In Lifted, Javon Anderson examines the long-standing relationship between jazz and hip hop.
Throughout his illustrious career, Miles Davis always had an ear to the ground, searching for new possibilities of what music could be.
Those explorations led him to reinvent his identity multiple times as a jazz master from the bebop era, sculpting the sound of the music with his major contributions to the development of cool jazz and hard bop. One of the best examples of his transformations was his admiration of Jimi Hendrix and other rock musicians, which led to his electric period that shaped the style of jazz fusion in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s.
In Davis’s later years, he was as intentional as ever with making progressive music, looking towards hip hop as it was beginning to build upon its foundations and further establish itself in the early ‘90s. On the suggestion of Russell Simmons, Davis sought the help of hip-hop and R&B producer Easy Mo Bee, who at the time had already worked with Big Daddy Kane and would later go on to produce Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die. Together they recorded six completed pieces in one month, limited by Davis’s declining health and eventual passing in 1991. Easy Mo Bee went on to complete the album, building and sampling around those recordings and even lending his own vocals to three of the nine final tracks. This collaboration was Davis’s final album, titled Doo-Bop, released posthumously in the summer of 1992.
The resulting sound of Doo-Bop features elements of R&B, funk, new jack swing and acid jazz. One of the highlights of the album is Miles’s adventurous playing, providing a rich palette for Easy Mo Bee to build around. This made for some moments of very interesting and sharp lines from Davis’s muted trumpet over more contemporary production, as expected from the jazz legend. One composition that emphasizes this is the first track (and its album-closing reprise), Mystery.
In trademark hip-hop fashion, Doo-Bop also contains plenty of sampling. Easy Mo Bee sampled a wide range of artists including James Brown, Donald Byrd, KC and the Sunshine Band, Slick Rick and even the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show. For The Doo-Bop Song, Easy Mo Bee used elements from Gang Starr’s DJ Premier in Deep Concentration for the main loop.
(That song also originally contained a sample found in Kool & The Gang’s iconic Summer Madness and Ahmad Jamal’s The Awakening.)
Doo-Bop marked one of the earliest direct collaborations between a hip-hop artist and a jazz musician, predating even Guru’s Jazzmatazz, often considered the quintessential collaborative jazz-hop album. Upon its release, Doo-Bop earned a reputation as one of Davis’s most polarizing albums, dismissed by many critics at the time while also going on to win a Grammy for best R&B instrumental performance in 1993.
As Davis’s final album, Doo-Bop really fits his forward-thinking nature as a musician which coloured his whole life and career. One can only wonder what the results would have been if Miles Davis had more time to explore hip-hop within the context of jazz. It may have changed the courses of both genres.