My relationship with jazz is complicated. Far from aficionado, I’ve had important encounters with Ahmad Jamal, Bobbi Humphrey and trumpeter Donald Byrd and his Howard University Blackbyrds.
We’ve had meet and greets through acquaintances–time machines. J Dilla, Havoc, Q-Tip and DJ Premier.
Over the years, I’ve been taking in sounds rather deliberately. The sounds, though, they did not always come so easily. Working against harsh political rule, my music access as a child was at the mercy of the state’s wishes, a state that happened to be an iron fist theocracy. There’s consumer discretion and then there’s censorship (Iranian censorship).
Genetically similar authorities ordered rap, and even much of contemporary R&B music, as contraband. That of course did absolutely nothing to prevent a clandestine uprising. Pursue the forbidden fruit and risk penitentiary chances.
The more I defected from gospel music and the generous parental provisions of Kenny G and Joe Sample, the more I drew closer. It was as if every stride toward rap was a step forward into the far sides of classic jazz, funk, soul and R&B.
Amerigo Gazaway, Yasin Bey (better known as Mos Def) & Marvin Gaye | “Inner City Travellin’ Man” | Yasiin Gaye: The Departure (Side One) Mashup Mixtape | 2014
There was a time I was too young to know “When Doves Cry.” Now, I’m learned enough not only to know but to recognize Sankofa flies. Having survived the prohibition era, one that eased up during my teenage years, I hoarded classic and golden era rap music.
In fact, the first rap song and album I remember possessing for myself was MC Hammer’s 1990 “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” LP. One of the singles was “Pray,” making it acceptable–Levitical law acceptable.
MC Hammer | “Pray” (prod. by Big Louis Burrell) | Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em LP | 1990 via Capitol Records
Already refined pieces of Black American musical ore, the genres form the foundational drum patterns, melodies, persuasive vocals and other elements of rap music. Fraught with loops from, say, The Isley Brothers, and movie soundbites, through sampling, rap thrives off recycling vintage pieces of art.
For instance, MC Hammer’s “Pray,” produced by Big Louis Burrell, incorporates a sample from Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”
I take the adage “whistle while you work” seriously. (And even that song was sampled by Mr. Collipark and the Ying Yang Twins for an–encouraging tune of theirs.) When the work is writing, there can be some debilitating cognitive competition between thumbing through your own words and trying to fully appreciate another’s simultaneously. A cherished pass time becomes distracting.
Award winning author of over 58 novels, playwright and professor Joyce Carol Oates has some recommendations for effective writing without distractions. Her number one tip for avoiding them, while writing, is to control the sounds in the room. “Constant interruptions are the destruction of the imagination,” she warns. Oates advises listening to “relatively ambient…music that won’t compete for your focus.”
Sure, I would love for literary and rhetorical geniuses like Wale, 8 Ball & MJG and Big L to inspire my writing. But that would result to too many words in while yielding too few out. Needing escape, inspiration and a backrest, lyric free jazz became the perfect accessory to my writing. And Spotify became an almost perfect tool.
Intentionally diving into jazz-fusion, jazz-funk, avant garde, smooth and West Coast jazz supports my productivity. A distraction ruins execution quite reliably. Here comes all that jazz salvaging my ideas and their record.
While I may be shuffling through to hear George Benson or Stanley Turrentine, I am directed to other jazz musicians like Earl Klugh and Bobby Hutcherson. I hear distinct strokes of a guitar or the wailings of the heartbroken and see familiar faces.
I hear Anita Baker or The Originals, “Motown’s best kept secret,” and see rap music.
Then comes the dopamine spike. The trip, it doesn’t just take me somewhere. It takes me exactly where–where the music has once been reincarnated. I can quickly recall the rap song, artist or album in which it had been used at least once as a sample.
The rush is like living a moment in the life of Scrooge McDuck, except swimming amongst fortune I didn’t know I had until I had it. I was always familiar with the wonder of jazz. I just hadn’t purposefully absorbed it since childhood.
Rap, jazz, funk, soul, R&B–they don’t have to compete for my focus. There’s enough love to share. It just helps now that they know their roles in my life.
Take a trip, and check out my ever-growing, living and breathing “Here’s a Sample” playlists, via Apple Music and Spotify, below. The playlists include classic jazz, funk, soul and R&B tracks that played through Spotify and it’s shuffle feature while I worked. Those tracks are immediately followed by the rap song in which I correctly and near instantly identified, by ear, as having sampled them.
Billy Cobham’s “Heather” and Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love” come accompanied with two rap songs instead of the usual one. Mobb Deep’s “Temperature Rising” also samples “Body Heat” by Quincy Jones, but “Gangsta” by Le$ just pairs a little better.
All samples have been confirmed through WhoSampled. And while WhoSampled is a highly valued tool, it can really dull the magic of perpetually locating reuses from thin air.
Underneath the playlists, there are several matches that aren’t available through Spotify and Apple Music (or are available on one platform and not the other).
For more on sampling, check out “Sample This,” a documentary about DJ Kool Herc, The Incredible Bongo Band and the history of the technique in rap music.
“Here’s a Sample” (Apple Music) >100 songs, >8 hours
“Here’s a Sample” (Spotify) >100 songs, >8 hours
Les McCann & Eddie Harris meet Lords of the Underground, Cormega, Tragedy Khadafi and Havoc
Les McCann & Eddie Harris | “Go On And Cry” | Another Beginning LP | 1974 via Atlantic Records
Lords of the Underground | “No Pain” (prod. by K-Def and Lords of the Underground) | Keepers of the Funk LP | 1994 via Pendulum Records
Cormega ft. Tradgedy Khadafi and Havoc | “Define Yourself” (prod. by DR Period) | Born and Raised LP | 2009 via Aura Records
Earl Klugh meets 2Pac, Fabolous, J. Cole and Propain
Earl Klugh | “Living Inside Your Love”| Living Inside Your Love (Remastered) LP | 1976 (original release) via Blue Note Records
2Pac | “Pain” (prod. by Stretch) | Above the Rim — the Soundtrack | 1994 via Death Row Records
J. Cole | “See World” (prod. by Elite and J. Cole) | Friday Night Lights Mixtape | 2010 via Dreamville/Roc Nation/Columbia Records
Fabolous | “Pain” | The S.O.U.L. Tape Mixtape | 2011 via Desert Storm
Propain | “In Case We Never Speak Again” | In Case We Never Speak Again LP | 2019 via Forever Trill Records
Herbie Hancock meets Goapele
Herbie Hancock | “Watermelon Man” | “Head Hunters” LP | 1973 via Columbia Records
Goapele | “Childhood Drama (Remix)” (prod. by Johnson) | Even Closer LP | 2004 (re-release) via Columbia Records
Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds meet Kurious and Organized Konfusion (Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch)
Kurious | “I’m Kurious” | A Constipated Monkey LP | 1994 via Columbia/Sony Records
Donald Byrd | “Wind Parade” | “Places and Spaces” LP | 1975 via Blue Note Records
Organized Konfusion (Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch) | “Stray Bullet” | Stress: The Extinction Agenda LP | 1994 via Hollywood BASIC/Elektra Records