BLACK MUSIC MONTH: "We Got The Jazz" – The Top 5 Artists To Mash-Up Rap With Abstract


It’s “Black Music Month!” And while it may not sound okay to some folks to call music ‘Black’ or ‘White’ or ‘in-between,’ there are definitely historical and cultural roots to today’s beloved music genres. Black Music Month is a time to celebrate the music of a people born out of struggle and raised into triumph. It emerged from the swamps and plantations of the South, the steel mills and railroads of the North, and everywhere Black people have been in this country. Most Black Music is derived from the rhythms of Africa, and in America, it mashed with other sounds to create the rhythmic pulses of most modern, Pop music. We first ponder Jazz. defines Jazz as “music originating in New Orleans around the beginning of the 20th century and subsequently developing through various increasingly complex styles, generally marked by intricate, propulsive rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, improvisatory, virtuosic solos, melodic freedom, and a harmonic idiom ranging from simple diatonicism through chromaticism to atonality.” In other words, Jazz does what the heck it wants to do. The very definition of Jazz is complex, and arguably, its rebellious lack of adherence to any standards or “rules” of music make it a fond bedfellow for the renegade genre known as Rap. In fact, in the late ’80s and ’90s, the mash-up was so prevalent that a sub-genre called “Jazz Rap” emerged. Producers knew early on that the fodder from Jazz sampling was endless, and its cast of catalog characters reads like a encyclopedia of goodness – from Roach to Monk to Coltrane to Davis to Ellington to Armstrong, and countless more. Simply put, Rap wouldn’t be the same – or might not exist at all – if there were no Jazz. And, two generations of music lovers may not have grown an affection for the oddly brilliant Jazz. In honor of their monumental mixture and because we love Black Music Month, offers its “Top 5 Artists (or Groups) To Mash-Up Rap With Abstract”: 1. GIL SCOTT-HERON (The Father of Rap) Heron was a jazz poet, musician, and author who gained notoriety, particularly in the ’70s and ’80s, for his social and political statements, including the famous “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The late Heron personified “cool” – from his signature Afro to his offbeat clothing and sensibilities, he was both Jazz and Hip-Hop. Over Jazz, he wove rebel rhyme tales in time. Before there was Rap, there was Gil.
2. GURU (Gangstarr) There are artists who sampled Jazz and made great music, and then there is Guru. The late Gangstarr general took Jazz Rap to a whole new level – even composing volumes of the mash-up via his acclaimed artist collaboration album series, Jazzmatazz. which debuted in 1993. Along with DJ Premier and others, Guru perfected the art of borrowing from the greats while creating his own signature style. His production and rhymes were sought after, as was the case when Spike Lee called on him for “Jazz Thing” from the 1990 Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack.
3. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST They were Jazz right from the Q-Tip-driven start, but it was their 1991 The Low End Theory album that made them the Kings of so-called Jazz Rap. The New York group, with members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed, and sometimes Jarobi, dabbled in the rare, vinyl Jazz collections of the Big Apple’s record stores and scored big with by mashing fun, lighthearted, braggy lyrics over serious bass-lines that even your parents and grandparents could appreciate. Last year’s award-winning documentary, Beats, Rhymes, and Life, directed by Michael Rapaport, captures the story of the unique sound that took hold of the Rap industry in the late ’80s and still holds us captive today. Tribe got the Jazz – literally.
4. DE LA SOUL (and like the entire Native Tongue Movement)
The entire Native Tongue movement (including Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Blacksheep, and even Leaders of the New School with a young Busta Rhymes and Brand Nubian) was about something. Especially feel good messages over jazzy and funky grooves, in the spirit of their Zulu Nation ancestors. Of the collective – outside of Tribe – none may have used Jazz more to their advantage than De La Soul. With psychedelic visuals and metaphors about “Potholes”, the mash-up of De La’s Plug 1, Plug 2, and DJ Maseo over horn-heavy, danceable tracks was beautiful music to our ears. The trio lives on 25 years later and is still recording – these days playing the First Serve angle, but sounding as groovy as ever.
5. DIGABLE PLANETS Sometimes, good things come seemingly out of nowhere. By the early ’90s, the Jazz Rap era was in full swing, and ears everywhere were appreciating abstract music they may not have otherwise heard. Artists such as Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, and Sonny Rollins were all up in the mix of Hip-Hop. Then, in 1993, “slick” was reborn. If you were old enough to know and love Rap during that year, there was no escaping the infectious bass of “Rebirth of Slick” i.e. “Cool Like Dat”. Either you hated yourself or you couldn’t hear, because that song catapulted a little two guys-and-a-girl thing called Digable Planets (comprised of the insect-inspired Doodlebug, Ladybug Mecca, and Butterfly) into the stratosphere. Digable Planets’ Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) album also helped signify that Rap had reached full adolescence by the early ’90s, spawning an era of creativity and boldness in Rap that may never be duplicated again.
*** BONUS: NAS (with Jazz musician father, Olu Dara)  His name might not pop up high on many Jazz Rap lists, but certainly Nasir Jones knows a thing or two about this topic. The influence of his father, world-renowned Jazz musician Olu Dara, helped lead Nas toward the music industry that has held him down for two decades. The father-son collaboration, “Bridging The Gap”, was a touching, Bluesy tribute to the mash-up of Jazz, Rap, and family heritage. And, it both knocked and swagged slow like molasses, with Daddy showing us exactly where Nas gets his deep-rooted musicianship from.