Endless Possibilities


I just wanted to call attention to a remark that Pete made in his description of ISWHAT?!’s unique sort of chemistry. He said:

“[They are a] kind of back-to-the-future-esque meeting between the young and the old; Pete Rock & CL Smooth playing with Tom Scott as opposed to sampling his “Today.”

Take a minute to consider the possibilities for that kind of recording: hip-hop acts “reuniting” with the artists they sampled to make not only hit records, but a new genre.

It’s particularly relevant that Pete and I grew up in the “pre-Diddy” golden era which loosely ran from 1988-1998 where looped up jazz samples were the norm, and hip-hop had a much stronger connection to the music from which it was sampled.

For better or worse (and I offer no opinion here right now), that era is now quite clearly over, and I suspect that the relationship between some of these hip-hop pioneers and the jazz artists they sampled was not always great. For guys like Erick Sermon, Diamond D, Biz Markie, and maybe even Pete Rock, that tension over copyright basically killed a career. For acts like ATCQ and Prince Paul, it nearly had that same effect were it not for some creative repositioning (e.g. Tribe bringing Dilla into the fold).

Well, maybe we’re past that tumultuous period, and perhaps these artists can all get along. There’s nothing like a live band reinterpreting a sampled hip-hop beat–it’s great. But imagine the original artist performing the track? Imagine if it were possible to reunite the late James Brown and his band with Rakim? Maybe this just makes beat-heads like me salivate, but I suspect that even hip-hop heads would feel a JB/Rakim “reunion.”

But this very interesting thought also raises a values question for us to ponder: would hip-hop be hip-hop if Pete Rock simply called up Tom Scott in 1993 to record a saxophone hook? Doesn’t that distinguish what ISWHAT?! does from what we normally consider “hip-hop”? Is there not an inherent “have not” appeal to sampling a big and famous jazz artist and sculpting it into a fresher, new art form for ghetto kids? If the “pre-Diddy” hip-hop producers, living in their mom’s basements, could afford to hire the jazz artist for a studio session, wouldn’t that cease to be hip-hop? Does that leave ISWHAT?! as forever an outsider to what we consider hip-hop? Said differently, does hip-hop/jazz fusion get its own wing in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame or the Jazz Hall of Fame?

If you can resist the urge to critique the reliance on labels like “hip-hop” (or that Tom Scott and his Hawaiian shirt doesn’t look “hip-hop” in the slightest), and really look at the culture quite generally, I wonder where you come out on this?

Given the dearth of truly classic hip-hop/jazz fusion acts, I call it a jazz offshoot, rather than a hip-hop offshoot. But I need to ponder the question myself.



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