Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jazz And Hip-Hop: The Intersection Part Three - Pete Rock

In the first post in this series, I wrote about jazz and hip-hop here at Blood Is One, I wrote a lot about Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Before hip-hop devolved in to Soulja Boy, 50 Cent, Gucci Mane and trivial music like that, it was really the territory of guys like Pete Rock and DJ Premier. Their work with CL Smooth and Guru, respectively and in that order, translated directly from where jazz was at that point. Jazz had become all about improvisation - with a drum machine replacing the live drums and some poetry taking over for the vocals, Pete Rock and CL Smooth jumped right off from where Miles and Coltrane were already at on songs like "They Reminisce Over You" and "It's Not A Game."

The sample from "T.R.O.Y." is literally ripped from a bebop as hell track - Tom Scott & The California Dreamers' "Honeysuckle Breeze." There's actually about a thousand horn riffs in that song alone - Pete Rock showed exceptional skill to be able to take one of those, isolate and make his own music from it.

(Pete Rock is the strongest when he uses horns - he does it again on "It's A Love Thing.") That sort of beat production is almost more like computer programming than what older folks may be used to in creating music - but it is a skill and art unto itself. Pete Rock's soul/jazz sound continued in to other projects - while his work with rapper InI was nowhere near as raw as CL Smooth's flow, it fits with Pete Rock's solid, soulful sound. It's really no wonder that, even though his health was declining and he was on his way away from this world, Miles Davis was willing to jump in to the world of hip-hop.


 I'll admit my ignorance, in preparing this piece, I actually listened to "It's Not A Game" by Pete Rock and CL Smooth for the very first time. (Pete Rock and CL Smooth produced a bunch of videos for the work they did together - I saw and heard the excellent "I'll Take You There" for the first time while I was writing this.) I thought I was a hip-hop expert but apparently not. The unfortunate elements of the genre are present, of course, in this song, which was made twenty years ago - CL Smooth delves in to materialization when he is seen rubbing 20s and 100s up against his face and getting high on power when a Mack 11 is in his hands. In context from where folks like Rock and Smooth came from, it makes sense, when now wealthy rappers like Jay-Z romanticize guns in a country where elementary school kids have tasted the blunt of a Bushmaster rifle carried by a madman, it's a bit more sad and creepy.

More Pete Rock & CL Smooth worth listening to - "I Get Physical."

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