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On July 24, 1991, the setting is idyllic for the Gang Starr concert scheduled at the Antibes-Juan-les-Pins jazz festival (Alpes-Maritimes), opening act for Carlos Santana. The stage installed under the Gould pine forest is set in the Mediterranean which sparkles behind the speakers, with the sea surf in the background. This concert in a festival of international reputation should propel the career in Europe of the New York hip-hop group. Spotted a year earlier thanks to the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s film, Mo’Better Blues, the duo formed by Guru and DJ Premier already has a handful of fans in France. Coming from Nice, two trainees from Radio France are part of it and are impatiently awaiting one of the first rap groups to perform in the south of the country.
This concert in a festival of international reputation must propel the career in Europe of the hip-hop group
Jazz Thing, title of Gang Starr, closes Spike Lee’s third film by telling the history of the genre, from the slave trade to the streets of New Orleans, from the success of Louis Armstrong to the free jazz of John Coltrane. For the soundtrack, Terence Blanchard accompanied the saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s quartet on trumpet. He had hosted at his home the two youngsters from Gang Starr, whose particularity is to sample jazz classics to create militant and sophisticated raps, energized by the scratches of DJ Premier, a virtuoso on the turntables. In New York, hip-hop has taken over airwaves and car radios, borrowing more from James Brown’s funk and soul than from Duke Ellington orchestras. Gang Starr is a game-changer.
On the first album, No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989), DJ Premier sample Flowers by pianist Ramsey Lewis and Guru recalls the jazz his father and his friends played in Boston, Massachusetts. Jazz Music is not the only title of the disc in this key, there is also Manifest which uses Charlie Parker and Miles Davis’ version ofA Night in Tunisia, by Dizzy Gillespie. The video clip of a Guru dressed as Malcom X catches the attention of Spike Lee, who decides to meet the group and offer to record a new version of Jazz Music for his next film. The filmmaker then asks Guru to adapt into rap a poem by Lolis Eric Elie on jazz and DJ Premier joins forces with Branford Marsalis to scratch the voices of jazzmen who will decorate this Jazz Thing.
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