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The Boston jerk

Wayne Marshall is "rhyme kickiní." Heís "more Jamaican than Kentucky Fried Chicken." Heís "so sexy the girls dem follow me with aspirin and Pepsi." Heís the Boston jerk.

At least thatís what the self-mocking chorus avers in Marshallís four-minute "theme song" from Boston Jerk (Wicked Wicked Records), a 26-track release credited to his musical nom de beats, Wayne&Wax. Boston Jerk is the audible product of six months spent in Jamaica researching hip-hop and reggae for his dissertation in ethnomusicology, the cultural study of people making music. Since the phrase "Boston jerk" is familiar in Jamaica, referring to a small coastal town known for its jerk-style cooking (and, strangely, KFC is the islandís most popular restaurant), the 29-year-old native Cantabrigian employed the references as stabs at self-parody. "Who but a jerk would come Ďfrom foreigní and try to say something new about Jamaican music, culture, and society?" Marshall writes in the liner notes.

A Harvard grad with an undergrad degree in English, Marshall started rapping when he was 13. He dabbled in bands throughout his time at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. Five years ago, he began making music with computers. Since then, heís become not only a musical scholar, but a laptop DJ, a homegrown producer, an after-school teacher, and something of a respected music blogger. He is currently finishing his dissertation through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a 100-pages-plus paper that focuses predominantly on the musical migration of one specific "riddim" ó reggae parlance for rhythm ó first used in Alton Ellisís 1967 song "Mad Mad Mad." That riddim ended up in 100-plus subsequent tunes, from Yellowmanís "Zungunzung" to Black Starís "Definition" to Tego Calderonís "Bonsai."

"I canít submit Boston Jerk for [academic] credit, unfortunately," says Marshall. "I do think that itís actually pretty crucial to my study: it expresses things that I canít express in writing. And I like the idea of scholarship moving outside of its traditional realms and embracing technology and embracing the arts." Crouched over his laptop in the living room of the Cambridge apartment he shares with his computer-programmer wife, Becca, Marshall clicks through a track list in the sequencer software Fruity Loops Studio and smiles. "I think Iím going to sneak it in as an appendix."

Marshall is something of a sound collector. While working as a substitute instructor in the Cambridge public-school system, he brought along a minidisc recorder and a mike to capture "these amazing little moments of hilarity or beauty" that kept happening in the classroom. His recordings culminated in 2002ís No Substitute, a 20-track release of rhymes interwoven with "musique concrete" snippets: students pledging allegiance to the flag, a looped backing track made entirely of splashing water, a dance-hall rhythm arranged from clanging school bells and slamming books. He says, "Iím into these little moments of the everyday."

Marshall takes that same approach on Boston Jerk. His idea of a rap skit is a conversation about authorship backed against bug noises. He morphs dog barks, matutinal roosters, radio samples, and taxi-driver conversation bits into musique-concrete-style arrangements.

"What this [approach] really grows out of is the way that hip-hop trained my ears to listen for loops," explains Marshall. "I was listening for loops in Bob Dylan and jazz and gamelan music before I was listening for loops in the world around me. That really comes out of hip-hop and its sample-based tradition and the way that it gets people to listen to the world differently."

Wayne Marshall plays an electro-Carib mixínímash this "Wicked Wicked Thursday" at River Gods, 125 River Street, Cambridge | 21-plus | free | 617.576.1881. The following Monday, August 29, Marshall traces the "Mad Mad" riddim through 30 years of reggae and hip-hop at the Enormous Roomís "Beat Research" at 567 Mass Ave, Central Square, Cambridge | 21-plus | free | 617.491.5550. Visit wayneandwax.com.

Issue Date: August 26 - September 1, 2005
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