During my editorial stint at the hip-hop website TheBoombox.com, I compiled a top 20 list of the Greatest Jazz Rap Albums of the 1990s. It’s not a thorough list by any means (I only had 20 slots to fill), so I missed a few albums. But I have most of the celebrated jazz/hop-hop albums of that era.
One of the many artists featured on the list was a little unknown band called Justice System. They were an eclectic live band out of New York who made a name for themselves by performing energetic live shows throughout NYC. The group was eventually signed to MCA Records and released their debut album Rooftop Soundcheck in 1994.
The project was a great collection of jazz and rap-infused sounds that celebrated hip-hop culture. The LP was a toast to New York with standout tracks like “Trouble on My Mind" (with its hat-tip to Public Enemy's Chuck D) and “Santana,” which paid homage to legendary guitarist Carlos Santana.
Twenty-four years after the release of their debut album, Justice System is back with a new track called “Bronxian Bauxite.” Produced by Jason Famous Beats, the song is a salute to the birthplace of hip-hop (Bronx, New York) and the five elements from the culture.
Listen to Justice System's "Bronxian Bauxite"
There's plenty of old-school phrasings and deft rapping from the two MCs who are spitting lyrics over a melodic piano groove and a classic boom-bap beat. Lyrics consists of reflective rhymes like this:
"Seminole headstrap my rap is inspired by the "Big Payback" and Uptown brainiacs / They were sonic archeologists, non-apologists, obvious ominous in the invisible metropolis / Minding for gold with no handhold / Records untold, they were buying by the billfold / And when a new break was found...it was like, get down-get down."
You can cop/stream Justice System's "Bronxian Bauxite" at all digital stores including at Spotify and Apple Music.
If you are unfamiliar with the Justice System's 1994 album Rooftop Soundcheck, I added two of my favorite songs from the project for your listening pleasure. Hit the flip below.
Can we please have a moment of silence for legendary jazz trumpeter Roy Anthony Hargrove.
The 49-year-old musician passed away on Friday night (Nov. 2) in New York. According to NPR, the cause of death was cardiac arrest. Hargrove's longtime manager, Larry Clothier, told NPR that he had been admitted to the hospital for medical issues related to kidney function; he had been on dialysis for many years.
Born in Waco, Texas in 1969, Hargrove was an enormously gifted musician who was discovered by iconic trumpeter Wynton Marsalis while he was still in high school. He would often sit with Marsalis and occasionally play sideman to his band. After high school, Hargrove attended Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music but left after one year and began his musical career in New York.
Hargrove was a brilliant experimenter in jazz. He was among the first to incorporate elements of hip-hop music into his repertoire back in the early '90s when doing so was often frowned upon by jazz purists. He created the RH Factor, a collective of artists that included like-minded musicians like James Poyser, Jonathan Batiste, and Bernard Wright, among many others. Affiliated members included Steve Coleman and Greg Osby (both of whom are part of the illustrious M-Base Collective).
“I think that music is so spread out,” he explain to veteran journalist/historian Nate Chinen about the RH Factor in 2003 (via JazzTimes). “There’s so many different worlds within music to be explored. Why limit yourself to just one?"
"When I was going to school at Berklee I noticed that there were a lot of cliques that had established themselves. There’s group A, group B, divisions and then subdivisions," he continued. "Because in the funk world you would have the straight-up fusion cats, and then you have cats that play behind straight-up R&B, and then you would have gospel in the middle of that. And in jazz, you would have cats who only played like Bird, bebop. And then the Trane cats. And you would have the progressive guys who were more into original music. So it was wild for me, because I would just go in and out of each one of these. I just never believed in limiting yourself to one way of playing.”
Hargrove's creative Neo-bop sound can be heard on his 1990 debut album Diamond on the Rough and on 1992's The Vibe. These two albums are the precursors to the late Guru's Jazzmatazz series. Greg Osby's debut effort 3-D Lifestyles (1993), Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque project (1994) and Herbie Hancock's Dis Is Da Drum (1994) are just a few albums that followed in Hargrove's progressive lead.
But Roy Hargrove Presents The RH Factor: Hard Groove project is his visionary take on the jazz, soul and hip-hop fusion. Overall, the album is a meticulous jam session with Hargrove's fluttery horn riffs highlighting the band's infectious live instrumentation. Standout tracks include the jazz-hop-inflicted "Poetry" (featuring Q-Tip and Erykah Badu) and the soulful love ballad "Kwah/Home" (featuring Anthony Hamilton).
Hargrove's musical amalgam wasn't regulated to just hip-hop, he dabbled in different genres of music as well. On his 1994 album Blues 'n Ballads, he incorporated blues to his jazz compositions and on 1995's Parker's Mood, Hargrove teamed up with bassist Christian McBride and pianist Stephen Scott to pay homage to the father of bebop Charlie Parker.
Hargrove also delivered his beautiful trumpeting on other artists' projects. He performed on Common's 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate, as well as on Erykah Badu’s 2000 project Mama’s Gun and her 2003 effort, Worldwide Underground. He also contributed his brass arrangements on both D’Angelo’s revered albums Voodoo and Black Messiah.
Among Hargrove's accolades include two Grammy Awards -- one for Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2003 for Directions in Music and Best Latin Jazz Performance in 1998 for Habana, his stellar Afro-Cuban album recorded in Havana.
After hearing the sad news of Roy Hargrove's passing, artists such as Questlove, Erykah Badu, Eric Roberson, Anita Baker and many others tweeted their condolences.
You can read some of their tweets below.
The Great Roy Hargrove. He is literally the one man horn section I hear in my head when I think about music. To watch him harmonize with himself stacking nine horn lines on mamouth 10… https://t.co/ytaw0i8RWV
I have no words over the loss of my dear brother of 31 years. We played on a lot of sessions together, traveled a lot of miles together, laughed a lot together, bickered on occasion - and I wouldn’t change our relationship for anything in the world. Bless you, Roy Hargrove.
R.I.P Roy Hargrove, King. Everyone speaks to your incredible artistry which can certainly never be denied but, I learned in watching you that the truly great consider others. You were… https://t.co/JZ1cbQpSoF