Before I get into it, I will say first off that I like this music. I generally like fusion – the idea that this is “instrumental hip hop” is more than a little hilarious, if this isn’t jazz then I don’t know what it is – that stays away from “cool jazz” cliches, as this does.
But (and it’s a big but):
I think one of the main reasons I cannot get into hip hop is the hyping / bragging that is a central part of it. I don’t even like that stuff in rock and roll. (But I can handle it if the band has chops…when Danko Jones comes along and are like: “we’re so awesome,” it is very hard to take.) But with hip hop the guys are almost always bragging about how they are good at rhyming. So the fuck what?
I am not for a moment trying to deny there is something musical about rap (or even other spoken word), or that there are similarities between jazz and rap, a major component of hip hop, as there are. (One could argue that the most authentic rap is created the same way as the most authentic jazz: by improvisation.) But I still cannot for the life of me buy in to a genre where huge amounts of time and energy are spent at discussing how great they are at rhyming (or how great their DJ is at “dropping” beats). Frankly, if you’re going to brag, you should have chops.
And so that is the biggest problem I have with BBNG, despite the fact that I like what they are doing. Clearly inspired by hip hop – with their use of samples, with the occasional raps that appear, etc – they have inherited the braggadocio of hip hop, which is silly. Why is it silly? Because the idea that this is the first time people have made music like this – as they imply in their comments to the crowd, and in interviews in magazines – is beyond preposterous.
Fusion has existed for over 40 years now, folks. People have been attempting to mix hip hop and / or rap with jazz for at least twenty years. Uncharacterizable fusions between alternative rock genres and jazz have been going on for around that long as well and, funnily enough, this supposedly hip hop-derived jazz sounds an awful lot like what the Bad Plus or Acoustic Ladyland have been up to in the last decade or so.
So stop bragging. This is nice music, but it’s hardly original. Cut the bragging out of the act and it might be better.
As a side note: the reaction to BBNG in the Canadian indie music scene has been hilariously over the top – as it often is, in most indie music scenes when they think they’ve found something new – and it just goes to show you how little jazz any of these people have ever heard before. Frankly, I think On the Corner should be required listening for everyone.