A similar history
When I talk about the fusion of Jazz and Hip Hop to a non-initiated audience, they look at me with wide eyes and the first question that comes up is usually “How could these two musics mix? Yet, every Hip Hop fan knows that Jazz is one of the movement’s primary sources of inspiration, especially since the beginning of the golden age in 1987.
While gangsta rap has tended to tarnish the image of this music toward a self-righteous public for its violent and misogynistic character, jazz-rap comes back as one of my first arguments to show that rap is a music that has a lot to offer in its diversity.
The fusion of jazz and rap had its glory days in the 90’s before declining at the end of the decade, although some artists continue to keep the sub-genre alive beyond that time. Many parallels exist between these two musics if we go back slightly to the origins of each of them before they met.
Other than they are both African-American music, their respective origins are similar. Before becoming more intellectualized and a means of expression, these two musics were born from underprivileged backgrounds as party music, respectively in New Orleans for Jazz and in New York for Rap. We tend to forget the origins of rap, but we must not forget that Hip Hop was born in the mid 70’s from a fission between disco and what will become Hip Hop, the MC and the DJ having for only goal to animate the assembly in the clubs. Jazz had the same intentions when it was created in the 20’s, it was one of the most played music in the clubs during the prohibition in the United States.
If their origins are similar, so are their histories. As previously mentioned, both musics will become a way to express themselves, if Jazz expresses itself through music, rap expresses itself through rimes. Both musics can be seen as a music of freedom, a way to emancipate oneself and a way to rise. We find two fundamental elements of this freedom, improvisation has always been an essential element of Jazz, while rap has always advocated freestyle.
These two musics evolved in time and mixed with other genres, sometimes under the thunderbolts of the nostalgic purists of the “great time”. However, it is the very nature of a music to evolve in order to last and adapt to its time. During its evolution, Jazz will integrate throughout its history elements of other musics by way of Funk, Rock and many others. Hip Hop has followed a similar evolution integrating elements of Rock, Pop, Funk, Electro throughout its history.
Let’s get back to some more concrete notions about this fusion. If rap borrows a lot from jazz, jazz, to a lesser extent, also borrowed from rap during the latter’s glory period. Artists like Miles Davis or Ronny Jordan will integrate rapped verses in their songs in the early 90s. However, it is indeed rap that was strongly inspired by jazz with the sample technique, but also live instruments for some groups.
If we go back in time, the first traces of Jazz-rap can be found in the 70s with artists like The Last Poets or Gill Scoot-Heron. Although they are considered as direct influences of the sub-genre, they are not the main protagonists of its emergence.