Hip Hop and Jazz: Multinational High Art

by Kayvon Kazemini on April 23, 2015

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Jazz and hip-hop are both genres that have cultivated virtuosity and innovation on an international level, and the blending of these two genres has become increasingly more popular. Artists like Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest had incorporated the jazz influence into mainstream American hip hop in the 80s and 90s. As well, jazz artists have taken to the hip-hop language, and incorporated it into their music. Their fusion, however, has opened an international field wherein various cultures can take their influences and elaborate upon an evolving genre. Europe and America both have artists and fans who now regard jazz-hop as a high art; the two genres seem to elevate each other and inspire more and more artists each year.

Robert Glasper, a Texas-based musician, comes from a mostly jazz and blues background. He has collaborated with hip-hop artists like Lupe Fiasco and Q-tip, and is now recognized by multiple music communities. His 2012 album, Black Radio, is a prime example of how jazz can intersect with hip hop. Glasper incorporates jazz chord sensibilities with moods and styles from soul, r&b, gospel, and hip hop. Now signed with Blue Note, Robert Glasper continue to captivate audiences worldwide. When Don Was, a record producer and now president of Blue Note, was asked about Robert Glasper’s music, he responded, “There’s been a lot of attempts at fusing jazz and hip-hop…And I think Robert’s done it seamlessly. Because that’s who he is” (Chinen). Though Glasper does not claim to be the future of jazz, he is certainly a relevant artist in the fields of jazz and hip hop, if not many other genres.

In Europe, artists like Leo Riegler and Lukas Konig are creating their own innovations. The duo is based out of Vienna, and go by the name Keoniglepold (Leo Riegler is the MC and Konig performs simultaneously on bass and drums). The duo cites hip-hop and jazz among their influences. Konig states, “Our inspiration isn’t coming from jazz alone at all. As a drummer, I am not a specialist in harmonic structures, but rhythmically, I’m more inspired from new hip hop and electronic music productions, which are pointing to morphing and shifting methods, which brings the rhythmic question back to ethnic music or even minimalism” (Mackin). This reveals their appreciation, not only for jazz, but for the music of their homeland, Austria. Their performances have elements of comedy, yet they also stand out for their unique blending of turntables with live instruments like the clarinet. Hip-hop, jazz, and perhaps electronic music, as well, have influenced many in Europe, and that music is now being shared with a wider international audience.

Separately, the genres of jazz and hip-hop continue to branch off and cover new ground. Together, they are a powerful combination that encourages the mixing of electronic beats, vocal improvisation, and live instrumentation. Every year, new artists are contributing to the emerging style. As jazz-hop continues to grow, it will take on more and more meaning through the cultures it represents. America, Europe, and many other places are contributing to the dialogue; and there are millions of music listeners that are waiting to hear the newest innovations.


Works Cited

Chinen, Nate. “Jazz Pitched in Key of Hip-Hop.” International Herald Tribune: 13. Feb 28 ProQuest.Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Fernando Gonzalez. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. “Hip-Hop Reconnects Jazz with Pulse of the

Street.” Las Vegas Review – Journal: 8e. May 06 1994. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Mackin, Laurence. “From Hip Hop to Jazz, the Alternative Inspiration.” Irish Times: 12. Feb 13 2013 ProQuest.Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Williams, Justin A. “The Construction of Jazz Rap as High Art in Hip-Hop Music.” The Journal of Musicology 27.4 (2010): 435-59.ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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Shawn Spitzer April 30, 2015 at 12:59 pm

I listen to a lot of hip hop and never particularly noticed any jazz ideas but now actively thinking about it they are there. These ideas are important and can enhance and grow the fan bases together. A fan of Lupe Fiasco may listen and find out he enjoys Robert Glasper and vice versa which helps both performers. Every year we have artists that rap over jazz samples and other times we have artists play jazz to accompany the rap. I think these genres are more linked than we think in that hip hop is somewhat the new jazz where artists can express the hardships that they come from but also can make up tempo beats that people can dance to.


Adam Freshcorn April 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Nice article! I didn’t start getting into hip-hop until after I started playing jazz, and jazz’s influence in hip-hop is a big reason why I started listening to it. It seems like every few months another, more blended jazz/hip-hop album is coming out, and it really is exciting! I think that it’s possible that some hip-hop is becoming America’s new, more modern and progressive form of jazz, in a similar way to how Europeans are adapting it to fit their own musical styles.


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