December 30, 2003
Hip-Hop and Jazz
A lively discussion on okayplayer today about the relationship between Hip-Hop and Jazz. I will quickly consolidate a few of my thoughts below. In short, I'd say their similarities are often overstimated.. there are some connections to be sure, but also many fundamental differences.
Much is made of the usage of improvisation in both forms, but the role that improvisation plays in jazz is very different and far more prominent/integral than that played by "freestyling" in hip-hop. Rhyming off the top has become common in live performances and battles, but as I've said before its importanceto hip-hop as a whole has come to be absurdly overestimated by younger heads, and it is very rarely used in the studio when it's time to make a record. 99% of the hip-hop albums that came out this year were made up of written rhymes, programmed beats, and little if any improvised material of any kind.* The vast majority of modern jazz (by which I mean from Bird and Dizzy on, for the sake of focus, but we could go back further too) albums, on the other hand, contain improvisation as a core element.
And hip-hop is much less collaborative by nature than modern jazz. The vast majority of modern jazz records feature a truly collaborative effort from an ensemble of musicians, in which each of them is spontaneously reacting to what each other is doing in that moment.
Hip-hop music is very rarely recorded this way. Most of hip-hop's recorded collaboration between emcees consists of each one taking their turn to recite a verse that they composed on their own beforehand. Some tracks like Biggie and Meth's "The What" will feature scripted interplay, but even this is uncommon, and not nearly the same degree of collaboration found in jazz.
*Please do not reply with the tired old myth that Jay-Z records his albums off the top. As I understand it, he composes the rhymes in his head and spits them from memory without writing down, which is totally different from rhyming off the top (though equally impressive if not more). JB please correct me if I am wrong on this.