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by Seth Colter Walls

June 18, 2013

Rockit: Hip-Hop's Best Jazz Riffs

by Seth Colter Walls  |  June 18, 2013

Hip-hop heads know by now that some of the best samples come from jazz songs. Gang Starr had a particular affection for classic jazz riffs, as with the iconic Charles Mingus bass break on "I'm the Man." (And don't pretend like you haven't heard Us3's Blue Note catalog-plundering "Cantaloop," either.) But the cross-pollination hardly began there. Herbie Hancock contracted Grand Mixer DST for the scratches on his 1983 fusion hit "Rockit." And one of the best jazz albums of 2012, Robert Glasper's Black Radio, featured turns from Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) and Lupe Fiasco. (The Black Radio Recovered remix album added names like ?uestlove and Pete Rock, too.)

In between those milestones, you have Miles Davis contracting hip-hop beat fever in his final decade, Ron Carter sitting in with A Tribe Called Quest, Donald Byrd jamming with Guru, and Madlib going so left-field in his production choices that he actually winds up forming free-jazz ensembles. (See the Madlib-produced High Jazz, Yesterday's Universe, and Miles Away.) Meantime, the next generation of jazz musicians tends to treat hip-hop anthems as the new American Songbook standards that they are. That means Jason Moran using his piano to cover "Planet Rock," and Vijay Iyer's transcribing M.I.A.'s "Galang" for his trio. Plus, Q-Tip is still collaborating with jazzbos: Robert Glasper's keys cropped up on "Life Is Better" and "You" during The Renaissance.

Combine all this with Buckshot LeFonque (a Branford Marsalis fusion band that included DJ Premier), Questlove's jazzy group with pianist Uri Caine (The Philadelphia Experiment), and jazz musicians trying their own hands at rapping (hello Roscoe Mitchell and Wynton Marsalis), and you've got quite the look at how the two genres have partnered up over the last few decades. Get down with all of it in the appended playlist.

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