Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Williams, Justin A. “The Construction of Jazz Rap as High Art in Hip-Hop Music.” In Rhymin' and Stealin': Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop Music, 47-72. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a particular subgenre of hip-hop arose, defined by its use of musical gestures, lyrical references, and images already encoded into popular audiences’ conception of jazz at that time. By the late eighties, due to the “jazz Renaissance” of that decade, jazz was deeply associated with “high art” and often discussed as an analog for an American classical tradition. As such, it brought with it a complex of hierarchies and standards for authenticity that jazz rap artists navigated in forging personal, artistic identities. Jazz “codes,” or musical elements which had been definitively associated with jazz (such as acoustic walking bass, muted trumpets, and other brass instruments) could be deployed concretely as samples or through the inclusion of jazz musicians in actual performance. They could also be deployed allusively, as timbral, lyrical, and rhythmic topics. Notably, these codes are demonstrably different from the gestures used in other subgenres of rap at the time, and can be found in the works of groups such as De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, and Digable Planets.

Works: A Tribe Called Quest: Verses from the Abstract (55), Check the Rhime (56), Jazz (We’ve Got) (56), Excursions (56-57); Digable Planets: Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) (58-63), It’s Good to Be Here (60-61), Swoon Units (61).

Sources: The Last Poets: Time (58).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Jazz, Popular

Contributed by: Molly Covington

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