ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context : HipHop, Jazz

Quora Answer : What are the differences/similarities between jazz and hiphop genres?

Feb 16, 2020

I think the similarities are very strong.

Both are genres of music which are structured around a number of musicians doing solos over a fairly constant backing track with a strong pulse

Both are musics that are about, and highlight, the personalities of the soloists.

The interest in the music comes from "how does each soloist approach their performance on this piece" rather than "what is the overall composed structure of this piece"?

Consequently, actual musical composition (the chord sequence etc.) is relegated to a minor supporting role. It exists simply as a vehicle for the solists to represent themselves over. In both genres you regularly hear people discuss the music in terms of "who was on the track".

And opportunistic collaborations are common.

As are certain structured, improvised dyadic interactions. Rappers have "battles" or backwards and forwards arguments / dialogues. Of which "freestyle" (ie. improvised) lyrics are the most highly valued. Jazz improvisers will trade licks with each other.

Both are forms that embrace and use new technologies. Jazz was a pioneer in using new instruments like saxophones. Or repurposing other things like, say, washboards, as instruments. Was a pioneer in being recorded and being symbiotic with the recording industry. It was an early adopter of electrical amplification for the vocalists.

Hip-hop has pioneered using records and turntables and scratching as instruments. Been the most successful popularizer of sampling and "cut up" sound manipulation. (Sure, it was done before by experimentalists, but hip-hop made it mainstream). It now always uses the latest computing techniques, DAWs, plugins etc. From autotune, to Gross Beat etc.

The main differences are that hip-hop has embraced automation and computers as compositional tools. While jazz has usually relied on human performers for all parts. And some jazz fans consider humans playing their instruments a great virtue.

Jazz has a fairly wide range of instrumental virtuosity. Jazz soloists can use instruments. From saxophones and trumpets, through guitars and pianos to more exotic instruments like harps and vibrophones. In hip-hop almost all focus is on the vocalist (ie. rapper) as the soloist.

Occasionally you'll get great musicians of other instruments in hip-hop. For example, Thundercat is a phenomenal bass player who works in both jazz and hip-hop) But mostly other instruments are just programmed.

Quora Answer : Can jazz return to popularity?

Apr 9, 2019

If you believe, as I do, that hip-hop is basically the same genre as jazz ...

... then it still is the most popular music genre.

Why do I think hip-hop is the same genre as jazz?

Both hip-hop and jazz are built on the same musical structure and principle :

  • take a chord progression and keep repeating it over a compelling, driving, rhythmic pulse which is perfect for communal dancing to
  • then have a series of performers take turns doing "solos" over those chords

Each solo is all about highlighting the individuality and personality and idiosyncratic virtuosity of the performer. It's an art form driven by self-expression. The personality of the performers is everything in jazz and hip-hop.

This idea of music as a backdrop for a series of individuals to express themselves is completely different from the European classical tradition where a piece of music was seen as a hermetic, self-contained whole with a narrative arc from beginning through middle to end. And musicians are meant to be unobtrusive servants of that musical structure. Yes, classical music allows for maestros and virtuosos, but they're meant to express themselves within the context of "this piece" of music.

Jazz and hip-hop on the other hand are vehicles for performers to express themselves, to "break the fourth wall", to talk directly to the audience, to make references outside of the music (jazz musicians making a jokey quotation from well-known tunes, hip-hop sampling earlier records)

Jazz and hip-hop have a symbiotic relationship with technology. Jazz was the music that became possible because of recording technology : people could hear the performers' individual ticks and improvisations on record. And this became more important than the compositional structure of the music. Hip-hop is the music made possible by sampling technology and other forms of digital capturing and remixing.

Of course, hip-hop is a rather specialized subcategory of jazz. One where the soloists are almost all vocalists rather than instrumentalists. But this kind of talking and story-telling has been prominent in blues that led to jazz, and has roots in African culture such as griots. Jazz introduced skat singing, vocals whose job was as much to be rhythmic and melodic decoration rather than narrative. This use of voice as instrument finds its way into beat-boxing and even mumble rap.

This relationship between jazz and hip-hop is rather like the relationship between dinosaurs and birds.

Initially you dismiss it because one thing looks like a giant monster lizard that shakes the ground, and the other is a light cute feathery thing that flutters about in the air. Superficially they are so different. But start looking closer at the anatomy and dig into the history and find the parallels, and you start to see more and more ways they are similar. Until you have to declare ... "ah ... that's where the dinosaurs have gone ... they're hiding in plain sight"

That's where jazz mysteriously disappeared to in the 1980s. It evolved into hip-hop.