Guru’s ‘Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1′ Turns 20
For many years, rappers have always sampled jazz music within their hip-hop productions. The late rapper Guru took it a step further and enlisted several prominent jazz musicians to back him up on his bellwether album, ‘Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1.’
Released on May 18, 1993, ‘Jazzmatazz’ is, arguably, one of the most legendary rap albums of the 1990s. The LP cemented two respected genres together into a new one.
This isn’t the first time Guru experimented with jazz and rap. As a founding member of Gang Starr, he and DJ Premier were sampling jazz songs in their music for many years. Their most well-known track, ‘A Jazz Thing,’ is the perfect example of the jazz and hip-hop hybrid.
Guru describes ‘Jazzmatazz’ as a concept album. He wanted to get three “old jazz cats” and three “young lions” with a few female vocalists to join his repertoire.
Among the musicians the late rapper enlisted were trumpeter Donald Byrd, vibraphonist Roy Ayers, keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith, guitarist Ronny Jordan and saxophonists Courtney Pine and Branford Marsalis. Female vocalists Carleen Anderson, N’Dea Devenport and DC Lee were added to the mix. Finally, French rapper MC Solaar was invited to bring a worldview to the ‘Jazzmatazz’ exploration.
During the recording process, Guru and Mr. Byrd developed a father and son relationship. The late trumpeter believed in the rapper’s vision and felt it would be a great history lesson for the hip-hop generation.
“It’s fantastic what Guru is doing,” he said. “Not only is it music, it is literature as well. He’s taking rap to another level.”
As you would expect from the lineup of supreme jazzmen and vocalists, ‘Jazzmatazz’ features some of the cleverest, genre-bouncing jazz-hop of its time. As Guru expressed in the introduction, hip-hop and jazz are both “musical cultural expressions based on reality.” Essentially, the genres have more in common than some might think.
On ‘Loungin,’ Byrd’s soft trumpet blows caress the easy-going track. “Realistic, kind of mystic when I kick this / You should witness the slickness / Of the horn player and the dope rhyme sayer / Quite emotional and inspirational,” raps Guru.
On the upbeat ‘No Time to Play,’ Ronny Jordan’s guitar licks and DC Lee’s urgent vocals make it the perfect pick-me-up song.
While some of Guru’s rhymes are braggadocios (the way-too funky ‘Slicker Than Most’) he also tackles love (‘When You’re Near’ and ‘Trust Me’) and the oppression of the black man on the transatlantic banger, ‘Le Bien, Le Mal’ with MC Solaar.
On ‘Sights in the City,’ featuring Carleen Anderson, Guru employs insightful social commentary on the perils found in the inner city.
After ‘Jazzmatazz’ was released, other jazz artists followed with their own mash-up of jazz and hip-hop. Musicians like Buckshot LeFonque (aka Brandford Marsalis), Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, Robert Glasper and many others owe a debt to Guru’s seminal solo album. Even the late Miles Davis worked with hip-hop producer Easy Moe Bee on his final project, a jazz-hop album called ‘Doo-Bop.’
Guru successfully produced four volumes of the ‘Jazzmatazz’ series. The last collection, with the long title, ‘Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger: Back to the Future,’ featured Common, Bob James, Damien Marley and David Sanborn.
Guru died on April 19, 2010, after a long bout with cancer. While his absence is deeply felt in hip-hop, his musical legacy with the ‘Jazzmatazz’ albums will forever live on.
Watch Guru’s ‘Loungin’ Video Feat. Donald Byrd
Watch Guru’s ‘Trust Me’ Video Feat. N’dea Davenport
Watch Guru’s ‘Le Bien, Le Mal’ Video Feat. MC Solaar