Today, many people believe that that the music on the radio is blaring garbage. It is hard to deny this claim as the majority of lyrics that we hear in the Hip-Hop and Pop genres are repetitive and all tied to drugs, sex, and alcohol. However, due to the overwhelming amount of similarities and contributions from Jazz and Blues to Pop and Hip-Hop, it is agreeable that Jazz and Blues greatly influenced modern day Hip-Hop and Pop .
The music we hear today is tied directly to Jazz and Blues, in fact, Jazz and Blues influenced modern day Hip-Hop and Pop. Although it is not noticeable, the majority of Hip-Hop and pop stem from Blues and Jazz. The similarities are evident in the often ‘matter of fact’ type lyrics in both Blues and Hip-Hop, the similarities are also evident in freestyle rap, where the style parallels that of improvised solos in Jazz. It is also notable that many modern Pop and Hip-Hop artists frequently sample the music of their Jazz and Blues counterparts and that many of the first ‘Hip-Hop’ were actually that of famous Jazz artists who were experimenting. This shows us a direct indication of the evolution and eventual influence of Jazz to modern Hip-Hop and Pop.
The most obvious and evident way that we can see Jazz’s influence on Hip-Hop is in samples. Many current artists sample tracks from older Jazz songs. This shows a direct influence on current music. Artists realize the jazz roots that are in their music and many of them choose to embrace these rather than attempt to cover them up. Although many of the influences of Jazz are seen on the faces of the songs, such as in their riffs or structures, a sample directly realizes the influence and presents it to the listener without hiding it. One of the many songs that prove this to be true is Kanye West and Jay Z’s “New Day” which samples Feeling Good by Nina Simone. The subtle inclusion of her vocals brings the song into a completely different light, and for those that look for it are given an obvious introduction to the Jazz influence in the music.
Kanye west is notorious for sampling Jazz music, and as one of our generation’s most influential and popular artists, it is important to look into this. Another example of West’s sampling in his hit song, “Jesus Walks.” He heavily samples Lou Donaldson’s “Ode to Billy Joe.” Although we can see the influence of Jazz on West in many other occasions, we’ll come back to him later. We can also see samples in songs by pop artists. An example of this would be in Madonna’s song, “Sanctuary,” in which she samples the beat of “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock. In conclusion, samples are one of the most evident and upfront ways that we can see the influence of Jazz in modern Hip-Hop and pop.
One aspect of music that both Hip-Hop and Jazz share is the art of freestyling. Freestyling is the rapid form of creating music in a spontaneous manner. The music that is made is improvised with or without a beat. Freestyle Jazz or Free Jazz originated after man artists wanted to break free from the fixed tempos and restrictions of certain genres. Many wanted to return Jazz to its more primitive style. This would mean forgetting about the confining characteristics of these genres and making impromptu music on the spot. Many musicians would take their crack at this new, expressive form of music and many songs and albums would come out. Some notable albums and artists would include John Coltrane and his albums, Meditations and Interstellar Space, and Ornette Coleman, and his album, The Shape of Jazz to Come.
Coltrane would spearhead the Free Jazz movement and re-establish his already well-known name through it. This style would re-emerge after the establishment of Hip- Hop. Freestyle rap would become a very common and high profile endeavor. The genre would cover everything from freestyle rap battles to cyphers, a form of freestyle rap without the competition aspect; mimicking that of large ensembles of jazz musicians free-versing their sporadic sound. There would be little difference between the freestyles of jazz performers and rappers. Both would improvise their own sounds and rhythm. Also, beats would be optional in both forms of freestyling. Originally MCs in clubs would freestyle rap against each other in order to cause a scene or pump up the crowd. Although the reasoning for the freestyle was different behind Jazz and Rap, the similarities between the two are uncanny. The influence of Jazz is into this subgenre of Hip-Hop is extremely apparent.
One of the first “Hip-Hop” songs, titled “Rocket,” was in fact not Hip-Hop at all. Rather, it was a mixture of Herbie Hancock’s exploration of an electronic sound and Jazz. The original Hip-Hop songs came from early Hip-Hop artists sampling the likes of Jazz and Jazz subgenre songs. Artist such as DJ Jazzy Jay and Afrika Bambaataa, two of the pioneers of the genre spearheaded the movement by incorporating Jazz sounds into his new category of music. They would base their new form of music off of Jazz Funk, using heavy drum beats and hard-hitting, energetic sound to create the original structure of Hip-Hop. This would be the layout of the Genre for the rest of its entirely. Conclusively, Jazz outlined the basis of Hip-Hop. Not only would it influence the genre, it would be the form for it. Both genres would be adaptable to change and stem from the same roots, along with numerous other similarities which we will cover later.
In order for us to see the influences of Jazz in Hip-Hop in a broader spectrum, we must first analyze the role it has played in the music of modern artists. Many artists have been incorporating Jazz into their music for decades. However, many artists were brought up through Jazz, which would make them incorporate much of the Jazz style directly into their music. An example of this would be the music of rapper, Ghostface Killah.
He had always infused his hard hitting sound with a smooth jazzy beat, however, in his project with Badbadnotgood, rather than adding jazz beats over his recorded lyrics Killah decided to just rap over a live jazz band. There are many more instances of Jazz being put in directly to music by artists who were influenced by it. At this point, the Jazz was less of an influence and more of an outright establishment in the music. Other notable artists who infuse Jazz into their Hip-Hop or Pop styles would include Saba, Chance the Rapper, Big K.R.I.T. and TUT.
An artist who allows us to easily see the influence of Jazz in Hip-Hop and Rap is Kanye West. We analyze his music and clearly see how Jazz formed and shifted the modern genre that is so popular today. If we analyze songs such as “Good Morning,” we can hear the steady beat and bass sounds in the back that are also clearly evident in Jazz songs. If we analyze “Flashing Lights,” we can also hear the steady Boom Clap! Which we feel as we listen through many of Louis Armstrong’s songs, such as “What a Wonderful World.” In “Gold Digger,” West samples Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.” Kanye West is a master of incorporating his influences into his music. If we can see the clear presence in one of today’s most mainstream and iconic artists, it is not far-fetched to conclude that Jazz has influenced today’s Hip-Hop music.
We can also easily see the influence of Jazz on Rap sensation Kendrick Lamar. Lamar’s Album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The album, which was widely regarded as one of the best rap-jazz fusion albums of the decade felt the impact of Jazz immensely. In the album, Lamar would sample many Jazz songs as well as incorporate jazz beats and sounds into the album. In fact, Lamar would appoint jazz pianist, Robert Glasper, to play in many of the songs throughout the album. Lamar would go as far as rapping over a lengthy trumpet solo in “U,” to further tie together his Jazz and Rap styles.
Lamar was one of the best examples of Jazz influencing modern music because he exemplified both genre’s so well. He fused the two genres together so well that you could clearly see the influences of Jazz in his music without even looking for it. Another song that this can be seen in include “These Walls” in which the Funk and Jazz aspects of the song scream to be seen. In “Institutionalized” we can hear the steady drum beat that is also apparent in many songs by Herbie Hancock. Since Jazz’s influence is so evident in the music of one of Rap’s most lyrical and inspirational artists, we can assume its influence spreads to others as well.
In the discussion of the influences of Jazz on modern Hip-Hop and Pop, it would be important to analyze the most upfront and obvious fusion album of Jazz and Hip-Hop in recent history, Surf. Surf was a collaborative album involving a number of big name rappers and performers in the Hip-Hop industry, such as Chance the Rapper, Big Sean, J. Cole, Kyle, and Jeremih; along with Donnie Trumpet, an extremely popular Jazz trumpeter. The album would fuse the different genres in an appreciable way. Rather than adding hints of Jazz into a mostly Rap or Pop album, the artists created a fusion album where the Jazz would encompass the other genres. This is a true testament to the substantial influence of Jazz on modern Hip-Hop and Pop.
Jazz and Hip-Hop share a fundamental aspect, lyricism. Although Jazz songs and Rap don’t share the same lyrics verbatim, they do carry the same style. Both Genres originally carried hard hitting verses about the struggles of everyday life. Both Genres use lyrics that are a matter of fact. Both genres also use narrative based lyrics in their music, presenting a story as the song progresses. For example, in Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” Jordan goes through the events of what happened on a lively Saturday night.
He goes through the different stages of the night until the police shut down the party. Other groups, such as the legendary group of rappers, NWA would rap about a usual, crazy day in Compton. Now in modern Rap, artists go through the issues and stories of their lives. For example, in Migos’ song, “Highway 85” the group goes through the story of an insanely hectic day. Another example would be in the song “Roses” by Kanye West. West created the song based off of the troubling time he faced during his Grandmother’s last days on Earth. Through his lyrics, he opens up about the feelings and emotions going through his family’s mind as the situation unfolded. Although the issues that are in the lyrics may not be the same, the fact that they are there for the same reason clearly shows how much one genre benefits from the other.
During the civil rights movement, Jazz was an enormous factor. Similarly, we can see modern Hip-Hop and Pop tackle today’s issues, such as religious reforms, sexuality, and racism. Many popular artists would create music in order to state their issues with the segregation and anti-black states of mind. Artists such as Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday sewed in anti-segregation lyrics into their songs. For example, In “Black and Blue” by Louis Armstrong, the lyrics “My only sin is in my skin what did I do to be so black and blue” show the qualms that the black population faced for being a certain complexion. The Jazz artist would use their lyricism and their actions, such as refusing to perform at segregated performances and attending rallies, to fight against segregation and racism. Eventually, this would be translated into modern Hip-Hop and Pop as well. A great is the music and actions of NWA. NWA sparked a rapid movement of protest and anti-discrimination that would be felt throughout the world. Their lyrics would often be in regards to the police brutality and segregation that was occurring at the time.
Songs such as “Fuck the Police” were created in response to events such as the Rodney King cases. The inspiration behind this also came from real life experiences. Most members of the group faced police brutality first hand at some point in their lives. NWA, like many Jazz musicians, also participated in protests outside of their music. Peaceful protests, that would often turn violent were common, all in the name of fighting for their equality. Artists in this decade still use their music in order to spark movements. For example, in Kanye West’s album, “Yeezus,” he speaks about the issues of having his complexion in “Blood on the Leaves.” An example of a modern Pop artist using music to spark change would be Katy Perry. A majority of her songs target those who are going through tough times. She attempts to stop bullying through many different songs. For example, in her song “Firework,” she attempts to increase the morale of listeners struggling with issues about themselves. Arguably the most influenced by the Jazz idea of protest through music is Kendrick Lamar. Lamar, being an activist for black lives for nearly the entirety of his career. Over the years, he would release numerous songs speaking on the equality of black people along with attempting to end gang violence. He would also tackle issues such as police brutality. The idea of sparking protest through music arose from Jazz musicians in the mid-1900’s, however, this form of music was translated into the music of today. Jazz greatly influenced this aspect of modern Hip-Hop and Pop greatly.
There are also ties between Jazz and modern Hip-Hop and Pop’s structures. Rap especially takes heed from the structure of free of group jazz performances. In many group performances by Jazz artists, a unified sound would lead into a solo or performance that is different. The same goes for the performance of basically all Rap or Pop songs. Consistently there is a catchy, alluring beat or phrase that sticks to the listener’s ear, followed by a verse or chorus. There would be repetitions of the hook in both genres. The beats that are present in all of the genres also carry similar characteristics. One could argue that a major part of Jazz is the layering of sounds. The subtle beat of the drum, followed by the steady strumming of a guitar, under the dynamic solos of saxophones adds depth. All of these layers makes the pieces more and more listenable. The same goes for modern Hip-Hop and Pop. Producers begin making their beats starting off with a very simple sound, often a rhythmic drum beat or snare. They begin adding more and more detail, eventually ending with an extremely dynamic sound. One or Hip-Hop’s most iconic producers in today’s generation, Metro Boomin’ broke down his process. He explained how he sequenced his drums and spaced out his kicks and snares. This can be tied directly to the layering and sequencing of beats in Rockabilly and Jazz music. We can clearly see that the structure was taken from Jazz.
Jazz has given a great deal to our modern music. And Modern Hip-Hop and Pop have definitely taken a great deal of understanding from Jazz. It is extremely clear that many artists are inspired by their Jazz counterparts. The artists of today’s generation take heed from the artists of yesterday’s, in relation to both action and music. Whether we look at how Hip-Hop and Pop share the same structure as many iconic Jazz songs, or we see how modern artists are embracing their roots by sampling, it is evident that Jazz greatly influenced modern Hip-Hop and Pop.