Rappers See the Light, Embrace Jazz

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Rap superstars Jay-Z and DMX have granted AAJ an exclusive sure to shake the foundations of current popular music; they are abandoning the lucrative arena of rap for their true passionjazz.

Jay-Z (a.k.a. Shawn Carter, tenor) and DMX (a.k.a. Earl Simmons, alto) will be releasing their first CD on Impulse Records on April 1st, titled Reed My Lips. A collection of standards and covers of well-known tunes, the album promises to be a massive departure from each rappers expected fare.

In an exclusive interview with AAJs , Simmons and Carter recounted the first time both they heard jazz, backstage at a rap show in Detroit.

We was like, getting ready to go on and s___, and we heard this music that was like, you know. And I was like, Damn, yo, you hear that s___? And Jay was like Yo. recalls Simmons.

It was like Bam!. adds Carter. I was like, Yo!

True dat. Simmons surmises.

Taken by their first exposure to jazz, they immediately purchased instruments and began learning to play them. Secretly studying the saxophone over the period of several years, they finally arrived to a point where they felt their abilities were sufficient to turn to jazz full-time. All that was left was to polish their jazz image, to facilitate their transfer from the drugs-n-thugs world of rap and hip hop music to the cerebral and refined world of jazz. To that end, they hired legendary author and critic Nat Hentoff to aid in their transformation.

It was quite a bit of culture shock, for them as well as for me, says Hentoff, but I was familiar with hip hop culture through my work at the Village Voice. It wasnt long before we found some common ground and made some serious inroads. They were extremely willing to learn, and had a great appreciation for jazz that made it a lot easier. It may take them some time to find their voices, musically, but I think they are off to a great start.

Carter and Simmons had similar praise for Hentoff.

Nat was like, my boy, yo. Carter says. He be like, you know, wear this and talk like that. At first, we thought he was, like, you know, whack. But then, we like, looked at all the jazz musicians and it was like, yo, you know?

Serious. adds Simmons.

When asked about their influences, both men note Wayne Shorter, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Carter, however, adds a surprise.

And Boots Randolph. People been disrespecting him for years, but he was just keepin it real, you know?


As for how their surprising switch will be accepted by their fans, Carter and Simmons share an optimistic view.

Its like, you know, people buy my albums because theys into me, right? Dont matter about the scratchin or the samplin, yo, as long as the beat is there and they know Im steppin right. Dig? So, even if Im playin like jazz and s___, yo, Im bein true and I think my fans can respect that. offered Carter.

Rhymin or riffin, yo, it dont make no difference as long as its all soul. Simmons added.

True dat. added Hentoff.

Only time will tell is this is a tectonic shift in the face of popular music, or no more than just another brief flame in a business built upon flashes in the pan. For their part, however, Simmons and Carter dont see this as just a Madonna-esque ploy for attention.

Weve put a lot of hard work into this s___. says Carter. Not just with the horns, yo, but with the whole thing. We been wearin suits and readin Stanley Crouch and all that s___. We even watched almost half of that Ken Burns joint. Tell me that aint dedication, yo.

Man, I can name every one of those motherf_____ Marsalises. And Nat, dawg has got me to almost completely stop sayin bitch.

Reed My Lips is available on CD and vinyl (for scratching and sampling) on Impulse Records. A full transcript of Zebulon Creaseys interview is available by sending three (3) sheets of loose leaf paper and a sharp number 2 pencil to Mr. Creasey, C/O AAJ.

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