The Symbiotic Relationship Between Jazz and Hip Hop
Updated: Sep 4, 2020
By Luke Harbur
Take a trip to the American Jazz Museum and you’ll understand why jazz’s songbook history is complex. On one hand, the genre created standards like Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket A-Tasket” and Louis Armstrong’s “Mack the Knife.” But, jazz also produced Abbey Lincoln’s “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace,” a raw expression of racial inequality. Across America today, racial protests echo similar hardships found in Lincoln’s composition. Jazz alongside another genre, hip hop, have become center stage as forms of peaceful demonstration.
To explore the interconnection of jazz and hip hop, we sat down with members from Brass and Boujee, a Kansas City music group combining big band and rap music. Bandleader Marcus Lewis started Brass and Boujee from a conversation in The Blue Room, the AJM’s jazz club. Lewis said part of the reason why the project works is because jazz and hip hop complement each other.
“Both of these genres come out of people who are oppressed, and ironically set the trends for American culture,” he said.
“They both are very improvisational in nature, and usually are to ease the pain in life or to be protest music. They are two of America’s native art forms that share a rhythmic sophistication and a healthy, competitive nature. They are about, and highlight, the personalities of the soloists. I see parallels to the culture of jazz in the 1930s to what is going on now in the world of hip hop. Hip hop is pop music now, just as jazz was in its heyday.”
When asked how Brass and Boujee gives voice to each genre, Lewis said the project aims to put both genres on the same playing field.
“The hip hop is hip hop and the jazz is jazz. I think the most important thing is rhythm and understanding the similarities of the styles. I want to do music that brings people together, and jazz and hip hop do that. On the “Brass and Boujee” project, neither one of them are watered down. You got beats, melody, harmony, lyricism, killer solos, vibe, feel good music, protest music, freedom and socially/politically conscious music. I just want to make sure I upheld the integrity of the song and come from a place of honesty.”
Nerdcore rapper Kadesh Flow moved to Kansas City in 2013, immersing himself as an emcee in many genres found in the city’s music scene. Alongside dapper rap musician Kemet, each delivers the lyrics for Lewis’ big band compositions.
Kadesh shared similar sentiments with Lewis, citing how hip hop is a product of jazz music.
“Hip hop is a child of jazz, in a way,” he said. “Early producers were cutting jazz samples and rapping over them. Now, it has come full circle, with jazz greats like Terrace Martin producing records for hip hop greats like Kendrick Lamar, and with Robert Glasper, Thundercat, and others contributing sounds. There’s a degree to which I’d argue that aspects of both are one and the same. They both are also cultures vs. just being music genres.”
Most younger music listeners did not grow up listening to jazz music in their households like older generations. To get introduced to classic jazz, Kadesh thinks nu jazz, the precedent to lo-fi hip hop, is one solution.
“I think lo-fi hip hop is a phenomenal gateway into jazz for the modern, millennial or Gen Z listener,” he said. All it takes is a dive into where a Nujabes cut might have come from, and BOOM, you’re diving into jazz records.”
To listen to how these genres fuse together, we created a new music playlist called “Jazz & Hip Hop” on Spotify! Visit americanjazzmuseum.org/ajmathome to find out more.
The American Jazz Museum is open with increased health and safety precautions. To learn about our new policies and procedures, visit americanjazzmuseum.org/reopening.