BADBADNOTGOOD: the continuing story of jazz and hip-hop

Even though hip-hop’s been dated roughly back to the late 70s with artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and The Sugarhill Gang, some have traced the relationship with the two genres as far back as the early 20s, with artists like Louis Armstrong being proclaimed as pioneers. Everyone who knows that hip-hop and jazz go together like paint and a brush will also know that it’s kind of a one way street – you can take the hip-hop out of jazz, but you can’t take the jazz out of hip-hop, with seminal artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Eric B. and Rakim sampling prolifically from rare and well-known records alike, putting a brand new spin on them.

‘Life’ by Proof samples ’73 Touches’ by Miles Davis

In more recent times, Jazz has become a museum genre of such, a genre that wasn’t gradually changing but instead becoming more and more aged. In some respects, it’s not even because it’s becoming less and less popular, but it’s because artists are struggling to invent, shape, and formulate new strands of jazz – hence, we have fallen into a ‘jazz revival’ period where records have circumnavigated the whole genre, returning to artists like Jelly Roll Morton for inspiration and ideas alike. The only trouble is, despite having revitalized the genre, it hasn’t attracted a new audience.

This isn’t even a new occurrence – during the 1940s, artists had already begun the process, trying to recreate the work of Red Nichols, a bandmate of the Dorsey Brothers in the popular jazz group The California Ramblers. That kind of mentality, which though undoubtedly has produced some great music in the vein of greats like John Coltrane, has left me wondering whether the genre is stuck in its tracks, spending too long re-examining its own works rather than pushing forward and exploring new territory. The thought of revivalists, though well-meant, has kind of given the impression that jazz is now an art for the sake of art – this kind of image isn’t helped by the fact that often times prominent advocates of jazz are seen to be stuck-up and pretentious. The only ‘new’ music of the genre in these kinds of cycles is avant-garde compositions, which often times are unlistenable too and lose the feeling of jazz by making you feel overly uncomfortable (though, that might be what they’re aiming for).

Red Nichols and his Five Pennies

Of course, the aforementioned is a sweeping claim to make, and not all hope is lost to those who crave jazz with a twist – whether artists like The Jazzual Suspects are producing music in an attempt to try and engage younger listeners, or whether they’re doing it just for the love of music is beyond my knowledge, but the music such bands produce is not to be ignored.

More recently, I was reminded by a good friend of the band BADBADNOTGOOD (BBNG). BBNG are a Toronto-based ‘post-jazz’ band who are known for their raucous gigs around America. Moshing wasn’t a regular occurrence at jazz-based gigs, but these guys are making it happen with renditions of various hip-hop tracks, old and new alike. The band consists of Matthew Tavares, Alexander Sowinski, and Chester Hansen, and their fame started after they uploaded an 8-minute YouTube tribute to Odd Future, an artist they mutually enjoyed.

The Odd Future Sessions – Part 1

They actually performed a similar piece as a college assignment, but their tutors apparently disregarded the piece and said it lacked “musical merit”. I’m not sure whether it was this that caused them to drop out of school and pursue music or if it was something else, but I’m glad that they decided to build their own studio in a rented garage.

They caught the attention of Tyler, the Creator though, who proclaimed “I Love Jazz, This Is Fucking Sick! Dave Brubrek Trio Swag” in a tweet. This lead to a collaboration between the band and the California rapper, and served as a launch-pad to work with other artists like Frank Ocean, who they backed during a tour, and Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang fame.

Between the use of trap beats, strange samples, ethereal synthesisers, and the occasional bottle blowing improv-solo, it really is an interesting listen. I honestly don’t feel uncomfortable in grouping them together with people like ?uestlove, Q-tip, J-Dilla, and Nujabes – I get that they’re not quite at the stature of such artists, but there’s little doubt in my mind that if they continue doing what they’re doing, they’ll be there – it’s always a good sign when you enjoy a band’s original music rather than their faithfully re-imagined and beautifully crafted covers of Kanye West, MF DOOM, and even My Bloody Valentine.

BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah in ‘Gunshowers’

This article was written by Mo Hafeez


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