One album that will soon turn 25 years old, created during the “golden age of hip-hop” in the 1990’s was “Jazzmatazz Vol. 1” by the hip-hop/rap artist–Guru. This man was a collaborator with disc jockey legend DJ Premier, and was part of the hip-hop group Gang Starr. Guru stands for “gifted unlimited, rhymes universal.” He was one of the first rappers to blend straight ahead jazz with hip-hop, along with a few other artists such as Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, Digable Planets, Notorious B.I.G., and The Pharcyde.
This record features a live backing band made up of Donald Byrd on trumpet and piano, N’Dea Davenport on vocals, Lonnie Liston Smith on electric piano, Bradford Marsalis on alto and soprano sax, Roy Ayers on vibraphone, Gary Barnacle on flute, and Zachary Breaux on guitar. The way Guru describes this album is:
“Jazz’s mellow tracks, along with the hard rap beat, go hand-in-glove with my voice.”
And the MC of the album could not be more correct. His voice is so in sync with the band on the record, it is like tumbling dominoes following into place on a hardwood floor. And what makes this album so incredible are its nonstop grooves on each track of the twelve song volume. A handful of my favorites off this record are “Lougin’,” “When You’re Near,” “Trust Me,” and “Le Bien, Le Mal.” Both “Lougin,” and “Trust Me” feature N’Dea Davenport on vocals. Ms. Davenport gives the album a smooth loungey jazz feel whenever she hops in on the mic. This record was a commercial success in Europe in the 1990s. but was not quite as popular in the U.S.
I hope others can discover and appreciate this album as much as I do. I think it was underrated when it came out, and still remains that way today. Mixing jazz and hip-hop helped move jazz in a new direction, and gave birth to the “neo-soul” genre of music in the late 1990s.
I would give this album a 9 out of 10 rating, for its solid set of tracks, its scorching hot backing jazz band, and its seamless ability to blend jazz with hip-hop.
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