Artist “Impression” (Review): “Guru’s Jazzmatazz”
My very first experience with Hip Hop was around my 8th year. At school there was a “Lip Sync Battle” for kids once a year, where kids could get on stage pretending they were their favorite artist.
Two of my buddies wanted to participate and convinced me to join them. The track chosen by these 2 rascals was “Fuck Tha Police” of NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes).
You can imagine that some parents frowned seeing 3 skinny little white boys jumpin’ around on stage while shouting “Fuck Tha Police” along with the track. Too bad no one filmed it, it would have been hilarious to see.
In my teenage years I had a couple of schoolmates that were Hip Hop fans, one of them even wrote rhymes and rapped himself. At that time I didn’t have a very positive impression from Hip Hop … I didn’t like the drum machine generated beats and the “synthetic” sound of the music. Obviously I had been hearing the “wrong kind of Hip Hop”, or perhaps it’s better to say Hip Hop from the wrong coast: the West Coast.
West Coast Hip Hop generally uses lots of synthesizers, drum machines, synth bass-lines, funky keys and sometimes some Wah ‘d guitars). We talk about Hip Hop from Rappers like: 2Pac, Snoop Dog & Dr. Dre …
You can imagine that for someone who loves and listens Jazz and other instrumental music, West Coast Hip Hop “did not impress”. Fortunately my buddy was a real Hip Hop lover and told me that East Coast Hip Hop would be “just the right thing” for me then. And he was right …
East Coast Hip Hop uses lots of Jazz samples and because of that it has more “organic” sounding beats. Some well known East Coast Hip Hop groups / rappers I like are: De La Soul (NY), A Tribe Called Quest (NY), The Roots (Philadelphia), Busta Rhymes (NY), Afrika Bambaataa (NY) … and … *roll the drums* … Guru & DJ Premier a.k.a. Gang Starr (Boston). The East Coast is where Jazz-Hop (also written Jazzhop, Jazz Hip Hop, Jazz-Rap, Jazzrap) was created first. Personally I prefer “Jazz-Hop” over “Jazz-Rap” because this genre is more then just raps over from jazz sampled beats.
My (rapper) buddy was a huge fan of Gang Starr and the Guru has just released that year (1993) a new project called “Jazzmatazz“, timing could not have been better. The album featured major names in Jazz, like: Branford Marsalis, Courtney Pine, Donald Byrd, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ronny Jordan, to name a few. I was directly “sold”. This album became my most listened to cassette tape on my walkman that year on my way to school.
So, what do I like so much about Jazzmatazz?
Well, Guru’s voice, flow and rhymes were Jazzy, uttered with calmness, confidence and self-awareness. Well chosen words, a real message to share. The beats by DJ Premier were “phat”, a great choice and usage of Jazz samples. The featuring Jazz musicians lifted the beats up to another level, “bridging” Jazz and Hip Hop, two of America’s most important cultural forms of expression in the Afro-American community and trendsetting in the world. If you like Hiphop, phat beats and/or Jazz, how can you not like Jazzmatazz?
Besides Jazzmatazz I started listening to Hip Hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest (fav. track: “The Jam“), De La Soul, Common, Smif-N-Wessun (specially loved the track “Bucktown” with a juicy little sax sample), a.o. Even though I did like those Hip Hop groups too, none of them were as Jazzy als Jazzmatazz. So, I started “digging around” for “Jazz-Rap” and “Jazz-Hop” releases at record stores … I got just what I was looking.
Jazzmatazz was not the first ever Jazz-Hop album released, Easy Mo Bee & Miles Davis as well as Ronny Jordan had preceded Jazzmatazz with albums the year before (1992) … but …
… it is important to recognize Guru had by then already started Jazzin’-up Hiphop with Gang Starr (before releasing Jazzmatazz). In 1989 Gang Starr released their debut single “Words I Manifest” (sampling Dizzy Gillespie‘s 1952 “Night in Tunisia”). This is considered the 2nd real Jazz-Hop track ever released. Gang Starr’s debut LP, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (Wild Pitch, 1989), and their track “Jazz Thing” (CBS, 1990) for the soundtrack of “Mo’ Better Blues“, further “popularized” the Jazz-hop (sub)genre.
You might wonder now, if “Words I Manifest” was the 2nd real Jazz-hop track ever released, what was the first then? Well, the year before (1988) the Stetsasonic (NY) released “Talkin’ All That Jazz” (sampling Lonnie Liston Smith‘s track Expansions). That is by most considered the first real Jazz-Hop track ever released.
In my quest to find more Jazz-Hop albums (like Jazzmatazz) I came across: “Doo-Bop” (1992, Miles Davis & Easy Mo Bee), “The Antidote” (1992, Ronny Jordan), “Buckshot Le Fonque” (1994, by saxophonist Branford Marsalis – featuring DJ Premier, a.o.), Urbanator (1994, by saxophonist/violinist Michał Urbaniak – featuring: The Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Kenny Garrett, a.o.) and “SFeQ Plays Nunks Pays” (1995, Dutch group SFeQ).
I already had started composing music with sequencers in 1994 (using Steinberg’s Cubase DAW) and these Jazz-hop projects mentioned above became my main source of inspiration to start producing my own beats and starting my own Jazz-hop project in 1998 called “High Selected Squad” – renamed to DJazz .OrgOnite after my emigration to Bulgaria (in 2000) – and later with Nu-Jazz project JazzProfilactika as well.
But that all started for me with Guru’s Jazzmatazz … a major influence in my life as composer / producer.
I will end this article now with some of my favorite tracks of Jazzmatazz and Gang Starr to circle back to what this article was about in the first place.