Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Revivalist Jazz Rappers, ever listen to Yaggfu Front?

So, I suppose I'm back for the summer. Sorry for the long absence, my lone reader. Last semester kinda kicked the crap out of me and left me in a ditch in Delaware County, PA to slowly die of exposure, but somehow I managed to crawl back home, presumably stronger and wiser than I was before. Anyway, here's a post I was trying to work on, I dunno, five months ago and lost the energy for.

Featuring a two-legged police dog that chomps fuckers up

Jazz rap has gotten kinda boring. I can't tell you why it's happened, but somewhere between 1994 and 2009 it became less innovative and energetic and became more like easy listening. I'm not talking about fusion projects like Yesterday's New Quintet, but instead about stuff that's informed by a true school, boom-bap aesthetic. Ironically, a lot of the qualities that made 90s jazzy boom-bap great, at least for me, aren't easily found in its present form. The drums aren't as rhythmically off-kilter or layered, and the samples/instrumentation wouldn't sound out of place on your local smooth jazz station. The rappers who adopt this style tend to be more passive on the mic than just about anybody, as if their true-school sound and positivity are enough to make up for their lack of charisma, limited flows, etc. The playful virtuosity showcased by dudes like Dres and Bootie Brown can be traced down more easily to Wayne and Freeway than, let's say, Substantial or present-day Guru, even (though his superproductions aren't informed by a "jazzy" aesthetic anymore, I guess). Contemporary jazz rap is basically the closest hip-hop has gotten to approximating muzak.

That's something of a harsh indictment, yes, but when you listen to dudes like Yaggfu Front, you realize how far the style has descended. I don't know much about them besides what you can find here, they were a trio of MCs hailing from North Carolina who released this one LP, Action Packed Adventure!, back in 1994. Now, I'm five months removed from listening to this regularly, so I cannot write with as much specificity as I'd like, but I can still easily say that this is just a very fun listen. The album opens with a skit of movie previews, one of the movies being about the aforementioned canine cop. After this, the group finds itself harassed by a crooked cop on their way to New York, takes a journey through a deserted island onto a pirate ship's plank that stands as metaphor for discovery of their creative processes, in a college chemistry lab barely passing, being stuck in friend zones, etc. Perhaps most famously, they cap the album off with bonus track "My Dick Is So Large," (just click on the link). Their deliveries are often just as scattershot as their content, so a listener gets the sense of just how scrambling and chaotic their stories tend to be. The beats, too, are uptempo and drum-laden enough to sound almost sound like your run of the mill east coast early 90s battle-rap material (which is already a good thing), but then there'll be a weird sound thrown in here or there to keep you on your toes, oftentimes mirroring themes in the MCing itself. There's just a levity and lack of pretention that makes these dudes such a pleasure to hear, maybe not too dissimilar from the rappers Brandon characterizes in his piece on goofball rappers.

So what happened to acts like these?


quan said...

I think jazz rappers tried too hard to grow up and be "mature" so they latched onto the wrong things about 90s jazz rap and just ended up being boring.

reinstein said...

I hear you on the Jazzamatazz. Shit was kinda whack in my opinion. I love these "goofball" rappers and i thought that post you linked to them was intersting.

Trey Stone said...

on-point post man. basically sums up my issue with most conscious rap i can't dig because of this sound. truthfully i probably am harsher on the aesthetic cuz there's a good amont of classic old-school rap (like pre-Chronic old school) that i can't really get into either, but i mean i like a good amount of beats by DJ Premier and Easy Mo Bee, so i'd think there should be a way to pull it off. though i guess those guys aren't the best examples cuz they're more just traditional boom bap, not jazz rap. but i dunno. not always all that far removed i don't think.

Berto said...

yeah trey, there isn't really much of a separation between the original jazz rap I'm referring to and early NY-style boom bap a la Premier. in my mind I separate the two by thinking the latter to be more about "real" lyricism and the former being more about fun and off the wall creativity.

Chef Rykwon said...

I think a big part of why newer acts can't find the same vibe as the 90s stuff is the fact that most rappers (djs, producers, etc....) are taking themselves WAY too seriously. Too much emphasis has been put on hip hop to be a "grind" or a "hustle" or even a job.
Looking at it in these ways completely zaps the fun right out of it.