Once upon a time, hip-hop’s pioneering producers cast their crate-digging nets far and wide in search of usable sounds — including, of course, from the rich history of jazz. But as it goes with the cycles of inspiration and creation, soon jazz artists circled around and began working with hip-hop and its productions on their own terms. The possibilities of this sound have been wonderfully explored by artists like Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin — but no group has embraced the median zone between hip-hop and jazz as prolifically as Toronto four-piece BADBADNOTGOOD.
The band’s original lineup met in 2010, as jazz students in their late teens who bonded over jams of hip-hop covers. One of those went viral, opening up a wide new world to the group, which was soon collaborating with rappers like Tyler, The Creator and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan. The four were met with instant credibility in the rap world, not only as a backing band but also for deft interpretions of artists as disparate as Nas, Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame.
Now, with their latest album Talk Memory, BBNG stripped its sound back to the basics and focused on the instruments; these jams are less hip-hop informed, and feel more cinematic and psychedelic.
“I feel like music is just so interconnected. Like it was when we started and now it’s almost even more so,” says bassist Chester Hansen. “Labels in general are kind of a weird thing. I feel like we’re just happy to be playing music and growing together.”
This episode features music from Talk Memory and a cover of the late pianist Larry Willis’ “Inner Crisis” (a piece that didn’t make it into our recently published concert film). The original Willis recording from 1973 appeared as a sample in the Gravediggaz track “2 Cups of Blood” (1994) and then later on Tyler, The Creator’s “Lumberjack” (2021), making this cover of “Inner Crisis” a subtle nod to both sample culture and the band’s jazz roots. References like that have been a theme throughout BBNG’s decade-long career, but coupled with the new direction in sound on Talk Memory it also sets the tone for where the band is heading, as they lean less on collaborations and more on the daring skills within their core unit.
Leland Whitty, tenor saxophone, guitar; Chester Hansen, bass; Alexander Sowinski, drums; Felix Fox-Pappas, keyboards; Brandee Younger, harp
- Love Preceding (Alexander Sowinski, Chester Hansen, Leland Whitty)
- Lavender (Sowinski, Hansen, Whitty, Kevin Celestin)
- Inner Crisis (Larry Willis)
- City of Mirrors (Sowinski, Hansen, Whitty)
- Talk Meaning (featuring Brandee Younger) (Sowinski, Hansen, Whitty, Terrace Martin, Brandee Younger)
Writers and Producers: Alex Ariff and Sarah Geledi; Consulting Editor, Katie Simon; Host: Christian McBride; Concert engineer and mix, Josh Rogosin; Additional mixing, Josh Newell; Episode mix, Ron Scalzo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.
Special thanks to Nick Dierl, Duncan Will and Warren Katz.