As part of 4ever in Electric Dreams' 90s hip-hop month, members of the team will be revisiting some of their favourite albums of the era so reminisce with us as we continue our celebration...
Hip-hop in the 1990s was littered with an extensive array of sub-genres and subsequent pockets that artists, groups and record labels found themselves clumped into. From the bling and commercial sounds to conscious hip-hop, rock rap, grimy underground heroes... there was certainly a lot to choose from which is part of what made hip-hop in that era such a cherished artform with the genre as a whole continually bursting with creative ideas.
The sub-genre that serves as the focal point for this review is the quintessential sounds of "jazz rap". A musical aesthetic spearheaded by revered names including A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets and The Roots, jazz rap sought to use iconic jazz recordings as the foundation of its sound which included music from Dizzy Gillespie, Ronnie Laws and Herbie Hancock. One of the foremost purveyors of this sound were the duo that comprised of rapper Guru and DJ Premier who can actually lay claim to one of the earliest jazz rap releases with Gang Starr's 'Words I Manifest' in 1989.
The launch of the Jazzmatazz series in 1993 didn't just act as Guru's first solo outing but also as a project that sought to evolve the relationship between jazz and hip-hop. By elevating formula beyond the sampling techniques that hip-hop had become accustomed to, Guru's inspired vision - perhaps years ahead of its time - involved inviting jazz musicians into the studio to play live over hip-hop production which is something that seems fairly commonplace in today's genre fluid musical landscape but something that was somewhat revolutionary at the time.
With an album cover that paid tribute to the classic Blue Note Records aesthetic, a jaw-dropping guest list was assembled that included vibraphonist Roy Ayers, guitarist Ronny Jordan, saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Courtney Pine and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith who were paired with vocalists N'Dea Davenport, Dee C Lee and Carleen Anderson. Still very much a hip-hop album, Guru helped to shine a light on the incredible synergy between both jazz and hip-hop that exists to this day with countless collaborations that have helped to make jazz accessible to entirely new audiences and generations. Guru's back-&-forth with trumpeter Donald Byrd on 'Loungin', for example, still serves as one of the greatest jazz-meets-hip-hop unions of all time.
The Jazzmatazz series would go on to spawn four full-length albums in total (aside from the Jazzmatazz mixtape and 'best of' compilation) with the latter releases embracing slightly more mainstream and neo-soul-esque collaborations and production to varying degrees of success. 'Jazzmatazz vol.1' is perhaps a release that doesn't get the attention it deserves but remains a masterpiece to this day.
The 4Ever team...
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