· By Elliot Looney
The intersection of Hip Hop, Jazz, and Art - Jordan Looney
I’ve been absorbing hip hop in all its forms for over two decades. My grandfather was a Jazz pianist, my mom a poet and a jazz singer and my dad was a congo player and percussionist. Some of my strongest musical influences are Q-Tip from Tribe Called Quest and the legendary J Dilla who both heavily utilized jazz samples to create their art. The sonic worlds of Hip Hop and Jazz have been colliding throughout my life, and recently I’ve stumbled into a deeper understanding of the threads that tie these genres together.
I moved to the Bay Area in the summer of 2019, 6 months before our world was forever changed by the COVID pandemic. One bright spot in this time of solitude was finding KCSM San Francisco, a member supported Jazz radio station. They play non-stop commercial free Jazz interspersed with incredibly interesting stories from the hosts illuminating who the musicians were, what they believed in and cared about, and how the music was made. It started out as background music to help spice up the work from home monotony, but over time became the soundtrack to my life.
The more I listened, the more I learned how to listen to Jazz, and the more I saw the similarities to Hip Hop music. Hearing a saxophone, pianist, or trumpet player dynamically improvise as the drum and bass players hold the rhythm perfectly, while finding pockets to add their own flare, reminds me of the skillset applied by an emcee lyrically dancing across a well produced track, altering their flow and tonality as the producer manipulates a well crafted beat to captivate the listener.
I’ve come to understand that Jazz and Hip Hop are both built on the concept of freedom. Freedom to release what is in your mind in whatever way it comes out. Freedom to bend, break, and recreate the rules with every word said and every note played.
Just the experience of listening to endless Jazz, each song making a small impact on me, reminds me how important it is to keep creating regardless of how many people hear my music. Who knows… maybe one day someone will be listening to one of my tracks 20 years from now on a member supported hip hop radio station. Reflecting on who created this art and why.
An Emcee’s flow can be more like the drums or the trumpet. Today, a lot of rappers have a more percussion esque style with their rhyme scheme riding the bass drum