Sitting in his studio in the UK, Geoff Wilkinson, the producer behind the legendary UK jazzy hip-hop act Us3, talks to URB about his just released LP, Lie, Cheat, Steal. Featuring the Brooklyn-based Oveous Maximus & London-based MC Akala,Wilkinson says he likes to change MCs with each project to keep Us3 fresh. The inspiration for his 8th album: ”There have been so many scandals involving corrupt politicians, business leaders, journalists, religious leaders, sportsmen. It seems there is nobody left as role models for our kids to look up to.”
Sitting in another studio in Columbus, Ohio, is hip-hop producer J Rawls whose music is also heavily inspired by jazz. One of hip-hop’s most overlooked producers, Rawls just released a single from his upcoming album, LIQUID CRYSTAL PROJECT (out this month). For URB, the two sat down to chop it up about the state of history of jazz-hop (a term J Rawls coined), and how their music still gives voice youth all over the word. The two may lives miles away from each other, but they aren’t so far apart.
JRAWLS: Hip-Hop Jazz is not new. Can you describe the history of the Jazz-Hop (my made up term, LOL!) as you perceive it?
Geoff: Jazz-Hop! Ha! I think the first time I heard jazz & hip-hop fused together brilliantly was LL Cool J’s “Going Back To Cali” in 1988. The first jazz sample I recognized in a hip-hop track was probably Young MC’s “Non Stop” (from his 1989 album Stone Cold Rhymin’) which used Wes Montgomery’s (version of The Beatles track) “A Day In The Life.”
Both were, and still are, incredible tracks. It would take a book to chart the history of the way the two musics have intertwined. It was inevitable that the two musics would bond together. Hip-hop and jazz both have a history of liberally using other influences to develop, mutate, and move forward. That’s the great thing about them both, they’re in a state of constant evolution.
JRAWLS: Give us an overview of the Lie, Cheat, Steal album? What inspired the album as well as the title?
Geoff: I had the title a long time before I had even finished the music, or put any vocals down. I wanted to make something that was angry, but in a controlled way. An iron fist in a velvet glove.
Musically speaking, I featured a lot of players that work with the live Us3 band. I stopped using samples 10 years ago. All the players on the album are fantastic musicians in their own right. I also like to change the vocalists on each Us3 album, and this time I have featured Oveous Maximus & London-based MC Akala. I approached both of them because I liked their individual styles, they’re both great writers capable of expressing the emotions I wanted to capture.
Geoff: A lot of hip-hop producers/artists have been influenced by jazz, and a lot of young jazz musicians profess to like hip-hop. So why don’t more of them work together? If I was an A&R man I’d be falling over myself to get Nas & Christian Scott in the studio together!
JRAWLS: I think that the door just needs to be opened. Many jazz artists I have spoken with have not really felt like the hip-hop producers would be messing with them. And hip-hop producers have told me they didn’t think that true jazz artists would be interested. We just need to open the door and get this process moving. I have been dying to work with Robert Glasper and Pharez Whitted. Well with this new LIQUID CRYSTAL PROJECT, we were able to bring in Pharez. So its happening but its just happening slowly.
Geoff: I like the fact that you have a jazz attitude in relation to working with other people. There was a billion MCs collaborating on “The Hip Hop Affect”! Who’s featured on your tribute to De La Soul album, and what was your reason for making it?
JRAWLS: The Tribute to De La is the first single to the LIQUID CRYSTAL PROJECT 3 album. The follow-up single will be a Tribute to A Tribe Called Quest!
I am a lover of jazz and a lover of hip-hop, so its only right I merge both. I made up a term a little while ago that I call “JAZZ-HOP.” Hip-Hop and jazz have been fused for years, but it never had a label and people need a label in order to categorize something. So this was my mindset for creating this album. The band and I are trying to create a movement that reaches the masses. This may take some time, but its about time we started pushing this movement!
JRAWLS: Describe the London Riots. What do you think were the root cause behind them?
Geoff: The initial spark was a peaceful demo against the police shooting of a black man in Tottenham. The demo got out of hand and spiraled way out of control unbelievably quickly. Some opportunist thieves moved in and started looting shops, and that quickly spread to other areas of London as the police were totally caught unawares.
What started as a legitimate protest turned into an opportunistic free for all. I think the reason it spread so quickly showed how angry people are underneath the surface. Governmental cutbacks and austerity measures coupled with increasing unemployment and an increasingly bleak economic outlook for many young people were all factors.
Geoff: The Occupy Wall Street movement has been spreading to other cities across the U.S. Everyone knows individual gun ownership is very high in the U.S. compared to Europe. Sooner or later a protester is going to squeeze the trigger in retaliation to the police trying to clear the streets. What happens next?
JRAWLS: At this point most Americans are hoping that the protest remains as peaceful as possible. While it is true in the U.S. we do have more guns on the streets, both legal and illegal, i don’t think that many of the protestors are thinking along those lines. If this does happen though, I think there will be some issues and it could get potentially bad.
However, America needs some stirring up. If you look around the world, change is happening everywhere; Egypt, Libya etc. Change is not a bad thing and it seems as if people are in need of change at this time. America is no different.