Bridging the gap, from the blues, to jazz, to rap / The history of music on this track”
– Nas: Bridging the Gap
For centuries societies have been inspired by generations past. Whether it’s politicians learning from their predecessor’s mistakes, a child following their parents lead, or artists paying homage to influential figures through work of their own. Blues and folk culture is built upon elders passing on their knowledge and skills, as well as their trials and tribulations, to the succeeding generation. So they never fade and the art never dies. Like a candle that’s eternally lit. Music, like most art forms, is about collaboration. Whether it’s instrumentally, rhythmically, or mentally. Creative expression through collaboration is one of life’s true treasures.
In 1954, Muddy Waters released the Willie Dixon-penned single I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man. A timeless hit. Muddy’s lead guitar and vocals hit you like your first sip of hard liquor. Little Walter’s harmonica causes your foot to tap and your head to bop. Willie Dixon’s smooth bass keeps the band rhythmically in-sync. Fred Below’s booming bass drum, crisp snare and faint hi-hats bring power and intensity. Otis Spann’s smooth piano adds class and texture. It’s a landmark recording that truly embodies the style and attitude of Post-WWII Chicago blues.
The melody Muddy and his band created has a reach far greater than one single. I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man inspired fellow Chess musician and rock n’ roll revolutionary Bo Diddley to craft his 1955 smash hit I’m a Man. The colossal hit spawned Muddy to release the spin-off single Mannish Boy, another permanent fixture in his live repertoire. This is just one example throughout music’s grand history where the performance and melodies of one influenced another; a unifying trope of hip-hop production thorough sampling (sampling is an intricate production technique where a snippet of audio is re-used to create a contemporary piece of music. It can be a drum break, vocals, a melody, etc.).
Fast-forward to 2004, nearly 50 years later. Legendary Hip-hop MC Nas and his father, Jazz musician Olu Dara Jones, collaborated on a song entitled Bridging the Gap. The second single for Nas’ upcoming album Street’s Disciple. The spine of the track is Muddy’s classic melody from Mannish Boy, brilliantly sampled by the song’s producer and frequent collaborator of Nas, Salaam Remi. This genre bending track eloquently showcases how hip-hop culture and rap music represent an evolution of the foundation that blues and gospel set.
Nas and Muddy Waters are different musicians, but they’re cut from the same cloth. On one hand we have an MC from the Queensbridge projects in New York; the concrete jungle. The other, a bluesman from the rustic Mississippi community of Jugs Corner, raised on Stovall’s Plantation. Nas, a poet whose lyrics vividly depict his upbringing in Queensbridge. Muddy, a prodigious bluesman whose humble beginnings as a sharecropper helped shape the man and musician he became.
Genres grow dim, legends fade quietly in the night, but their work lives on infinitely through word of mouth. It represents their upbringing and their thoughts. Stylistically blues and hip-hop are different, but they represent how music progresses as each era concludes. Song content changes and musicianship evolves, the music industry becomes more lucrative, but the musician’s grind remains the same.