Impact’s Music Essentials: Jazz Rap

Impact's Music Essentials: Jazz Rap

Natalie Howarth

Natalie Howarth picks her ten favourite songs in the jazz rap genre for Impact’s Music Essentials. 

Jazz rap is the fusion of hip-hop and jazz music. Jazz rap takes a variety of elements and features from both genres and modernises them. Artists like Gil Scott-Heron were catalysts for modernising music. His choice of using spoken word over instrumental jazz backing tracks and lyrics often built on a political consciousness and inspired the coalescence of jazz and hip-hop in the late 1980s.

As hip-hop music popularised, jazz artists shifted their sound to fit the public zeitgeist of the time; the most famous example of this overt shift is in the album Doo-Bop released posthumously in 1992 by jazz legend, Miles Davis. The rising popularity of hip-hop led to a rejection of classical jazz, with its known conventions becoming less sustained in its production, with increased sampling and improvisation. This is a ten-song introduction to the genre of jazz rap, along with some other songs that have multi-genre elements that were inspired by jazz movements, including the likes of funk and soul.

MF DOOM – Doomsday

A must-have in this list! Included on his debut album titled ‘Operation: Doomsday’, Daniel Dumile, known as MF DOOM, had an unbelievably vast impact on modern hip-hop, often known and referred to as your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper. I chose this song predominantly for the multi-genre essence combining jazz loops, percussion and samples of elevator music and cartoons: he often sampled from the 1967 Fantastic Four Television Series.

A Tribe Called Quest – Jazz (We’ve Got)

A Tribe Called Quest are considered the peak of this subgenre, enabling the proliferation of jazz rap. It would be unfair to exclude them from this list. I chose this song not only for the aptness of the song title, but for the saxophone sample, piano loops and lyrics that are fused to produce a wholly catchy song.

J Dilla – Won’t Do

Founder of the notorious Slum Village, producer of A Tribe Called A Quest, The Pharcyde, Madlb, Common and many more influential hip hop artists of the 1990s and early 2000s, J Dilla’s music is amongst some of my favourite of all time. He takes an experimental and deliberately imperfect perspective to making music, purposely playing drumbeats patterns off to achieve something known as ‘Drunk Funk’, something modern jazz artists try to replicate today. This song includes his well-loved sounds from his MPC and jazz synth, just like many tracks on this album, ‘The Shining’. His legacy will live on and continue to inspire others!

De La Soul – Me Myself and I

This hip hop trio, popular during the late 1980s, were known for contributing to the progression and prominence of jazz rap. They sample the legendary, pioneering funk group Funkadelic and their track (Not Just) Knee Deep, a psychedelic funk track. De La Soul, however, take this sample and reconstruct it into their fashion rap Me, Myself and I. It is a quintessential 1990s jazz rap song. 

Nujabes – Beat laments the world

Jun Seba, well known as Nujabes, is famous for tracks that amalgamate genres more commonly sampled in western hip-hop production, such as breakbeats and boom-bap drums, with samples of modal jazz. In his album ‘Metaphorical Music’, he combines features of lo-fi, ambient, soul, and jazz rap into his songs. More specific to this song, the sample Make Love 2 by Kip Hanrahan is primarily used and converted to the requisite style of Nujabes’s music.

Your Old Droog – Train Love

Your Old Droog samples Delegation’s Oh Honey, this is a perfect example of jazz rap using a timeless soul song that accompanies the rap. Your Old Droog’s album ‘Transportation’ was released in 2019, within the album, there are so many elements of jazz and instrumentation along with many cultural references to New York. It almost feels like a homage to his city and perhaps to the jazz scene.

Anti Lilly & Phoniks – Blue In Green

This song is a masterpiece in multi-genre jazz rap. It takes inspiration from jazz and lo-fi and the main beat is sampled from an indistinguishable Miles Davis song. It is almost homage-like in the transformative nature of modern music.

King Geedorah – Next Levels

One of MF DOOM’s alter egos, DOOM uses his instrumental Arrow Root from Metal Fingers Presents: Special Herbs Volume 1. This song fuses a commercial-sounding kind of jazz with some intricate rap lyricism, the sound of the saxophone and double bass complement each other.

Rejjee Snow (featuring Aminé and Dana Williams, produced by KAYTRANADA) – Egyptian Luvr

Moving to a more contemporary song categorised as jazz rap, in Egyptian Luvr the juxtaposition of the contemplative and melancholic lyrics and sanguine rhythm is intriguing. The producer of this track KAYTRANADA, takes a dance approach to counter the lyrics, an experimental method to a song about heartbreak and loneliness.

Freddie Gibbs (featuring The Alchemist and Tyler, The Creator) – Something to Rap About

A track that brings some of the most famous names in the modern hip hop and rap scene, produced by The Alchemist, who uses a sample from soul artist David T. Walker’s On Love. He takes a snippet of the chorus and loops it for the entirety of the song. Freddie Gibbs and Tyler, The Creator collaborate on this song, despite their overtly different rapping styles (although they aren’t comparable), and it works to achieve an experimental track on Gibbs’s 2020 album ‘Alfredo’.

Natalie Howarth

Featured image courtesy of Florencia Viadana via UnsplashImage license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article video 1 courtesy of MF DOOM via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 2 courtesy of Real Hip Hop via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 3 courtesy of bbemusic via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 4 courtesy of WeAreDeLaSoul via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 5 courtesy of Nujabes via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 6 courtesy of YOD via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 7 courtesy of Anti-Lilly – Topic via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 8 courtesy of Kza via No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 9 courtesy of REJJIE SNOW via No changes were made to this video.

In article video 10 courtesy of Freddie Gibbs via No changes were made to this video.

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