Music infoms the Experience: The Bobbi Humphrey / Eric B & Rakim SessionsPosted: December 19, 2011
When I think of the Black experience within the United States I don’t draw from the lies my teachers told me. No, I think of Langston Hughe’s poems, Zora Neal Hurston’s stories, and my grandfathers horn. I think of the arts and the way they have always been a speakerbox for our experiences and struggles; struggles to live and struggles to liberate. Art carries our history and stories, and it is also an inspiring source for our healing and survival. The words of the late great Gil Scot-Heron come to mind, “the music that informs our historical biography”. Today we will be featuring the funky, jazzy sounds and beats of flautist Bobbi Humphrey and hip hop duo Eric. B and Rakim, who sample Bobbi Humphrey’s funky ‘Blacks and Blues’ on their track ‘Keep the Beat.’
Eric. B and Rakim are often noted as one of the most influential MC/DJ duo’s in hip hop history. Eric. B played instruments, but switched over to turntables in high school. When he was 17 he met Rakim and after a week of recording they released their innovative debut album, Paid in Full, in 1987. Immediately influential, it marked an artistic turn within hip hop. Eric. B’s sampling style and use of 70’s funk and jazz jams with Rakim’s slow and direct flow created a new hip hop sound that would inspire the next generation of hip hop in the 1990’s and beyond. The track featured below comes off of their fourth and last studio album as a duo titled Don’t Sweat the Technique. The track ‘Keep the Beat’ demonstrates the signature aggressive slow Rakim flow over the jazzy and soulful production of Eric. B. The melody is sampled from Bobbi Humphrey’s song ‘Blacks and Blues.’ Eric. B doesn’t cut up the sample much keeping the original piano throughout. The innovation comes with the vocal interpolation he uses with the chorus to go along with the sample. Musically, interpolation is used in many ways, but within hip hop interpolation refers to using a melody from a previously recorded song, but re-recording the melody instead of sampling it. Eric. B takes Jerry Peters piano melody from Humphrey’s song and re-records it using the jazzy vocals in the chorus, producing a fresh new track, while still keeping the chill, jazzy vibe of the original. Delicious.
Bobbi Humphrey is an american Jazz flautist and singer. Her style reflects a fusion of jazz, funk, and soul styles. In 1971 she was signed to Blue Note Jazz label, the first female to do so. Women have always been shut out from the jazz horn player scene. Singing was often the only role for women in music, therefore it is no surprise that it took till 1971 for the legendary jazz label to sign on the enormous amounts of talent coming from women musically. Blacks and Blues is her third studio album recorded and released in 1973 on Blue Note. The album reflects the fusion of funk and jazz that was intermixing during the 1970’s creating a chill sunshine vibe that we can use during these short winter days. Jerry Peter’s beautiful piano opens the track setting the melody over Chuck Rainey’s funky electric bass line while Humphrey’s subtle flute enters 30 seconds later creating a soft and melodic sound. Humphrey’s talents are apparent throughout, but especially during her aggressive funky solo in the middle.
Humphrey’s jazz funk fusion updated with Eric. B and Rakim’s beats and flows creates a soulful, uptempo vibe that really speaks to the dynamism of hip hop, and how musical it really is. Eric. B samples jazz and funk, because that is the origins of hip hop. People love to say that hip hop and rap aren’t musical, because there are no instruments. First off hip hop does use live instruments, but that isn’t the main point. The way dj’s and producers are able to take old music and cut it up to produce new sounds and lay vocals over the new beats to produce original songs is highly innovative. These two tracks listened individually and together reflect the development of art and black art over time. Bobbi Humphrey and Eric. B and Rakim’s connection musically is a beautiful example of the innovation of black artists and their ability, like revolutionary struggle itself, to connect and build off of one another to produce something new and powerful. Peep game!