Jazz and Hip-Hop: Similarities and Differences

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Today, there are some music genres that are not attributed to jazz either for their existence or their style (Rossman, 2018, p 1819). Hip-hop music has greatly been influenced by jazz (Williams, 2010, p. 435). Given the influence of jazz over hip-hop, the key question is where it the jazz music genre originate and for what reasons has it emerged as the most influential? The very first appearance of the word jazz was in print in 1913 (Lipsitz, 2011, p.261; Collier, 2005). The inspiration behind the emergence of jazz was through the slave songs, which existed as ragtime music during the 1980s (Strauss, 2011). Though ragtime advanced over time into jazz, its influence is still evident today in John Legend (Adaso, 2018). The movie Selma used Common’s song Glory as a theme song signifying its influential aspect. Besides the song in 2015 won the Oscar for the best original song (Adaso, 2018). Over time, ragtime artists started to try out freestyling from where jazz gradually started to take form (Adaso, 2018). At the time, the piano was the main instrument while the artists used freestyle solos even though they relied on sheet music to finalise their performances (Adaso, 2018).

Jazz music has played a significant role in the modelling of various music genres for a long period. For this reason, this music genre has been classified for over a century as the chameleon of American music (Arvidsson, 2014, p.6; Squinobal, 2009, p. 2). The reason behind such classification and categorisation is because of how it has managed to incorporate elements from classical, Latin and funk. Analyzing every implication of the word jazz brings out the sense of music must swing by other standards. However, this could be true from some perspective, though it could be argued that jazz is a representation of a portion of a comprehensive set of the African-American music. The use of both names and categories of styles is inevitable, although there are times when the practice of cataloguing music possess restrictions for musicians, authors, and listeners from distinguishing the relations present in various sub-genres of music. Jazz and hip-hop share cultural, social and musical aspects. From the 1960s to today, the two music genres have continued to borrow and trial out on each other. The conceptual idealisation present in a jazz convention makes it hard to classify any musical exertions between people like DJ Premier and Branford Marsalis (Weiner, 2018). The experimentations presented between jazz and hip-hop is a clear representation of the examples that answer the question of whether the two music genres could mix (Weiner, 2018).

Hip-hop vs Jazz. 

The African American society has a rich cultural heritage and a great love and passion for music, aspects that have been claimed to have contributed to the birth of both hip-hop and jazz music genres (Small, 2011). While these two music genres have a close resemblance because they have many correspondences that would even bring up hip-hop as the jazz of the newer generation, the two genres have several distinct features that make them different (Peretti, 2008).

One major difference between the two music genres is drawn from their birthplace. Despite the fact that both music genres originated in the United States, jazz is said to have started in New Orleans from where it first made an appearance during the 19th century (Schuller, 2018). Initially, jazz music was commonly used during funerals, however, with time the music made way into the local bars and dance halls (Evans, 2015). The evolution regarding the audience evolved so much that by World War I jazz music was categorised as the world’s favourite music genre. Conversely, hip hop music started from the schoolyards and playgrounds of New York, during the 1970’s. Hip-hop focused on the reflection of both emotions and feelings of the young African American generation based on specific issues within their surroundings (Shahriari, 2015).

The two music genres have overtime been incorporated by Americans and other cultures worldwide. Even though hip-hop came after jazz, it has managed to transcend from being a music genre into a fully developed cultural movement. The evolution of hip-hop has today made it become associated with breakdancing and graffiti writing. There also exist certain slang words common among the young generation, which are deep-rooted from the hip-hop culture. For instance, one the greatest pioneers of hip-hop  Dj Afrika Bambaataa, claimed that five primary pillars make up the entire hip-hop culture, they include knowledge, MCing, graffiti writing, break dancing and DJing (Persaud, 2011).

Jazz and hip-hop music genres are different on the aspect of improvisation (Watkins, & Caines, 2015). Given that both music genres make use of creativeness, jazz improvisation is well thought-out as the core of the whole music piece. The improvisation aspect of jazz is so much to the extent that the singer regularly ad lib and present his or her variation anytime a jazz single is performed. For hip-hop music, it is quite different, because it often uses improvisation aspect only in freestyle hip-hop, a subgenre. Majority of the existing hip-hop music artists concentrate and emphasis on rhyme and poetry (Hisama, 2016, p.250).

The fundamental difference between jazz and hip-hop is primarily centred on the length of history and instrumentation aspects. For instance, jazz involves pre-programming in its presentation. The rhythm of jazz music is derived from bass, drums and chord instrument such as the piano or guitar. In a classic hip-hop beat, a drum machine is used for establishment purposes. Significantly, the rhythm could also be downloaded from a song previously released. Today, the jazz rap genre is still in existence, from which most of history jazz vocals are featured through singing over rap.  

The similarities between the two genres of music could be examined from a style, culture or lyrical perspective. In both genres back-beat rhythm is predominant. Back-beat involves a tune in 4/4 time switches the metric accent from the starting and third beats to the second and fourth. During the evolution of ragtime music in the 1920s, jazz era back-beat came into existence. Rock, blues, and roll also make use of the backbeat aspect. During the early 1970s, funk musicians slowed down the back-beat. The fusion led to the birth of reggae into what later evolved into hip-hop (Kksdjazz.com, 2018).

Hip-hop artists have developed the tendency of old guard to sneer the music genre. However, according to Robert Glasper, jazz could still borrow much from hip-hop. Jazz uses repetition, playing sounds that cut through and at times it could be more challenging compared improvisation. Majority of young jazz musicians are of age bracket 20-30 years. For instance pianist Kris Bowers is famous for performing jazz version of in solo format. He has performed several solo versions of Kendrick Lamar sings (Lewis, 2018). 


At the end of year report published by Nielsen, 2014, jazz genre was documented to have continuously fallen out of approval among the American listeners (Rosa, 2018). The genre has tied with classical music which is the least consumed music in the United States (Rosa, 2018). On the consumption chart, jazz and classical constitute of only 1.4% of the total music consumption in the United States (Rosa, 2018). Conversely, the sale of classical albums was higher in 2014, which put jazz as the least consumed music. The alarming trend is an implication that every year more and more jazz listeners shift to other genres (Rosa, 2018).

The sale of albums has over the years been used to quantify the success and popularity of individual genres. However, as for jazz album sales have continuously dropped, citing its reduced popularity (Rosa, 2018). According to the BusinessWeek, more than 11 million jazz albums were sold in 2011, denoting 2.8% of the total music sold in that year (Rosa, 2018). However, in 2012, album sales dropped to 2.2%, though in 2013 the sales went up recording 2.3%, before falling in 2014 to 2% (Rosa, 2018). The 2% recorded in 2014 represented only 5.2 million albums sold by all the active jazz artists. Taylor Swift was marked as the best-selling artist of 2014 recording a sale of more than 3 million copies of her latest album at the end of 2014 (Rosa, 2018).

A greater percentage of all the music consumed in the United States was Rock having 30%, making it the most popular music in 2014 (Rosa, 2018). Hip-Hop had 17% popularity level while the country had 11.2%. The possible explanations for the continuous drop and decline of popularity as well as ranking of jazz have been centred on the fact that popular crossover albums are hardly ever categorised as jazz (Rosa, 2018). Nevertheless, the underlying explanation is that new listeners tend not to fully engage with jazz music as it did happen in the past (Rosa, 2018). Besides, long-time jazz listeners often display conducts that result in them overlooking and disregarding new releases (Rosa, 2018).

It will always influence music

Jazz will always influence music because it is an exclusively American phenomenon. The genre was born out of the struggles and oppressions faced by the black men and women (Vaartstra, 2016). Therefore, jazz is a great representation of freedom (Vaartstra, 2016). The spirit of the genre is experienced through expression and the desire to express oneself without any restrictions (Vaartstra, 2016). Through singing or playing jazz music, a person allows a voice to come out free of rules and regulations. Jazz music carries and brings about the spirit of improvisation that stimulates the freedom of expression of whatever is stirring in the soul (Vaartstra, 2016). The modern society should do the same (Vaartstra, 2016). The society should express itself and share thoughts. One way of moving forward is through starting discussions with one another (Vaartstra, 2016). Taking into account the spirit of improvisation entrenched in jazz music, other artists from various genres will always try to have the same for their music, hence in one way or another jazz will have influenced their music (Vaartstra, 2016). Life forces people to improvise whether they like it or not. Every time jazz musicians start to play they are faced with the need to improvise. They always have to come up with lyrics on the spot all while listening and replying to their fellow band colleagues. Jazz is an effective way of training the brain to improvise (Vaartstra, 2016). Jazz will always influence music for its trait of improvising since artists and musicians from other genres will have to invent and create music that suits the current tastes and preferences of their listeners. 

Jazz and Modern Music Share a Lot

Jazz was categorised as the most influential genre of all music styles in the 20th

century (Taruskin, 2006). Given that jazz is an improvisational style of playing, there exists diverse phases of jazz and numerous styles of playing jazz (Bernstein, & Barrett, 2011, p. 55). Therefore, it can be argued that there is always someone, somewhere doing something different compared to another person in a different location (Chamberlin, 2012). Based on the historical perspective of this genre, jazz emerged from the Black migration from the south to the north (Keithley, 2018). Jazz can be termed or described as the people’s music because of its significant influence on the surrounding social state where it existed. Through jazz, it only takes the day’s social concerns and intertwines for people to tune around them (Gioia, 2011). Other music genres including R&B, Rock and hip-hop take this cue from jazz (Pbs.org, 2018). The classification of the best of the other genres is based on the ease with which they assume the same cue and keep on being the songs recalled by the society. In America the 20’s and 30’s are claimed to be the jazz age, a period where the style was recorded as being at the height of its popularity. Even with the constant changing of style, favour and preferences, jazz has managed to remain eternal, which is evident from the fact that big names have lived on (Farley, 2008, p. 5). Some of the names associated with jazz that have significantly carved in history include Armstrong, Miles and Basie. Some of the famous jazz singers such as Ella and Billie need no last names and have remained almost without peer. There are those artists that were greatly influenced by jazz including Chicago, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix (Spinola, 2013).

Rap and hip-hop have naturally evolved from jazz. The older music is attributed to the creation of many songs sample jazz greats and beats. The hip-hop delivery is a reflection shaped by jazz greats such as Joe Williams. Combination of rap hip-hop with jazz by various musicians has been on the rise (Williams, 2010). Miles Davies is a musician who successfully managed to combine rap hip-hop with jazz, where his final album had some hip-hop elements. Other musicians such as Quincy Jones, a bandleader and master musician habitually intertwines the three genres together. The combination by Jones is more superficial from his album The Dude. The varying and shifting nature of jazz makes it proximately distinguishable and certainly flexible to whatever is happening in the surrounding.

Collaborations between jazz and hip-hop musicians and its outcomes

Some jazz musicians grew with hip-hop in their blood. As a result, there is a thrilling genre reinvention that is accused of fixation over the past. From an outsider’s point of view on jazz genre, it is more of a form of music that lives other than a signifier’s set that is music that is improvised habitually or difficult.The term jazz gives the concept of music that is not only perfect of the moment but also helps in shaping and influencing groundbreaking artists in other genres. The current state of this genre has greatly evolved because of the new jazz musicians’ generation who have worked in other disciplines as naturally improvised before their diehard fans.

Kamasi Washington is saxophonist in Los Angeles who claims that there exists a generation of jazz musicians whose upbringing had hip-hop. The generation is believed to have grown in an era of rappers and DJs and have constantly heard the music all their life. The influence is to hip-hop from jazz and back again. Different rhythms have been used by jazz musicians to improvise their music. However, the majority of the present-day jazz gigs have musicians using the ‘slugging ‘beat popularised by the producer of hip-hop, j Dilla. The outcome is a sound that is slightly drunken and has a funk beat appears to be fused with rhythm collections that musicians of jazz use.

Collaboration between hip-hop and jazz musicians and music goes back to more than 30 years in an era when Gang Starr and Jungle brothers sampled from records of jazz and established connections among the two genres explicitly. Famous rappers such as Nas and Rakim have made remarks on ways that jazz impacted their diction as well as phrasing.Conversely, Herbie and Roy Ayers who were jazz musicians responded by stating that they did so not as native speakers but curious outsiders.

20th-century music and jazz

The 20th century has been said by many to have been the “America’s century,” because it was a period when the United States’ effect spread across the worldwide (Ward, Burns, & Marsalis, 2000). Blues music evolved even before the start of the 20th century due to the traditional African slave spirituals and chants. Blues compared to all the other developing music genres was the far-reaching owing to its inspiration and effect that stretched from jazz to rock and classical music. From the trend, the influence of jazz on the world music extract can be termed as transformational. Jazz emerged from the African American populations to the South using beats and rhythms that were a clear reflection of the cultural inspirations from West Africa to the West Indies. Jazz has similar roots to blues; the genre managed to take from another American art form, ragtime, resulting in the creation of an exclusive syncopated sound.

Jazz has been a constantly mutating and evolving style that progressively turned into swing music, and cool jazz. During the 1950s in the United States, jazz knock-on effect was seen in hip-hop and rap. Various artists such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry formed rock by utilising the musical powers of blues together with jazz. The popularity of rock genre spread across the world with groups such as Rolling stones taking most of the credit during the early 20th

century in the American music. Soul music progressed in conjunction with rock and roll, emerging out of African American gospel. Towards the end of the century, blues boy bands had gained full control of their music a position that helped them create new jack swing association (Pbs.org, 2018). The foundation of popular music for the next two decades was laid by the historical fusion of hip-hop and R&B. Hip-Hop music and associated culture came into existence towards the end of the 20th century. Djs in the Bronx New York isolated percussion rhythms from songs during the mid-1970s. Hip-hop music along with semi-autobiographical lyrics was one of the major evolutions in the jazz and blues tradition that happened at the start of the century. Moreover, evolutions witnessed in this century were a huge make over in the world of music and played a significant role in nurturing the African American community (Pbs.org, 2018).


In summary, it is clear from the above report that jazz has reenergized hip-hop in significant ways. There exists some difference between the two genres. For instance, jazz involves high levels of improvisation, unlike hip-hop that does not have that style. They also have different places of origin which explain the lyrical variations. One of the outcomes associated with reenergizing jazz hip-hop is the loss of popularity even though it is still present in today’s music. Jazz will always influence music in various ways such as through improvisation and the need for express freedom. New hip-hop and jazz artists are now using and collaborating with jazz musicians rather a sampling. The collaborations exist because each genre is fabricated on a foundational groove characterised by strong emphasis on improvisation and refined nods to the themes and music of earlier generations. Concerning hip-hop, the modern practices used for sampling purpose establish strong relations to the traditional roots of jazz. Skilful jazz players habitually quote the melodies of corporate jazz ethics and other well-recognised songs through improvisation, which has all been attributed to the inception of the genre. 


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August 01, 2023


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