Hip Hop's Jazz Roots

DJ DSL - 10/07/05

The influence of Jazz is truly remarkable, whether directly or indirectly, many forms of popular music today such as: Reggae, Classical, Rock, Latin, Pop, are all heavily influenced by it. Even some of today's so-called Modern R&B artists incorporate Jazz into their music, like Alicia Keys, whose work is described as a combination of: "Jazz with R&B and Hip Hop with lounge style singing". Therefore Hip Hop, like any other Popular genre of music is no exception to Jazz's Global influence.

In fact one of Hip Hop's earliest hits, "Rocket", released in 1983, wasn't even a Hip Hop track at all, but rather a crossover by Jazz Legend Herbie Hancock, who was experimenting with Electronic music at the time.

Hip Hop's very creation partly came as a result of some of it's early founders such as Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Jazzy Jay & The West Street Mob, scratching and sampling Jazz & Jazz Funk Underground Hits. Jazz Funk in particular, with its raw energy, and dominant drum-beats, provided Hip Hop with its early structure. Most popularly sampled by early Hip Hop DJ's & Producers were artists such as: James Brown, Gill Scott Heron, Kool & The Gang, Grant Green & Roy Ayers.

Jazz and Hip Hop share many similarities for example, Jazz has been described by many experts as "Improvisational Music", meaning it is able to adapt to change. This, is also true of Hip Hop's Rapping method of "Free-styling", which is literally an aural form of Improvisation, which can also be modified to suite most other music genres.

Because Jazz is thoroughly ingrained into American Music & Culture, it made it easy for continued sampling of the seemingly infinite catalogue of Jazz/Funk classics by Producers and DJ's, like Jam Master Jay, Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad) & Dr Dre, without whom, Hip Hop may not have been able to have evolved, or even survived in it's present form.

Producers and DJ's have always been drawn towards Jazz, because of its musical richness and flexibility. For example; at its core it has a mainly instrumental based structure, which makes it ideal for sampling. In other words Jazz has always provided the abundance of ingredients necessary to turn into Hip Hop Master pieces.

The following are some noteworthy Jazz & Jazz Funk Classics, which later became Hip Hop Classics:

Bob James - "Take Me To The Mardi Grass" ----------------------------------------- Run DMC - "Peter Piper"
Donald Byrd - "Dominos" ---------------------------------------------------------- Stetsasonic - "All That Jazz"
Kool & The Gang - "Summer Madness" ------------------------------Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - "Summer time"
Ronnie Foster - "Mystic Brew" --------------------------------------------Tribe Called Quest - "Electric Relaxation"
Bobby Byrd - "I know You Got Soul" ----------------------------------------Eric B & Rakim - "I Know You Got Soul"
Grover Washington Jnr - "Mr Magic" ------------------------------------------- DJ Jazzy Jeff - "Touch Of Jazz"

Many famous Hip Hop artists are not only acknowledged Jazz devotees, but many have even gone to the extent of publicly affiliating themselves with respected Jazz artists, and recorded Hip Hop/Jazz crossover albums & singles. One of the first to Pioneer this genre of Rap, were Brooklyn based Stetsasonic, who performed on stage with a live Jazz band. This was followed by groups such as: Public Enemy - "Fight The Power", Tribe Called Quest "MTV Unplugged", Gang Starr - "Jazz Thing", Diamond D, Large Professor & The Roots - (The Blue Note Remix Project) "The New Groove" & Guru - "Jazzmatazz Vols.1,2&3".

In return numerous established Jazz artists have themselves returned the compliment by incorporating aspects of Hip Hop into their music, such as Greg Osby & Branford Marsalis - "Buckshot Lefonque Project", J. Spencer - "Chimera" & "Blue Moon". Even the Great Miles Davis, sought the collaboration of Hip Hop producers for his final album "Doo - Bop".

This close affiliation between Hip Hop and Jazz artists, has attracted much condemnation from the so-called purists or self appointed authorities of Jazz, who are usually Middle-aged, Middle-class White men, who have absolutely no understanding of the evolving dynamics of Contemporary Black Music. One such artist who has often been on the receiving end of Jazz purist's criticism is British born Guitarist Ronny Jordan, who has worked on a number of Hip Hop/Jazz collaborations including Guru's Jazzmatazz, as well as his own crossover album "Light to Dark", which has recieved disapproval from Jazz critiques as impure, to which Ronny Jordan correctly responded:

"I could give a damn what the Jazz purists say……………a lot of these guys don't know what they're talking about. I mean you don't go to a basketball fan to learn about basketball, do you? No, you go to Michael Jordan or someone who's played the game. My job was to sort of 'spoonfeed' people. Now there are more young people listening to Jazz, thanks to myself and Guru and Others."


Finally, although Hip Hop's Jazz roots are well documented, there currently seems to a type of reversal of roles between certain Jazz and Hip Hop artists, with a new generation of "New School" Jazz Musicians, like J. Spencer, who were brought up listening to NWA Ice Cube & Public Enemy. Even though many say that Jazz artists are not supposed to like Hip Hop, these Musicians not only prefer Rap, there music is heavily influenced by it too. So I suppose we might have to eventually start calling their style of music "Urban or Gangsta Jazz".


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