Everyone knew that it was inevitable. Jazz and hip hop, both offsprings of a long African-American musical culture, will eventually collide in the form of hip hop. While the first hip hop albums were expressing discontent on the increasing elitist intellectualism of popular Black music (jazz, soul, blues, and rock), especially since they were dominated by whites, many hip hop and jazz artists eventually decided to get back to their roots. Here are a few landmark albums to check out.
5. The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest, 1991
Gangsta rap reigned supreme throughout the majority of the nineties, but hip hop is a multi-dimensional genre. A Tribe Called Quest predated most of the earliest jazz-hip hop collisions by chugging out The Low End Theory. Harmoniously bridging traditions with high brow rapping and almost noir-like jazz sampling, the record exuded the minimalist charm we hear with the likes of J Dilla. Producer Q-Tip engineered most of the album’s musical texture, even hiring upright bassist Ron Carter to provide the raw, jazzy bass sound evident throughout the album. “Verses from the Abstract” is a strange convulution of sound, perhaps anticipating Q-Tip’s masterwork in Nas’s “One Love” from Illmatic. “Jazz” is a nostalgic tribute to the group’s affinity to the old jazz cats, while “Scenario” samples perhaps the most iconic jazz tune, Miles Davis’ “So What,” a hip hop treat which seems to invite hip hop followers to get back to the classics. All in all, The Low End Theory did the inevitable and created one of the most historic jazz hip hop abums.
4. Doo-Bop by Miles Davis and Easy Mo Bee, 1992
Miles Davis is the leading jazz innovationist of his generation, jumping around genres from bebop, cool jazz, fusion, and eventually to hip-hop. Doo-Bop is his last album. On the other hand, Easy Mo Bee is starting as a DJ and and emcee.
Doo-Bop is somewhat glossed with Miles’ lackluster, if not aging, prowess with the trumpet. He gave a few interesting lines which were spliced and spinned by Easy Mo Bee after Miles died in the middle of the production. Easy Mo Bee mixed a few interesting beats, like “Mystery,” “Fantasy,” “The Doo Bop Song;” however, all lack the nasty sound he acquired in his later years with Biggie Smalls. The album is still reeling from the 1980s hip hop revolution, every now and then sounding cheesy with 80s synths and funky drums. To cap off the cake, Easy Mo Bee’s horrendous rapping is littered with less than flattering braggadocio that will make any listener think that the lyrics was done by a six year old, sputtering lines like Miles Davis style is different/ You cant describe it as pacific/ He rip, rage and roar/ No time for watchin Andy Griffith.
Despite its glaring imperfections, Doo Bop was monumental on its own right by giving more respect to hip hop as a whole from the traditional music listeners who loved Miles Davis’ music. It elevated hip hop from a mere mish-mash of sound into a legitimate musical tradition.
3. Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 by Guru, 1993
Guru’s affliation with Gang Starr and DJ Premiere seems to overshadow his extensive collaborations with numerous jazz artists. Together with Lonnie Liston Smith, Branford Marsalis, Ronny Jordan, Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers, he created Jazzmataz, Vol. 1, a hip hop experiment featuring a live jazz set. The album is a musical treat to both jazz and hip hop enthusiasts. Every now and then we are given extensive saxophone solos, like in “Transit Ride” and “Down the Backstreets.” “Trust Me” and “Sights in the City” highlight the poignant and haunting soundscape of the production. “Le Bien, Le Mal” is a great penultimate track featuring Guru and French rapper Mc Solaar in a hip hop duet in two languages, English and French, both pleasing to the ears even without actually understanding what they are saying. Jazzmatazz was followed with Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 which continued the concept. Both albums will appeal to traditional jazz and easy hip hop listeners.
2. Things Fall Apart, The Roots, 1999
The Roots started as an alternative hip hop group of sorts, resisting hip hop cliches both musically and lyrically and also making extensive use of live instrumentation. However, their landmark album Things Fall Apart put the group into the limelight. Instead of intensive sampling from 80s pop records and classic jazz tunes, Things Fall Apart featured hip hop arrangements with jazz elements in live band format. Driving the musical texture are the critical lyrics which analyzes a wide array of issues from the state of Black American music, 90s hip hop, politics and gender.
1. Black Radio by The Robert Glasper Experiment, 2012
Perhaps the most ambitious collaborative attempt of the last 5 years, Black Radio is a stunning summation of what Black musical culture has achieved so far and what it may achieve in the future. Under the genius direction of Robert Glasper, the album features a collective extravaganza featuring the hottest innovators of the last 10 years, drafting the likes of Erykah Baduh, Mos Def, Lalah Hathaway, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Ledisi, Chris “Daddy” Dave, Musiq Soulchild, Yasiin Bey, and a vast cast of others. Combining elements of jazz, soul, RnB, hip-hop and rock, Black Radio transcends genres yet remains musically appealing and radio friendly.
“Always Shine” features Lupe Fiasco and Bilal in a hip hop duet. Bilal’s piercing yet poignant voice jives in almost spiritual terms with Fiasco’s ragged, spoken word-like rapping, dealing with topics like Marxist dialectics, racial politics, and commentaries on the misogynistic and violent hip hop scene. The title song “Black Radio” startles listeners with Mos Def’s whispering rap flow and the Yasiin Bey’s chanting, obviously a tribute to their African roots. Bookending the album is a vocoder-drenched interpretation of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” twisted and expanded to orgasmic levels. To any one who wanted to get a taste of jazz, hip hop and all the other affliated genres, and wanted a glimpse of the musical horizon yet to be reached, Black Radio is the perfect album for you.
Did we miss anything? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think about our most important jazz & hip hop collaborations.