The marriage between jazz and hip hop hasn’t been nearly as fruitful or long-established as you’d think it woulda; if funk and soul are hip hop’s parents, jazz is kinda like an uncle who drifts into town now and then, sleeps on the couch, bums hip hop’s cigarettes and tells stories about the good old days. Trouble is, we look at him like he’s a played out rummy bum-ass, but back in the day uncs had skills, scared people just as much as hip hop did, and had seriously bad-ass musical chops.
The much-maligned ‘jazz rap’ thing never really made it to a full-fledged genre, I don’t think… Its original history was really only a handful of songs: various scattered cuts by Stetsasonic, Gangstarr, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and other Native Tongues artists. As far as albums, there’s only really Guru’s hugely uneven Jazzmatazz series, the first Digable Planets LP (which actually isn’t as jazz-sample-heavy as we think), and that Buckshot LeFonque record with Premo and Marsalis, which not many people really listened to.
I’d say jazz sampling came about from the desire to make more cooled-out, chilled tracks, delve into jazz’ rich musical crates, and get away from soul and in particular James Brown sampling, which by the early ’90s had pretty much jacked the entire catalogue. Also, those fat basslines, son!
Mighta been, as my homie Mobb Deen pointed out, that the huge rise in sampling costs and lawsuits sprung up at the same time as jazz-rap was making moves. By 1994 (the Silver Age), jazz rap had been consigned to Brooklyn dinner party background music. Jazz samples and the odd jazz track definitely pop up as much as any other genre in hip hop’s paintbox -opera or spaghetti westerns, say- but no artist really makes it their signature sound. From there, you got the odd Dolphy or Mingus remix LP tribute, and the eighty gazillion Japanese DJs instrumental jazz-hop albums, driving in the lane DJ Krush made. But like that Digable Planets album we think Krush is all jazz-hop, but most of it isn’t.
Trouble is, jazz as a sample source, like any other, is a house with many mansions. I mean, that human tooth-whitening strip from Entertainment Tonight made a jazz album. On the other hand you got Eric Dolphy, whose stuff is so batshit I know a professional sax player who won’t fuck with it. But there’s definitely a few things that can ruin jazz-hop for me personally: pathetic flutes, weak females on the hooks, ambient meditation whalesong noises, and weak beats. Also, beatnik sunshine spoken word bullshit rapping.
Mostly the problem is their sampling studies don’t take on the really rough, hard-ass crazy bebop tracks of Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Africa/Brass-era Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, etc. Jazz musicians themselves have either bitterly resented and violently hated hip hop or expressed a pretty mild interest. Even collaborations that you’d think would be stupid fresh, like the El-P/Matthew Shipp High Water, flunked the dope test because of a weak jazz side. And the Easy Mo Bee/dead Miles Davis LP was too… Shiny. Dday One, DJ Krush and Mumbles all have great jazz/rap cuts, but not whole full-length releases which are famous for being the definitive jazz-rap LP.
Maybe there’s no definitive jazz-rap LP because hip hop as a genre has never been about being definitive. Is there a definitive hip hop-anything release? Hip hop’s more about being interpretive, allusive, and using whatever’s at hand.