linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


coercive cipher (i.e., mugging-by-beatbox)

inspired by hua's mugging-themed post today, i thought i'd share a mugging story that i've been fascinated by for a while now.

a few years ago, my brother and his friends--all highschoolers at the time--sat waiting for the train in the davis square T stop when they were approached by a couple kids who brandished weapons and demanded that my bro-and-co. beatbox for them. as my brother and his friends provided a beat, the assailants clumsily freestyled about how they were going to fuck them up and take their money. although my brother never relayed any direct quotations, i imagine that the freesyling was filled with the same cliches that failed to impress the harvard freshman mugged yesterday (as reported by hua). eventually, the guys tired of their performance, robbed my brother and his friends, and exited the station.

when i heard about the musical mugging, i was struck by its bizarre nature. on the one hand, it seemed somewhat predictable, if surreal, given hip-hop's violent streak and cinema verite depictions of crime. on the other hand, it seemed to require a stange, somewhat humiliating degree of cooperation--not to mention acknowledgment of shared cultural practices. (i mean, i suppose it was only coincidental that my brother and his friends happened to be adept beatboxers and freestylists themselves, though perhaps it wasn't. at any rate, i'm curious as to what would have been the outcome had their beatboxing really sucked. would the assailants have punished them worse? or would their desire to deliver a hip-hop mug-o-gram have collapsed under no-skills accompaniment?)

an ethnomusicologist once implored me to write something about this, but i found it difficult. for one, my bro and his friends were not very willing to revisit the event in great detail (or memorialize it, i suppose). moreover, this terrain of forced music-making and the direct coupling of music and violence is rather sensitive and disturbing--if fascinating--stuff. the only example that comes to mind right away is middle-passage drum-and-dance on-demand, which is so horrifying i really don't want to go near it. i suppose there are other examples as well. and i suppose that a comparative study could yield some interesting, possibly (probably) existential insights about the limits of "music"--is it "music" in such circumstances? or does it become something else?--and power and society, among other things. still, i think i'll leave that one to some musicological elaine scarry out there.

even so, had to share.


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