Jazzmatazz celebrates its 25th anniversary with a three-LP box set that features instrumentals, remixes, B-sides and other rarities. Volume one featured the late Gang Starr emcee Guru (Keith Elam), mixing jazz and hip-hop in a brand new way back in 1993.
The two genres had met in the past, but Guru’s collaborative album was unique from any other before it.
Rather than sampling jazz tracks to rap over, he assembled a super group to collaborate. That supergroup included two, late jazz guitarists, Ronny Jordan and Zachary Breaux. The lineup also included Branford Marsalis and N’Dea Davenport.
There were groups paving the way at the time for jazz to be infused with house music, sampled audio, and deep grooves with jazz solos. Some included Us3 (most noted for their cover of Herbie Hancocks Cantaloupe Island into Cantaloup) as well as The Roots and Digable Planets. A tribe called Quest had worked with Ron Carter, and heavily sampled artsits Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Lonnie Liston Smith added work to the project.
According to Smith, “The thing that blew my mind was how MTV went crazy. You know, MTV was never into jazz, but the guy on the channel was like, ‘Aw, man, this is history—rap meets jazz.’ Everybody in the music industry got all excited. It was really amazing.”
“Back in the day, when they had real record stores, you could go into a place like Tower Records anywhere in the world, go into their jazz section and find records you weren’t even aware of,” Smith said. “But then, we’d be in there and we’d look over and all the rappers, they’d be in the jazz section, and they’d be buying more jazz than we were. And when you talked to them, they’d tell us how either their mother or father, uncles or older brothers and sisters, when they were growing up, would be turning them on to jazz. Guru knew about all my albums; his favorite was Expansions.”
Granted, the first of four Jazzmatazz albums sounds very much of its time. And while the record might be beyond it’s expiration date, the framework it provided performers like J. Dilla, Madlib, Flying Lotus, Robert Glasper and countless others, has made it a landmark piece of music.
British saxophonist Courtney Pine who collaborated on Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 said. “It was real camaraderie and an open-minded exploration of what could happen if you mix those kinds of people together.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Guru’s 12-track opus, Urban Legends label is releasing a new triple vinyl box set.