melodies, both of them associated with seminal recordings by Boogie Down Productions — and both from tracks which themselves sampled and adapted other resonant melodies infusing the New York soundscape. Black Star deploy such familiar figures in mourning and in warning. They bemoan the violence that had recently claimed the lives of two of the genre’s shining stars, Tupac and Biggie — two rappers who themselves, in memorable, widely-heard recordings, alluded to the same melody that Mos Def connects to KRS-One.

As with dead prez’s resonant, radical use of the riff shortly thereafter —
— Black Star’s homage to BDP’s “Remix for P Is Free” on a song addressing the deaths of Biggie and Tupac thus represents more than a capricious, if canny choice in the service of what otherwise might be taken for a little resonant retrofitting. For a lot of hip-hop artists and aficionados, BDP’s Criminal Minded stands as foundational — as the first, or at least loudest, shot fired in the gangsta rap revolution, and hence as responsible, in part, for pushing the genre into a realm of Scorcese-noir crack-rap, offering the kind of bleak, brutal, and often cartoonish stylings (in spite of constant claims to the real), which remain central to hip-hop today and which seemed to spin out of control in the late 90s, culminating in a stunning set of events whereby life appeared to imitate art.

On De La Soul’s 1996 album Stakes Is High, which at times approaches a similar attempt at downright, downhome intervention as Black Star’s debut, the group sets the tone by opening with a collage of interview fragments, as various respondents recount the first time they heard Criminal Minded, framing the album’s 1987 release as a kind of Kennedy Assassination for the genre — a singular, unforgettable, transformative event, marking a new and less innocent era. Notably, while foreshadowing the album’s sad and sardonic critique, the skit takes on a celebratory, nostalgic tone —

One of the voices we hear here is Mos Def’s. And the warmth in his recollection is revealing. Black Star’s invocation of Boogie Down Productions’ melody is not a cynical move. It’s a tribute — radical but reverent. And it propels itself and projects its meanings by channeling not just hip-hop’s past, but the contemporary sound of New York, a sound which, strikingly, can be represented at this point — “to the fullest,” we might add, nodding to B.I.G. — in such a creole tongue.

If this seems striking in 1998, how striking then that Black Star’s “Definition” essentially covers a track that had been recorded, if in another borough, over a decade before? To put it more directly and suggestively, isn’t it remarkable that as early as 1987, Boogie Down Productions could represent the Bronx with such a Jamaican voice — the same Bronx, mind you, where a decade before they were throwing Jamaicans into garbage cans (to paraphrase Kool Herc via Jeff Chang) — and, moreover, represent it in such a manner at a time of intense, interborough rap rivalry, as in the feud between BDP and Queensbridge’s Juice Crew. But there’s little question about the success of such a sonic strategy: KRS-One’s posse-inflected, rude bwoy / b-boy stance and dancehall-derived routines were clearly working, and doing no little cultural work in the process. His recycling of the tune but a year later suggests that it struck a chord:

The resonance of such sounds bears witness to a seismic social and cultural shift in New York City during the 80s and 90s, a product of continuing migration from Jamaica as well as the coming of age of many second-generation Jamaican-Americans. Orlando Patterson describes the surprisingly slow, if perhaps inevitable, cultural shift that followed on the heels of these changes in New York’s social fabric — a reshaping of the city’s demographic profile which has been examined extensively by sociologists such as Mary Waters and Philip Kasinitz. Patterson writes,

Reggae spread to the United States as a result of a second mass migration of the Jamaican working class [the first was to England], which began with the liberalization of American immigration laws in the early 1960s. A new kind of West Indian migrant now entered America, not the relatively well-educated, highly motivated petty-bourgeois migrants of previous generations, but the working-class and lumpen-proletarian people from the Kingston slums. Eventually, the reggae music these new migrants brought over with them, along with their disk jockeys and dance halls (as well as their gangs, the notorious posses), were to influence black American youth, but what is interesting is how long it took to do so.

A recording like Criminal Minded, so replete with references to reggae, would seem to offer some confirmation of this cultural process reaching a critical stage, though, in circular fashion, it may also have played no little role in further promoting the already quite fearsome profile of Jamaicans in New York — a reputation largely earned by the ruthlessness of the posses, drug- and gun-running gangs loosed from their ties to Jamaican political patronage by the cocaine trade. Though their reputation was in many ways deserved, as Laurie Gunst details in Born fi Dead, the images of savage, black foreigners were eagerly taken up by the press and eventually by Hollywood, leading to such arch villains as Screwface, the dreadlocked, cannibalistic, psychopathic foil to Steven Segal in Marked for Death, never mind the dreadlock- and mesh-marina-sporting alien in Predator, who, lest one suspect this reading a stretch, actually squares off against dreadlock-wearing Jamaican posse members, representing — one can only surmise — yet another form of invasive, predatory alien, in the Danny Glover-starring sequel to Schwarzenegger’s box-office hit.

In stark contrast to the threat of harassment that beset Jamaicans in the early 70s, the powerful, new significations of Jamaicanness in the 1980s could be a young immigrant’s saving grace. In his memoir, Gunshots In My Cook-Up, Guyanese-born hip-hop journalist Selwyn Seyfu Hinds recalls getting into a confrontation one night while walking through the streets of Brooklyn. As he and his friends are surrounded by a menacing group of teenagers, he decides on a telling strategy to evade a beat-down: “I was scared shitless,” he recounts,

The kind of fear when your Adam’s apple swells up and seems liable to burst out your throat. So I did what most recently arrived Caribbean kids in that era would do in such a situation . . . I began talking with a Jamaican accent.

‘Wha ya deal wit? Mi nah wan no trouble, seen?’

See, Jamaicans had a rep in those days. Still do. Jamaican kids in Brooklyn were thought of as fearsome, aggressive, not to be fucked with lightly. For the rest of us Caribbean folk, donning the trappings of that reputation when convenient was a welcome ability.

In a similar fashion, employing Jamaican language, reggae melodies, and the battle style of Jamaican soundsystems represented an explicit, and fairly successful, aesthetic choice — a musical-cultural tactic — for a young KRS-One seeking to distinguish himself and his crew from rival rappers. As he tells it (to Brian Coleman):

Oh, man, the damage we used to inflict on these groups, it was just crazy. We’d go into these clubs and they’d set up the battle and I would just start rhyming, and it wasn’t just the Jamaican lyrics. It was how we battled. We battled like a Jamaican sound system. You played one record, then you’d rewind, and the crowd would go crazy.

One borrowed sonic weapon among many, the distinctive little melody that propels “Remix for P” would have offered charged connotations to borough audiences. The tuneful couplet that imbues “Remix for P” with some of its cool and deadly, cocky swagger, was by that point a well-established melodic resource in dancehall reggae. By mid-decade, it had underpinned choruses and allusive interjections in a number of recordings — including several songs which were, in so many words, international hits (at least in that they were played in nightclubs in New York, London, Miami and other centers of Jamaican migration). At the musical and social events where KRS-One no doubt honed his Jamaican accent in an ironic reversal of Kool Herc’s attempts at assimilation and translation a decade before, the young MC would have heard any number of dancehall artists recycling the recognizable phrase — or versioning it, as they say in Jamaica. By 1985, the short, singsong melody had already animated performances by Super Cat, Frankie Paul, Ranking Toyan, Sister Nancy, and, of course, Yellowman, who, despite his proclivity for t(h)iefing melodies, as they also say in Jamaica, appears — at least to my searching ears — to have been the first to put it on wax. (Note that King Yellow changes the contour of the tune on the live version from an AA to an AB, the form which most subsequent rehearsals take).

Quite closely related to New York hip-hop’s engagement with the sounds of Jamaica, an engagement bearing witness to a cultural currency tied to social shifts in the city, Puerto Rican hip-hop producers and vocalists also increasingly incorporated reggae riddims and melodies into their own productions and performances. The embrace of reggae in Puerto Rico, today marketed to the American mainstream and the world (and especially to pan-Latin audiences) as reggaeton, originally could be heard informing a similar sort of cultural politics as we note in New York.

Sometimes called melaza, or molasses (signifying as sugar does), sometimes called underground (marking its economic position as well as a connection to hip-hop), and sometimes called dembow (after the Shabba Ranks song that producers such as Playero and DJ Negro jacked for beat after beat), Puerto Rico’s rap-reggae fusion, especially in the mid-90s, was also promoted, in song, as música negra, as black music — no small statement in a place that identifies as 80% “white” on the US census. The blackness of Puerto Rican reggae-rap was not only proclaimed by vocalists representing, “en la casa / para la raza,” but was expressed indexically via direct musical quotations. In addition to producers sampling the hip-hop and dancehall hits of the day for their dense, collage-like pistas or tracks, Puerto Rican vocalists made their own musical connections by reworking the same well-worn melodic contours that appealed to Super Cat and Sister Nancy, Buju Banton and Bounty Killer, as well as KRS-One. That the Zunguzung meme could be found in several seminal hip-hop tracks only affirmed its resonance in this sense, especially among Nuyoricans —

Hence we might hear the invocation of Yellowman’s melody in these examples embodying a musically-propelled cultural politics. Representing in suggestive, sonic form what Juan Flores calls the “cultural remittances” of “transnationalism from below,” such articulations challenge longstanding notions about the relationship between home and away, Puerto Rico and diaspora, and thus offer what might be heard as audible harbingers of the rediscovery of Puerto Rican negritude and a reconciliation of Puerto Rican national identity. As Flores argues:

while traditionally the translocal Puerto Rican sensibility was characterized by the emigrant longing for the beauties of the long-lost island, in some rap texts and among street youth it was the urban diaspora settings of the Bronx and El Barrio that became places of fascination and nostalgia.

And yet, while we might hear such an articulation of cultural politics in Puerto Rican invocations of the Zunguzung meme, even as artists in question mobilize the melody in the service of braggadocio or somewhat aggressive forms of flirtation, other appearances of the melody — in particular in recent stateside, commercial hip-hop — appear to suggest ways that such critical connotations can grow muted in the same way that reggae figures more generally seem to have been absorbed into hip-hop’s lexicon.

As the Zunguzung meme becomes, for certain performers and audiences, just another reference to the hip-hop canon, we hear how reggae paradoxically disappears into hip-hop’s vocabulary by virtue of its very centrality and ubiquity. This is partly KRS-One’s fault, for he so successfully infused his influential recordings with reggae borrowings that they almost immediately became more familiar than foreign. But it is no doubt also in part the fault of Biggie and Tupac, whose uses of the melody were likely more widely heard than any others and yet made no overt reference to Jamaica. On Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Player’s Anthem,” which centers on whether one loves “hip-hop” and if so whether one will grab or rub certain body parts to prove it, Biggie seems primarily to be invoking hip-hop tradition — that is, KRS-One’s seminal allusions — and of course, Tupac employs the melody, in turn, to demean and threaten Biggie.

Some years later, looking for the perfect hook, Joe Budden re-animated the well-worn musical meme on “Pump It Up,” though, notably, he employs only the A phrase of the melody rather than the more common AB version, perhaps suggesting sonically some distance from earlier examples. As we might expect, the echoes of Yellowman’s catchy phrase grow even fainter in Jin’s “Learn Chinese” (2004), a recording released not long after (and which makes direct reference to) Budden’s “Pump It Up.” “Learn Chinese” represents not just another node along the “Zunguzung” network but yet another degree of slippage from the tune’s reggae roots. The invocation of the melody is preceded in the song by the young MC’s admission of having “Biggie Smalls posters all over the walls,” suggesting a likely knowledge of Biggie’s use of the melody, but not necessarily confirming a connection to other, earlier instantiations. And the most recent example of what we might call an unknowing invocation of Yellowman’s melody comes to us via VH1’s and EgoTrip’s White Rapper Show. Asked to produce a club banger with Just Blaze, the producer of Joe Budden’s successful Zunguzung interpolation, aspiring rappers Shamrock, Sullee, and 100 Proof, make direct reference to “Pump It Up” in order to push the song along, if a little flatly —

Perhaps we can hear an even clearer, if different, sense of slippage as the Christian rock band POD, featuring Hasidic singjay Matisyahu, employ the phrase to proclaim themselves warriors chanting down Babylon —

Regardless of whether the melody connects back to Yellowman and Jamaica for artists and audiences — which I maintain is an important question, but one that I’ve yet to ask any of these performers — there is plenty we can say about the way such a phrase functions. It is rather remarkable, for instance, how often the invocation of the meme serves to direct, to instruct, to implore — a product of accretionary meanings, no doubt, but perhaps also related to the very processes of musical memory, of invoking a set of sonic symbols that can subconsciously compel listeners to follow along. At times this can feel like a coercive marshaling of musical memory, as if something automatic emerges in that moment of recognition, of sympathetic vibration. One feels forced to respond, to hum along or nod along or push up a hand, a finger, a gun salute.

Across the various versions we’ve heard here, we’re not only drawn into the feelingful realm of musical memory by the melody, we’re frequently simultaneously told to do something, as if the artists take advantage of the opportunity, of the moment of sudden resonance: “bubble for me,” they say, “push up your hands,” “grab your dicks,” “grab your glocks,” “hold your head,” “do your thing.” Cultural politics dovetails here with body politics, and sometimes with the body politic itself — as in the case of Cutty Ranks, who demonstrates during a performance at a political rally in 1986, how the melody could be pressed into the service of politics qua politics, of electoral politics, of “party” politics, if you will; indeed, of People’s National Party politics —

I’m afraid this overview only scratches the surface of meanings and narratives we can read from these myriad instances, but I think it provides nonetheless an intensely audible example not only of the musical, cultural, and social connections between hip-hop and reggae and reggaeton. In a more general sense, it also tells us something about why music echoes across time and place, and, indeed, how music can inform and texture our notions of time and place. Listening to the Zunguzung meme as it reappears again and again, accruing new meanings in new contexts and recalling (or not recalling) the connotations of previous occurrences, we hear how music can draw and redraw the lines of community, compelling us to follow along, sometimes whether we’d like to or not.

An Ever Growing Timeline of the Zunguzung Meme:

[Update (May 2010): I’ve added an additional 14 instances (!!!) which people have brought to my attn, especially via comments below, in the 3 years since I posted this piece. Now that’s distributed research! Thanks so much to all, and keep em coming!] [Update (March 2011): I’ve continued to add instances as they bubble up; I’ve now lost count of how many additions I’ve made since initially publishing this post!][Update (April 2013):The list is now up to 50+ appearances, and I’ve finally replaced the mini-mix audio below with a longer and more complete record — more like a mega-mix!][Update (May 2019):The list has continued to grow, now up to 60+ appearances — and counting!]

1982 — Yellowman, “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng”
1982 — Yellowman & Fathead, “Physical / Zunguzung (Live at Aces)”
1982 — Sister Nancy, “Coward of the Country”
1984 — Frankie Paul, “Alesha”
1984 — Toyan, “Hot Bubble Gum”
1985 — Little John, “Clarks Booty”
1985 — Super Cat, “Boops”
1986 — Cocoa Tea, “Come Again”
1986 — BDP, “The P Is Free”
1987 — BDP, “Remix For P Is Free”
1988 — BDP, “T Cha T Cha”
1988 — Queen Latifah, “Princess of the Posse”
1988 — Masters of Ceremony, “Keep on Moving”
1988 — Afrika Bambaataa & Family (ft. Yellowman), “Zouk Your Body”
1988 — Sublime, “Roots of Creation”
1989 — Nice & Smooth, “Nice & Smooth”
1989 — Nice & Smooth, “Dope on a Rope”
1991 — Leaders of the New School, “Case of the P.T.A.”
1991 — Michie Mee & L.A. Luv, “Jamaican Funk Canadian Style”
1992 — Lecturer, “Gal Yu Mean It”
1992 — Sublime, “Scarlet Begonias”
1992 — Roxanne Shanté, “Dance To This (Dance To Cee’s Zunga Zunga Mix)”
1992 — Rev. Baddoo, “Bop Scuche”
1992 — Leila K, “Open Sesame”
1993 — Us3, “I Got It Goin’ On”
1993 — K7, “Zunga Zeng”
1993 — KRS-One, “P Is Still Free”
1993 — Jamalski, “African Border”
1993 — Buju Banton, “Big It Up”
1994 — The Coup, “Pimps (Freestyling at the Fortune 500 Club)”
1994 — Ninjaman, “Funeral Again”
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 — 2pac, “Hit ‘Em Up”
1996 — Ivy Queen, “He Regresado”
1996 — Captain Barkey, “Go Go Wine”
1996 — Junior Dangerous ft. Lucas, “Comin’ Out To Play”
1997 — Cru, “Pronto”
1998 — Mr. Notty, “Sentencia de Muerte”
1998 — Black Star, “Definition”
1999 — Lil’ Cease ft. Jay-Z, “4 My Niggaz”
2000 — Dead Prez, “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop”
2000 — Daisy Dee, “Open Sesame”
2000 — Wyclef Jean ft. Xzibit and Yellowman, “Perfect Gentlemen Remix”
2001 — Ñejo, “El Problema Ser Bellaco”
2003 — Joe Budden, “Pump It Up”
2004 — Jin, “Learn Chinese”
2005 — Looptroop, “Chana Masala”
2006 — POD ft. Matisyahu, “Roots in Stereo”
2006 — JD (aka Dready), “UK Zunga Zeng”
2007 — White Rappers, “One Night Stand”
2007 — Gwen Stefani ft. Damian Marley, “Now That You Got It”
2009 — Wax Taylor ft. ASM, “Say Yes”
2010 — Vybz Kartel, “Whine (Wine)”
2010 — Jovi Rockwell, “Keep It Real”
2011 — Tifa, “Matey Wine”
2011 — Rankin Taxi & Dub Ainu Band, “You Can’t See It, and You Can’t Smell It Either”
2011 — Yellowman, “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Horsepower Productions Remix / Dub)”
2011 — Baracka Flacka Flames, “Hit Em Up”
2013 — Benga & Kano, “Forefather”
2013 — Deekline & Ed Solo ft. Rubi Dan, “Zunga”
2019 — Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”

A Mega-Mix of the Zunguzung Meme —

90 comments May 10th, 2007

Keep It Movin Like the Zunguzung & Other Uprock Narratives

JC on JB

Back from Seattle, which was a blast (see below). Off to Boston tomorrow. Gonna be in the Bean (and the Bridge) for a spell, presenting a revised version of the Zunguzung tale I told this past weekend, weighing in on the White Rapper Show alongside some hip-hop(-studying) ethnomusicologists, and delivering what have become my annual lectures on Caribbean music in Orlando Patterson’s “Caribbean Societies” class. I’m also DJing an organic farm benefit. Tony Rebel anyone?

But, yeah, EMP was quite a delight. The conference had an energy and levity that I really appreciated, especially in contrast to the music conferences I’m used to. (It also had far superior soundsystems — crucial!) And of course, it was great to be in the same place as so many of my favorite music writers, critics, and scholars. Too much to say really, and too little time. But thanks to Elizabeth Mendez Berry for revisiting her “Love Hurts” piece (and noting that, contrary to what her editors decided, it’s not love that hurts); to Ned Sublette for being a righteous mofo and calling for impeachment and insurrection prior to delivering a diatribe on what New Orleans means (look out for his next book); to Joshua Clover for engagingly discussing 1989, “1989,” Jesus Jones, and “nerf humanism,” to name a few; to Charles Hughes for plumbing the soul-country crossover; and, among many many more, to Sasha Frere Jones, for calling attention to the role Soundscan has played in Billboard’s charts, changing the number of #1 songs from, say, 33 in 1988, to 12 in 2001 and pushing us into r&b hegemony. Sasha read the #1 hits from 2004 and 2005 as poetry, which was quite effective and went something like —

Hey Ya
Hey Ya
Hey Ya
Hey Ya
Hey Ya
Hey Ya
Hey Ya

Anyhow, you get the picture, even if this is inaccurate and doesn’t capture Sasha’s emotive inflection.

One final highlight that I must mention, tho: Dr. Joe Twist offered an ably demonstrated story about the transition from uprocking to b-boying, framing the move to the floor as analogous to the shift from funk to hip-hop and excavating more of hip-hop’s Latin roots. Breaks beget breaking, or something like that. (Look out for that book, too!) Meantime, check the technique —

Finally, to top off the weekend in Seattle (which I should note, contrary to legend, aside from a lil drizzle, was warm and sunny almost the entire time), I met up with Filastine at about 1am on Saturday night, post-Matos’s-post-conference party, and he took me to an all-night underground speakeasy type of thing, complete with cabaret and craps tables. It was something else. Lots of kids dressed to the nines, pretending it was the 20s, wading through warehouse puddles in their finery. The proprietors asked me to DJ, and lucky enough I still had my laptop with me. I was happy to take people into the wee hours, spinning across some crunk genealogies from about 4 to just after 6am. We capped the long night w/ some breakadawn couscous and (what Filastine called) “Indian Space Food” for breakfast. After grabbing a little sleep and some dim sum, it was back to the airport. And, now, I’d better wrap up this post, so I can head back to the airport once again.

Maybe see you in Bawstin —

4 comments April 24th, 2007

Boston Is a Island, Seen?

s/o thephoenix (rip) for the img

My recent post involving a Boston sound session focused on the use of the zunguzung meme, so I didn’t discuss some of the other interesting and awesome things about the recording — and how I found it.

I’ve been turning my attention back to the story of reggae in Boston — a story that I first tried to put together a decade ago. Indeed, I resumed my search by returning to a piece I published back in 2005 in a local zine, “Reggae-Tinged Resonances of a Wicked Wicked City.” (Geez, can I really be insufferably wordy sometimes; I like to think I’ve improved on that count.)

As I was re-reading, I decided to google some of the old soundsystems to see if — praise be to Jah — some vintage sound tapes had finally made it online alongside counterparts from Kingston, New York, London, et al. In 2005 it was damn near impossible to hear any of this stuff; it seemed far more likely in 2016, as the recorded past continues to make its way, however willy-nilly, to the internet.

I CNTRL-C’d on “Evertone Hi-Power, with selectors Wheely and Robot” and was feeling lucky. And what do you know? The top return was for a 1985 Evertone session including a visiting crew representing King Jammy’s from JA! As I started reading the description, I got a strange sense of deja vu before recognizing it as the same paragraph I had just copy-n-pasted from — a paragraph I wrote a decade ago…

In the early 1980s, Boston’s reggae scene was blessed by a number of soundsystems and selectors working mostly in clubs in Dorchester, where Boston’s West Indian population has been based for decades. Echo International (which later changed its name to Capricorn Hi-Fi), with its eponymous selector, Echo, was one of the more well-known sounds in the area. Evertone Hi-Power, with selectors Wheely and Robot, ranked among the best in town and is remembered as one of the biggest soundsystems in Boston during the 1980s. They even clashed with legendary Jamaican sound, King Jammy’s, in Dorchester in 1986. Apparently, Unity Sound, with selectors Reggie Dawg and Warren, was the “gal favorite,” while Supersonic was known as the “bad boy” sound, with connections to the infamous Dog Posse. Cambridge’s Western Front earned a reputation in the 1980s as a spot for “bad men” as well as for serious reggae music, especially from local live-bands such as the I-Tones and Cool Runnings. Aside from the Front, though, most of the top spots to hear reggae in Boston were based around Blue Hill Ave in Dorchester: Black Philanopies, Manny’s Bar, Windsor Cricket Club, 4 Aces, Carver Lodge, Kelekos, and, of course, 3 C’s—the Caribbean Cultural Center, which opened on 1000 Blue Hill Ave in 1981 and has been hosting big reggae events ever since. Veterans of the Boston reggae scene also note the popularity of house parties during the 80s, many of which, not unlike dances in Jamaica, would often last until 7 or 8 in the morning.

It was unattributed, but how could I bother to care about that? The story is not mine, for one; I am but a humble chronicler and interpreter. More important, though, was that my text had led me to something that I REALLY WANTED TO HEAR. This was the best possible scenario. It was as if 2005 Wayne had left a trail of digital bread crumbs for 2016 Wayne. Give thanks!

Cherry on top: the session itself is gold. Great vibes, local color, and a fine dancehall session in solid 1986 stylee. It’s great to hear the deejays reworking all the musical figures that enjoyed currency in that moment, from melodic contours to slang to riddims to ways of “selecting” or playing them (e.g., turning a skanking 4/4 track into a 3+3+2 break using the volume knob/fader). If you’re into dancehall culture, the session offers a wonderful glimpse at the state-of-the-art in the mid-1980s. Reverberating from Kingston to Boston, this is the sound of an institution at work, a resonant diasporic resource, an alchemical production of live sociality from recorded sound–

If I’m hearing correctly, Jammy’s crew come in after a half-hour or so (launching with a zunguzung riff at 35:20) and then rock for a solid 1.5 hours. Before that, the Bostonians hold their own. Skilled deejays pass the mic around and offer a mix of impromptu declamations and more rehearsed routines over the big riddims of the day — and occasionally, in the name of good vibes, playing whole records/voicings in their own right (including some Jammy’s productions — a notable and explicit gesture of respect).

When one of the deejays says “Boston is a island of itself, seen?” at 8:48, it’s as if he’s *trying* to title a compilation or a book. (So much better than the title I came up with a decade ago!) Local references erupt with some frequency, especially in original routines — including a nice set of tunes over the Golden Hen riddim. It’s quite a ride even without the offkey cover of “Karma Chameleon” that I very much wish were a satire.

From my perspective, recordings like these (and I found others) stand testament to reggae’s vitality in Boston in the 1980s, at once grounded in local sociality and in diasporic networks. In that sense, they are a crucial complement to other artifacts that represent Boston’s reggae heritage, most notably the recordings made by local bands and local labels.

So while I’m here, allow me to share a couple selections from two reggae bands working in Boston at this time. Many of these bands included Jamaican musicians living in Boston, and nearly all seem to bring a reverent, faithful, yet distinctive approach to the music.

First off, check out the dubby stylings of Zion Initiation, as released by a small local label in 1979:

And don’t miss this ambitious video (on location in Paris?!) from the I-Tones. Fronted by the Luke “White Ram” Ehrlich and featuring Chris Wilson on guitar (a Jamaican ex-pat who would later run Heartbeat Records), the I-Tones were one of the biggest reggae bands in town in the 1980s. A song like “Walk On By” shows how their sound was grounded in reggae’s abiding love for sweet pop and R&B. (According to the YouTube page, Ram was not thrilled about the sax solo!) Gotta love that falsetto.

Will share more as the project develops, but do drop a line if you’d like to add anything. Just scattering some digital breadcrumbs here, seen?

7 comments January 7th, 2016

Summer of Technomusicology (2014): DJ Mixes


The fifth etude in our summer session required students to cook up short DJ mixes that follow a particular musical thread across time and space. As readers will know, I’ve made a few of these over the years, and I’m obviously enamored of such an audible form of storytelling about music culture in the age of digital sampling.

Of course, not every etude made it up on Soundcloud thanks to its algorithmic/automatic pre-screening according to a draconian and short-sighted copyright regime — sensors are the new censors, innit — but several are still standing, spinning, and shining there. Allow me to share a few.

Here’s a ton of Ashley’s Roachclips:

And here are several iterations of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby”:

Variations on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, perhaps?

Or echoes of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”?

How about a big playback for “The Big Payback”?

Finally, in quite an inspired, creative departure, here are some Polynesian war/rugby chants sutured onto remixed dubstep instrumentals:

August 7th, 2014

Cyaan Stop Won’t Stop

If raggamuffin hip-hop never gets tired for you either, I’m happy to report that yet another juicy mix of fliptongue stylistics over dusty breaks and jeepbeat bass has come to my attention —

Originally cooked up in 2010 by one Matt Nelkin, and now re-upped with special edits for your DLing & DJing pleasure, “Boombap Riddims” pays tribute to more or less the very same moment in time that inspired my & Pace’s digging in the crateses for Cluster Mag.

Beyond enjoying soaking up the heavy ragga vibes, I was happily surprised to hear yet another instance of that ol’ zunguzung tune suddenly rear its head as Rev. Baddoo’s “Bop Scuche” comes into the mix. I can’t find complete discographical info on it (or a YouTube even), but it likely dates to around 1993 — definitely a hot moment for the riff, with echoes via Us3, K7, KRS-One, and Jamalski — and the production & distribution c/o none other than Bobby Konders & Massive B makes a lot of sense for yet another NYC-based vector for Yellowman’s viral chune.

Big up Mr.Nelkin on the tuff mix, and thx to anyone who can help me pin down the date of “Bop Scuche”!


While I’m on topic, I also want to share a recording that seems rather illuminating for hearing Boogie Down Productions’ seminal ragga-rap in context. Listening to Colonel Mite’s “Bless the Selector,” recorded in London the same year that BDP were proclaiming the Bridge to be over and the P to be free (1986), I can’t help but be struck by the verbal / stylistic overlap. It’s pretty clear, to these ears anyway, that KRS was manipulating the very same repertory of dancehall gestures (“come inna a dance”) as his compatriots across the pond. In other words, BDP were essentially producing a NYC-tinged version of contemporary dancehall. But do tell if you disagree —

2 comments January 6th, 2014

Routes, Rap, Reggae:

Hearing the Histories of Hip-hop and Reggae Together

This dissertation was submitted in 2006 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Music) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I’m happy to note that I fully fulfilled these requirements and received my Ph.D. in 2007. As they say, the best dissertation is a done dissertation, and while this didn’t deserve to win any prizes, I am proud of this work, especially if it might inform future scholarship on hip-hop and reggae.

Download a 5mb PDF of the complete document here. Thanks for reading! Let’s keep the convo going.

Here’s the abstract:

This dissertation examines the translocal interplay of hip-hop and reggae, considering their myriad interactions during the late twentieth century as complex musical embodiments of the social flows and cultural politics in and between Jamaica and the United States. Employing a mix of historical, discographical, and ethnographic sources, the argument takes into account the global circulation of both genres while focusing on their local, historically-contingent meanings in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City. The text largely takes the form of a chronological social and cultural history of musical style in order to reflect on and challenge the forms of representation that have characterized the telling of hip-hop’s and reggae’s stories to date. A particular set of melodic figures—collectively heard as the Mad Mad complex—provides an audible thread with which to illuminate the roles that technology, migration, and mass media have played in the ongoing formation of hip-hop and reggae as transnationally constituted genres advancing an intertwined, overlapping, and at times incompatible cultural politics of blackness.

Related materials can be found all across this website. See, e.g., the Boston Jerk album, the Zunguzung Meme, the Raggamuffin Hip-hop Megamix, various related publications at the Word page, etc.

1 comment October 2nd, 2013

Previous Posts


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


Tag Cloud

academic aesthetics af-am africa anthro arab art audio baby babylonia beatresearch blogging bookish boston brazil cambridge caribbean chicago commerce copywrong cumbia dance dubstep ethno europe events funkcarioca gigs global globalghettotech hip-hop humor industry internet interview jamaica jazz juke kwaito latin lifey linkthink mashup media mexico middleeast mixx nation newyork panama politricks pop public puertorico r&b race radio reggae reggaeton remix review riddimmeth0d rock sampling seasonal sexuality soundscape tech techno traxx UK video whirledmusic worldmusic youth


Creative Commons License

chacarron chacarronchaca-riggity-ron