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Wednesday Wisdom: Appreciating Jazz and its Influence on Hip Hop

Jeannie Jones is an award-winning journalist, media personality, actress, producer, director and brand architect. Jeannie’s Los Angeles-based multimedia firm, Ready Set Impact, specializes in music, film, and radio production; publishing; social media marketing, branding, and casting.

For Jazz Appreciation Month, Jeannie shares a brief history lesson on the ways modern hip hop music has evolved from the early days of jazz — and the common threads both genres share to this day.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and it’s often a discussion between musicians about how much jazz has influenced hip hop, and the ways hip hop has evolved from jazz.

Jazz and hip hop are two of America’s native art forms. Both have had immeasurable impact on the cultural fabric of America, and our ability to tell the stories of the oppressed. Both genres were born to express the dissatisfaction with social conditions that plagued Black people in the inner cities – and, once music had been pulled out of schools, the instruments eventually became turntables and microphones.

Hip hop’s connection to jazz has always persisted. Both genres are known for their improvisational practices. The cutting contests of jazz led to the emcee battles of hip hop. Gill Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and James Brown’s stream of consciousness lyricism bridged the gap between the two genres. Early producers were known to rap over jazz samples, influencing records from hip hop pioneers including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Digable Planets. Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind,” part of the iconic album Illmatic (produced by Pete Rock), featured stacked samples from jazz legends, including Ahmad Jamal and Donald Byrd.

The connection between jazz and hip hop continues in the 21st Century. We now live in a world where jazz greats like Terrance Martin are producing records for hip hop hitmakers like Kendrick Lamar, and where jazz and blues musicians like Robert Glasper and Thundercat regularly contribute to hip hop productions.

Through it all, jazz and hip hop have endured not just as musical genres, but as cultures. This is the tie that connects them both – and it always will.



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