Ludacris to Nas: 8 hip-hop tracks that sampled jazz musicians
Hip-hop and jazz are inextricably linked. Each genre is built on a foundational groove with a heavy emphasis on improvisation, and subtle nods to the music and themes of preceding generations.
With regards to hip-hop, the modern practice of sampling provides a strong connection to the more traditional roots of jazz. Since the inception of the genre, adept jazz players have often been known to quote the melodies of common jazz standards and other well-known songs as part of their improvisational toolbox. For example, Charlie Parker famously quoted Igor Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring" in his solo on a 1947 recording "Repetition."
To celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month this April, take a look back at eight of our favorite hip-hop tracks that pulled samples and influence from GRAMMY jazz royalty.
Busta Rhymes, "Intro" | Herb Alpert, "A Taste Of Honey"
Jazz trumpeter Herb Alpert won his first three GRAMMYs for Record Of The Year, Best Instrumental Performance, Non-Jazz and Best Instrumental Arrangement for his crossover hit "A Taste Of Honey" at the 8th GRAMMY Awards. The brass sample from the recording comprises the main instrumental riff on Busta Rhymes' "Intro," the opening track from his platinum-certified album Genesis. His track also opens with a skit recording of a motivational phone call to the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based rapper from Clive Davis.
Nas, "Can't Forget About You" | Nat "King" Cole, "Unforgettable"
Nat "King" Cole's rendition of Irving Gordon's "Unforgettable" has a rich GRAMMY history. Originally released in 1951, Cole revisited the tune for a fresh take on his 1961 album, The Nat King Cole Story, which garnered an Album Of The Year nomination at the 4th GRAMMY Awards. His rendition was also inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2000. Producer will.i.am's sampling of Cole's "Unforgettable" gives Nas a perfect groove over which to lay down his iconic flow on "Can't Forget About You."
Mobb Deep, "Me & My Crew" | Miles Davis, "Bitches Brew"
Though deemed unconventional at the time, eight-time GRAMMY winner Miles Davis' Bitches Brew was sonically formative for many improvisational rock and funk musicians for years to come. The 1970 album also earned Davis a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Performance — Large Group Or Soloist With Large Group at the 13th GRAMMYs. Producers Dale Hogan and Keith Spencer incorporated much of the ambience from Bitches Brew's title track when crafting the beat for "Me & My Crew" from Mobb Deep's 1993 debut album, Juvenile Hell.
Ludacris, "Number One Spot" | Quincy Jones, "Soul Bossa Nova"
The multitalented Quincy Jones has climbed to the top of the GRAMMY heap with 27 career wins. One of his early claims to fame is "Soul Bossa Nova," a swanky instrumental number released in 1962. (You may know the tune from the late-'90s Austin Powers films.) Working with Atlanta-based rapper Ludacris on 2004's The Red Light District, DJ Green Lantern sampled the main melody of Jones' samba-inspired bossa nova swing groove, while Ludacris packed his verse with inside jokes and sly nods to the off-kilter spy movies that had repurposed the song.
De La Soul, "En Focus" | Herbie Hancock, "Rockit"
Fourteen-time GRAMMY winner Herbie Hancock took home his first golden gramophone at the 26th GRAMMY Awards for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for "Rockit" for 1983. It is widely considered the first popular song to incorporate scratching and turntablist techniques, courtesy of pioneering DJ GrandMixer D.ST. A decade later, Long Island, N.Y.-based hip-hop trio De La Soul drew rhythmic elements from Hancock's recording for their track "En Focus" on their 1993 album, Buhloone Mindstate.
D.J. Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince, "Time To Chill" | George Benson, "Breezin'"
GRAMMY winner George Benson's Breezin' became a breakout success for the jazz guitarist/songwriter, including winning the GRAMMY for Best Pop Instrumental Performance at the 19th GRAMMYs. In crafting the beats for their album He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper, D.J. Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince sampled the catchy flute lines from the title track of Breezin' and repurposed it for the relaxed hook on "Time To Chill."
MURS feat. The Grouch, "Angels" | Bob James, "Moon Tune"
GRAMMY winners Bob James and David Sanborn collaborated for 1986's Double Vision, which netted the jazz keyboardist and saxophonist the GRAMMY for Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal Or Instrumental at the 29th GRAMMY Awards. Los Angeles-based underground rappers MURS and the Grouch sampled "Moon Tune" from Double Vision on "Angels" for their 1999 album Good Music. The two lyricists take turns tag teaming their trademark relaxed-intelligentsia flows over the atmospheric bed provided by James' keyboard work.
Gang Starr, "Jazz Thing" | Duke Ellington, "Upper Manhattan Medical Group"
When curating the soundtrack for his 1990 musical drama, Mo' Better Blues, director Spike Lee included a track by then-unknown underground rap duo Gang Starr called "Jazz Thing," which heavily sampled multi-GRAMMY winner Duke Ellington's 1959 tune "Upper Manhattan Medical Group." Gang Starr became an influential group in the development of the East Coast rap sound — in many ways mirroring the influence Ellington exerted on the fledgling sounds of New York jazz in his own time.