The hip-hop producers who went crate-digging for Brazilian jazz

In Lifted, Javon Anderson examines the long-standing relationship between jazz and hip hop.

In the 1960s, Brazilian musicians made a huge splash with the development of bossa nova. A style of samba, it was pioneered by artists like Flora Purim, João Donato, Marcos Valle and Elis Regina and enjoyed a period of immense popularity. Soon enough, American musicians like Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra were making their own interpretations of bossa nova standards.

Fast forward to the mid-‘90s and early 2000s: Hip-hop producers began taking an interest in sampling Latin genres like bossa nova, samba and Brazilian jazz. The rhythms and sounds coming from these parts of the world captivated hip-hop artists with their complex grooves and harmonies, leaving a lot of room for transformation via the artform of sampling.

Celebrated hip-hop producer J Dilla extensively used Brazilian jazz samples to craft many instrumentals throughout his career. He had developed a clear appreciation for the genre and its colourful sounds, digging in local record shops and even flying out to Brazil to scour for rare records.

The best example of J Dilla’s work in sampling this genre is the instrumental for The Pharcyde’s 1995 single Runnin’ for their album Labcabincalifornia. The song transforms Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa’s Saudade Vem Correndo, making creative use of Bonfa’s guitar and Getz’s tenor sax lines in rearranged snippets.

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Since then, many hip hop artists have also used this exact sample, including Logic, Juice WRLD, DJ Jazzy Jeff and JPEGMAFIA. In J Dilla’s later work, the inspiration he gained from sampling Brazilian jazz completely changed the way he crafted drum grooves for his instrumentals and in turn influenced a generation of hip-hop producers to use a more humanized, behind-the-beat feel towards percussion, reminiscent of samba drummers.

Madlib is another producer who prominently adapted Latin jazz samples. Like J Dilla, Madlib travelled to Brazil looking for rare jazz records to sample, and they ended up becoming some of his most career-defining works. Over the years, Madlib compiled the obscure music he’s found in Brazil in mixes that you can find here:

In his collaboration with rapper MF DOOM as Madvillain on their critically acclaimed 2004 album Madvilliany, the influences Madlib gained from his travels to Brazil are extremely apparent. On the song Raid, Madlib expertly mixes Bill Evans’ 1968 Montreaux Jazz Festival recording of Nardis with a chopped-up reinterpretation of Osmar Milito e Quarteto Forma’s America Latina for the main elements of the instrumental. The results of Madlib’s approach to these samples turned into one of the most iconic tracks in underground hip hop of the 2000s.

Madlib has also covered Brazilian jazz songs with his fictional jazz group Yesterday’s New Quintet on the 2001 album Angles Without Edges, as well as directly collaborating with Brazilian jazz drummer Ivan Conti (founding member of the group Azymuth) on a joint project titled Jackson Conti.

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Azymuth is another jazz group whose music has been sampled by many hip-hop producers. Their approach to crafting dynamic jazz-funk grooves made them an easy favourite for producers. One example is Azymuth’s track Manha, which was sampled by Dr. Who Dat (also known as Jnerio Jarel) for his track Pharaoh’s Dream, crafting a soundscape that evokes an immersive feel similar to psychedelic genres of music.

Japanese producer and lo-fi hip hop pioneer Nujabes made use of Brazilian jazz and bossa nova samples throughout many of the instrumentals, DJ sets, and albums he produced in his career. His Luv Sic series with Japanese-American rapper Shing02 sources samples from the music of Latin Grammy-winning pianist Ivan Lins. The second part of the series samples Lins and Elis Regina’s Qualquer Dia, using Lins’ piano as a main element layered with record scratches and a driving hip-hop-flavoured beat.

Deepened by the expansive nature of both jazz and hip hop, cross-culture phenomena like these examples make for exciting and interesting fusions of two very different music genres. With an increasingly connected world and more ways of discovering new or rare forms of music than ever before, sample-based musicians are no longer limited by physical boundaries for inspiration.

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