Jazz rap is a sub-genre of hip hop which incorporates jazz influences, developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The lyrics are often based on political consciousness, Afrocentricity, and general positivism. Allmusic writes that the genre “was an attempt to fuse African-American music of the past with a newly dominant form of the present, paying tribute to and reinvigorating the former while expanding the horizons of the latter”. Musically, the rhythms have been typically those of hip hop rather than jazz, over which are placed repetitive phrases of jazz instrumentation: trumpet, double bass, etc. The amount of improvisation varies between artists: some groups improvise lyrics and solos, while many of them do not.
Peter Shapiro, in his Rough Guide to Hip-Hop (2nd ed. London: Rough Guides, 2005) lists Louis Armstrong’s 1925 recording of “Heebie Jeebies” in his timeline of hip hop. In the 70s, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Watts Prophets placed spoken word and rhymed poetry over jazzy backing tracks. There are also parallels between jazz and the improvised phrasings of freestyle rap. Despite these disparate threads, jazz rap did not coalesce as a genre until the late 80s.
Beginnings of a trend
In 1985, jazz fusion band Cargo, led by Mike Carr, released the single “Jazz Rap”, appearing on the album Jazz Rap, Volume One . In 1988, Gang Starr released the debut single “Words I Manifest”, sampling Dizzy Gillespie’s 1952 “Night in Tunisia”, and Stetsasonic released “Talkin’ All That Jazz”, sampling Lonnie Liston Smith. Gang Starr’s debut LP, No More Mr. Nice Guy (Wild Pitch, 1989), and their track “Jazz Thing” (CBS, 1990) for the soundtrack of Mo’ Better Blues, further popularized the jazz rap style.
The design of ATCQ’s 1991 single emulates the famous Blue Note style and logo.
Groups making up the collective known as the Native Tongues Posse tended towards jazzy releases; these include the Jungle Brothers’ debut Straight Out the Jungle (Warlock, 1988) and A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive, 1990) and The Low End Theory (Jive, 1991). The Low End Theory has become one of hip hop’s most acclaimed albums, and also earned praise from jazz bassist Ron Carter, who played double bass on one track. De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate (Tommy Boy, 1993) featured contributions from Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis, and samples from Eddie Harris, Lou Donaldson, Duke Pearson and Milt Jackson.
Also of this period was Toronto-based Dream Warriors’ 1991 release And Now the Legacy Begins (4th & B’way). It produced the hit singles “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style” and “Wash Your Face in My Sink”. The first of these was based around a loop taken from Quincy Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova”, while the second sampled Count Basie’s 1967 rendition of “Hang On Sloopy”. Meanwhile, Los Angeles hip hop group Freestyle Fellowship pursued a different route of jazz influence in recordings with unusual time signatures and scat-influenced vocals.
Jazz artists come to hip hop
Though jazz rap had achieved little mainstream success, jazz legend Miles Davis’ final album (released posthumously in 1992), Doo-Bop, was based around hip hop beats and collaborations with producer Easy Mo Bee. Davis’ ex-bandmate Herbie Hancock returned to hip hop influences in the mid-nineties, releasing the album Dis Is da Drum in 1994. Jazz musician Branford Marsalis collaborated with Gang Starr’s DJ Premier on his Buckshot LeFonque project that same year.
Digable Planets’ 1993 release Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was a hit jazz rap record sampling the likes of Don Cherry, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Herbie Mann, Herbie Hancock, Grant Green, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It spawned the hit single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”. Also in 1993, Us3 released Hand on the Torch on Blue Note Records. All samples were from the Blue Note catalogue. The single “Cantaloop” was Blue Note’s first gold record.
This period was the high watermark for jazz rap’s popularity among hip hop listeners, following which it came to be regarded for a time as a trend which was “played out”. Musical jazz references became less obvious and less sustained, and lyrical references to jazz certainly more rare. However, jazz had been added to the palette of hip hop producers, and its influence continued throughout the 1990s whether behind the gritty street-tales of Nas (Illmatic, Columbia, 1994), or backing the more bohemian sensibilities of acts such as The Roots and Common Sense. Since 2000 it can be detected in the work of producers such as The Sound Providers, Kanye West, J Rawls, 88-Keys, Crown City Rockers, Kero One, Nujabes, Freddie Joachim, Asheru, Fat Jon, Madlib and the English duo The Herbaliser, among others.
One hip hop project which continued to maintain a direct connection to jazz was Guru’s Jazzmatazz series, which used live jazz musicians in the studio. Spanning from 1993 to 2007, its four volumes assembled jazz luminaries like Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Courtney Pine, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Garrett and Lonnie Liston Smith, and hip hop performers such as Kool Keith, MC Solaar, Common, and Guru’s Gang Starr colleague DJ Premier.
In 2011, the first official website dedicated to the genre of jazz-hop was born: jazz-hop.com.
Taken from Wikipedia.