In 1993, hip-hop and jazz had been dancing together for at least a half-decade, and many would argue a lot longer. Plowing through initial tension between the two worlds, Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz” 1988 single was perhaps the first overt attempt to merge the artforms. The song itself was a response to jazz musician James Mtume who had previously disparaged rap artists (as the song went, “You said it wasn’t art / So now we’re gonna rip you apart”). For a time, there was an uneasy accord between the unique and rebellious forms of African-American expression.
By the first turn of the 1990s, groups like Gang Starr were regularly sampling jazz, executed at a nearly pinnacle level on their songs “Words I Manifest” and “Jazz Thing,” from 1989 and 1990, respectively – the latter taken from Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues” soundtrack. Jazz and hip-hop had co-existed long before Stetsasonic’s work in 1988 (two examples being Herbie Hancock’s 1983 smash song and video for “Rockit,” featuring pioneering DJ D. ST; and the evocative jazz trumpet work on LL Cool J’s 1987 hit, “Going Back To Cali”), but other producers and groups soon appeared in larger numbers to re-create the synergy, from Showbiz and Digable Planets to Q-Tip and the Dream Warriors. And, of course, Gang Starr expertly stayed in that lane.
By late 1992, Gang Starr’s MC Guru was ready to take the “jazz thing” to the next level. Beyond merely sampling an artist or hiring them for a session, he set about conceptualizing full collaborations – a true synergy of the two musics, with MCs and jazz players working together from jump. Of course, this wasn’t done in a vacuum. By the early ‘90s, London was abuzz with these types of possibilities (in the pre-Acid Jazz days) and in New York, club nights like Giant Step were all the rage. So, when the lyricist who born Keith Elam pitched the idea ofJazzmatazz Volume 1 to the good people at Chrysalis / EMI, he didn’t meet much resistance. His smoky, laid-back flow had already established itself as a perfect compliment to the tempos and outlook of “America’s Classical Music,” and his musician rolodex had been expanding since “Jazz Thing.”
As Guru told Bill Adler in the album’s liner notes, “[My father and grandfather would] take me and my whole posse and sit us down in front of these speakers and make us listen to jazz.” There is little doubt that those original listening sessions included some of the same older artists featured on Jazzmatazz: Donald Byrd (heard on the single, “Loungin’”), Lonnie Liston Smith (“Down The Backstreets”), and Roy Ayers (“Take A Look (At Yourself)”).
But Jazzmatazz Volume 1 wasn’t a “dig up the old guys” project, not by a long shot. In addition to the aforementioned legends, Guruenlisted an impressive list of young jazz talent as well – guitarist Ronny Jordan runs some amazing lines on “No Time To Play”; saxophonist Branford Marsalis and guitarist Zachary Breaux anchor “Transit Ride”; Gary Barnacle’s sax and flute grace “Slicker Than Most”; and saxophonist Courtney Pine deftly finesses “Sights Of The City.”
Jazz artists weren’t the only ones who got in on the game – R & B vocalists N’Dea Davenport (featured on both “Trust Me” and “When You’re Near”), Carleen Anderson and DC Lee lent their incredible pipes to the project (the latter two on “Sights In The City” and “No Time To Play,” respectively). And French rapper MC Solaar gives “Le Bien, Le Mal” an international flair that only increased the album’s appeal.Almost all of the tracks on the album went beyond mere session work or sample fodder for all involved – most of them were in fact co-produced by the guests, alongside Guru who oversaw the concepts. And, of course, Guru stepped out from the board to rhyme on all tracks himself.
Upon the album’s release, in addition to getting love from hip-hop fans, it also received a positive response amongst jazz writers and fans of all ages – the former was a crowd that was slower to accept the rap world. Jazzmatazz Volume 1 was a success around the world, and Guru toured behind it, incorporating his amazing jazz collaborators who stretched across generations.
25 years later, the album still sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1993. Sadly, Guru is not here with us to celebrate it here on Earth (he passed away in 2010). But Jazzmatazz Volume 1 – and the sequels that followed throughout the ‘90s – remains a major part of his lasting legacy on the music world as a whole.
Presented here for the first time as a Deluxe, multi-album set, this unique edition includes three LPs and a beautiful glossy booklet, featuring photos by Thierry Le Goues. With instrumentals and rare remixes and B-Sides, this is the ultimate way to celebrate a visionary project that changed the music world 25 years ago.
As Guru told liner notes scribe Bill Adler back in 1993: “It’s Jeep-ready. I tested it in the Jeep and the beats are there.” And, he added,“But at the same time, I can give this to my father and my godfather and I know they’re going to feel it.” (Release Date: May 18)
GURU JAZZMATAZZ VOLUME 1 “DELUXE EDITION” TRACKLIST:
LP #1 – ORIGINAL ALBUM
3. When You’re Near (featuring Simon Law)
4. Transit Ride (featuring Zachary Breaux)
5. No Time To Play (featuring Ronnie Jordan)
6. Down The Backstreets (featuring Lonnie Liston Smith)
1. Respectful Dedication
2. Take A Look (At Yourself) (featuring Roy Ayers)
3. Trust Me
4. Slicker Than Most
5. Le Bien, Le Mal
6. Sights In The City
LP #2 – INSTRUMENTALS
1. Loungin’ (Instrumental)
2. When You’re Near (featuring Simon Law) (Instrumental)
3. Transit Ride (featuring Zachary Breaux) (Instrumental)
4. No Time To Play (featuring Ronnie Jordan) (Instrumental)
5. Down The Backstreets (featuring Lonnie Liston Smith) (Instrumental)
1. Take A Look (At Yourself) (featuring Roy Ayers) (Instrumental)
2. Trust Me (Instrumental)
3. Slicker Than Most (Instrumental)
4. Le Bien, Le Mal (Instrumental)
5. Sights In The City (Instrumental)
LP #3 – RARE REMIXES / B-SIDES
1. Loungin’ (Square Biz Mix)
2. Loungin’ (Guru Meets The Professor Mix) (featuring Donald Byrd)
3. Loungin’ (Jazz Not Jazz Mix) (featuring Donald Byrd)
4. No Time To Play (CJ’s Master Mix) (featuring Ronnie Jordan and Dee C. Lee)
1. Trust Me Trust Me (CJ’s Master Mix) (featuring N’Dea Davenport)
2. Season For Change (Ronnie Jordan featuring Guru)
3. Season For Change (Dawn Of The Season Mix) (Ronnie Jordan featuring Guru)