Hip-hop and Jazz have enjoyed a long-standing relationship since the inception of hip-hop in the late 1970s. With both genres rooted in Black culture and tradition, the marriage of Jazz and Hip-Hop has given birth to a unique sound that has captivated music lovers worldwide.
In the early years of hip-hop, artists often turned to Jazz records as a source of inspiration and a treasure trove of samples. The warm, organic tones of these classic instrumentals provided a perfect backdrop for rappers to showcase their dope punchlines and creative storytelling.
From the pioneering sampling techniques of Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest to the live instrumentation of Guru’s Jazzmatazz series and the innovative production of J Dilla and Madlib, Jazz has played an integral role in shaping the sound and identity of Hip-Hop. As hip hop continues to evolve and grow, the role of Jazz within the genre remains significant. Artists like Makaya McMcraven, Flying Lotus and knxwledge (Knowledge) have all paid homage to the genre, incorporating its signature elements into their work and building upon the foundation laid by the pioneers who came before them.
Here are my top 5 Jazz Artist:
5: Guru (GangStarr)
Riding high off his success with Gang Starr, Guru didn’t skip a beat when he embarked on his solo career in between the duo’s third and fourth albums. The Boston-born rapper’s Jazzmatazz project was a game-changer, combining live jazz instrumentation with hip hop like never before. Collaborating with Jazz titans like Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis, and Roy Ayers.
The Jazz Rap Visionary Who Redefined Beatmaking
James Dewitt Yancey, known as J Dilla or Jay Dee, stands as a giant in Jazz Rap and instrumental Hip-Hop. Born in Detroit, Dilla’s soulful, Jazz-infused production style influenced countless artists across genres, making him one of the most revered beatmakers of all time. As a member of Slum Village and a frequent collaborator with A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla showcased his gift for crafting beats that resonated with both fans and fellow musicians. His work helped shape the sound of jazz rap in the late ’90s and early 2000s, earning him a well-deserved spot among the greats
3. Digable Planets
This Grammy-winning trio, comprised of Butterfly (Ishmael “Ish” Butler), Ladybug Mecca (Mary Ann Vieira), and Doodlebug (Craig “Doodle” Irving), first burst onto the scene in 1993 with their groundbreaking debut album Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). Fusing elements of Jazz, Hip-Hop, and Afrofuturism, Digable Planets crafted a sonic universe that resonated with rap aficionados and music lovers alike. The innovative soundscape of Reachin’ was a breath of fresh air in the hip hop community. Digable Planets sampled jazz legends like Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, and Curtis Mayfield, creating a warm, laid-back atmosphere that provided the perfect backdrop for their smooth, intelligent lyrics. The trio tackled issues such as politics, race, and environmentalism with a deft touch, never shying away from pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms. Their smash hit single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” catapulted them into the spotlight, earning them a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1994, with the track’s infectious groove and intricate wordplay capturing the very essence of Digable Planets’ eclectic approach to Jazz rap.
Madlib has long been an influential figure in the jazz rap and underground Hip Hop scenes. As a producer, rapper, and DJ, Madlib’s innovative and eclectic approach to sampling and beat-making has earned him a reputation as one of the most creative and boundary-pushing artists in the game. A true musical chameleon, Madlib has never been afraid to experiment with different genres and styles, but it’s his love for Jazz that has consistently shone through in his work. Whether he’s flipping a rare Jazz record into a head-nodding beat or playing instruments live in the studio, Madlib’s deep appreciation for the genre is evident in every note.
1. A Tribe Called Quest
When it comes to jazz rap, A Tribe Called Quest reigns supreme as the trailblazers who set the stage for the genre. Comprised of the dynamic trio Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, as well as spiritual member Jarobi White, Tribe masterfully blended jazz samples, heavy drum patterns infectious bass lines, creating a whole new vibe in Hip-Hop. While their debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was a revelation in the Jazz-Rap world with rich samples from artists like Lonnie Smith and Grover Washington Jr. forming the bulk of the album, it was on The Low End Theory that they really turned up the notch. One only needs to listen to the heavy thumps and mellow vibes of “Jazz (We’ve Got)” to understand the impact Tribe had on the jazz rap scene.