Nothing more influential than rap music
I merge jazz fusion with the trap music
I mix black soul with some rock and roll
They never box me in.
—KENDRICK LAMAR, BLACK FRIDAY
These lines, taken from a freestyle that Compton artist KENDRICK LAMAR released in late November 2015, land between a riff about what the WHITE HOUSE would be like if KANYE WEST took over and a slick comparison of Lamar’s DNA to the psychedelic drug DMT!!!
As usual, the rapper delivers a blast of quotable lyrics across the track, but it’s the above salvo that sharply sums up Lamar’s TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY—the 2015 album that garnered him a historic 11 Grammy nominations—and the small, tight-knit cast of L.A. jazz musicians who helped create it.
Saxophonist KAMASI WASHINGTON, Producer/Saxophonist TERRACE MARTIN and bassist STEPHEN THUNDERCAT BRUNER are all second-generation musicians, now in their early to mid-30s, who grew up together in SOUTH LOS ANGELES (The L.A. City Council formally changed the name from “South-Central” in 2003 in an effort to downplay the area’s longtime association with gang violence, riots and poverty.).
Double-digit murder rates and gangsta-rap videos don’t tell the full story of the L.A. into which these artists were born.
Theirs was also a world of multi-school jazz bands and such venues as the WORLD STAGE PERFORMANCE GALLERY, a pocket-size arts space in the Leimert Park neighborhood that has hosted Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Jackie McLean and Art Blakey.
Founded in 1989 by Drummer BILLY HIGGINS and Poet/Community Activist KAMAU DAAOOD, the Stage provided a place for jazz musicians to learn from—and spar with—the greats.
TERRACE MARTIN met KENDRICK LAMAR when the rapper was still in high school. Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, which would become Lamar’s label, had a small home studio in Carson, where he let Martin make beats. Lamar, Top Dawg producer Sounwave and rapper Jay Rock were also around, tending to their nascent careers.
“We did a song together to get a deal at Warner Bros. - 'I’ma Tell My Mama on You,’ with Kendrick on the hook.
They’re gonna hate me if anyone ever hears that song.” Martin and Lamar have been tight ever since.
JAZZ and HIP HOP are arguably America’s first and last true art forms, and have enjoyed a rich if complicated relationship since the early 1970s.
Before old jazz records became a go-to resource for hip-hop producers, the biggest rap records of the 1980s were largely derived from contemporary pop. But with Run-DMC’s early use of James’s songs and Eric B. & Rakim reintroducing James Brown’s funk on their debut album, hip-hop opened up a new lane for recordings that had mostly gone unnoticed by young people in the 1980s. Some established artists balked at the sample use, and rappers retorted—most notably the first hip-hop band, Stetsasonic, with its 1988 single “Talkin All That Jazz.”
Eventually rappers and producers worked directly with traditional jazz musicians.
Legendary saxophonist (and notorious rap critic) Branford Marsalis tapped DJ Premier to co-produce his crossover album Buckshot LeFonque. Premier also contributed heavily to his late partner Guru’s Jazzmatazzseries. Miles Davis’s posthumous album Doo-Bop, a collaboration with Easy Mo Bee, was the visionary trumpeter’s own version of hip-hop.
Since its inception, rap has gone from subculture to corporate juggernaut to some odd hybrid of the two, all while spawning countless mutations. Its relationship with jazz has withstood each era, less popular but just as potent, thanks to standout music from Madlib, the Roots, J Dilla and the Beatniks.
But it took COMPTON Rapper KENDRICK LAMAR and that small brotherhood of L.A. jazz players to bring it back to the forefront.
PLAY'BOY Journalist BRANDEN PETERS brings forth the words and Photographer OLIVIA JAFFE presents the images give us the full story on HOW JAZZ SAVED HIP HOP AGAIN.-CCG