Jazz is such an important part of music history and American culture. The genre may not be at the forefront of the music choices we play on a mass scale, but it’s still important. It also remains relevant, especially in jazz’s derivative genres, like R&B and hip-hop. I mean…one of the biggest albums to come out last year was a hip-hop project with jazz and funk influences.
For the past year, since that particular album came out (which I’m sure you all know as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly), there have been an influx of features on the artists who have worked on the project. One that sparked my interest was a feature in Playboy Magazine titled “How Jazz Saved Hip-Hop Again.” It’s an interesting article on musicians Terrace Martin, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington, some of the major contributors to the sound of TPAB. The article was good, but the title made me feel…weird.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how people view jazz. Some think that jazz is an outdated art form for old people. I may be biased in my opinion about this (you’ll find out why next week), but that’s nowhere near true. If you feel that way about jazz, it’s probably because you’re not listening to a diverse representation of it. Jazz has always been innovative and forward thinking, just like hip-hop. Also, just because we don’t hear a genre of music a lot in pop culture doesn’t mean that it’s no longer there or is irrelevant. It solely means that other musical genres have the attention at that particular time (re: contemporary R&B).
We also have the other side of the conversation where jazz is looked at as an art form that’s “saving” other genres. Even though the Playboy article addresses the artists more than the music genres, I still think that the statement of “jazz saving hip-hop,” especially in the case of Kendrick’s album, is extremely one-sided. Both genres are self sufficient, no matter how we personally feel about their current states, and they both stay relevant because of their connected history. Hip-hop is an offspring of jazz and jazz will always be an important contributor to hip-hop. We can’t deny each genre’s roots or importance to one another. That’s why the use of hip-hop, jazz, and the other genres To Pimp A Butterfly encompasses works for me. We can say that jazz amplified hip-hop in this case, but it would be completely unfair to say that one hip-hop album’s inclusion of jazz is responsible for saving hip-hop.
Jazz is responsible for hip-hop’s existence and hip-hop is a part of the reason why jazz remains relevant.
The Playboy title and subject matter also suggests that only a select few are responsible for and/or leading the movement of saving hip-hop through jazz. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love that Kamasi, Thundercat, Terrace, and more are getting shine for their contributions to jazz and hip-hop from their work with Kendrick. I say that even more for Terrace Martin because he’s worked with so many people over the years and has put out great music as a producer, musician, and rapper without receiving enough shine. However, I feel like singling out the three mentioned in Playboy limits the exposure of other artists that are doing the same thing. I understand why Thundercat, Kamasi, and Terrace are receiving this attention, but I’m sure that they will agree with me when I say that there are plenty of artists other than them that are putting on for jazz and hip-hop.
I want to quickly share a few artists that I could think of that are fusing hip-hop and jazz because they should be included in the conversation when discussing the two genres. Some you may know and others you may not, but it’s a lot of folks doing work and we should continue to put others on, especially since jazz is being exposed more at the moment. Here are five artists you should check out:
I feel like Riggins is an artist that we know and don’t talk about, but we should. Outside of recording with legends like Roy Hargrove and Donald Byrd, the drummer has worked with Slum Village and J Dilla, Common, Kanye West, and more. He was recently on Kaytranada’s new album playing drums on “Bus Ride.” I think that’s all that really needs to be said. Check out his album, Alone Together, if you haven’t. [Website | Twitter]
Coming from a family of musicians, Kenneth Whalum III is no different in delivering talent. Knowing him mostly for his work with Bruno Mars and Maxwell, the saxophonist is not a hip-hop artist, but he’s worked with Jay Z, Ludacris, Big K.R.I.T. and more. You may even recognize his horn arrangements on Jay’s “Roc Boys.” Make sure to check out Kenneth Whalum’s soulful single “Ghost Town.” [Website | Twitter]
I don’t know how Maségo’s music got to my attention, but I heard TrapHouseJazz back in 2014 and went crazy. Yup, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The saxophonist has been building a name for himself and his band (named after the project). After checking out his website, go check out all of his music on SoundCloud (where you’ll find his new Loose Thoughts EP) and his YouTube page for cool behind the scenes and performance videos. He’s a really cool and talented guy. (Oh, be prepared to be put in a permanent summer mood.) [Website | Twitter | YouTube]
I’m not gonna go deep into conversation about him because if you know Chance The Rapper, you’re already familiar with Donnie Trumpet and you know he’s really good. Check out his free album with the Social Experiment, Surf, and Chance’s projects if you aren’t familiar. [Website | Twitter]
When I first heard Asanté, it was at least six years ago. At that point, I knew he was talented, but I didn’t really know. The saxophonist (and flutist, pianist, composer and producer) ties jazz, hip-hop, soul, and African rhythms together in his music. Along with being a music educator, his production group, Soul Science Lab, co-founded with emcee, creative director and educator Chen Lo, holds a visual and musical performance every year around the civil rights movement called Soundtrack ’63. His music has been featured on Black&SexyTV, in series such as RoomieLoverFriends and Sexless. Check out his album The Visitor: Alter Destiny. [Website | Twitter]