Sprung from the mind of Adam Theis comes a hip-hop symphony. The album, Brass, Bows, & Beats captures a live performance of the symphony at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts.
There was a time when hip-hop and symphonies were probably considered two completely opposite sides of the musical spectrum but slowly that has changed. Album’s like Deltron 3030 and the production of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League incorporate many elements of classical music. Artists like Black Violin and Miri Benari have even integrated live traditional classical musical instruments into hip hop. Jazz Mafia Hip-Hop Symphony seems to just be taking this vision further.
The main issue I have with Jazz Mafia Hip-Hop Symphony is how little hip-hop is actually in the music. The elements of jazz and classical music are well defined but besides some rather weak rapping during “Sweet Memory” and a guest appearance by Lyrics Born, hip-hop is surprisingly under-represented. Instead the album relies on R&B singing and spoken word for most of the vocals. Hip-hop is represented in other ways through the beats and some record scratching but I think rapping is what most people associate with the genre.
The lack of hip-hop does not make the record bad though. Obviously, the musicianship exhibited is excellent and the beats are often entrancing. The vocals really remain the only thing I would change about the album. The album’s closing 16+ minute opus “At My Window” shows the most promise. Lyrics Born spits a verse that’s more than adequate for the tracks odd swinging beat. The track, also, features the best verse rapped by a member of Jazz Mafia. The track’s length alone makes it quite an ordeal to sit through but it is ultimately the best track on the album.
Overall, if not for the inclusion of the word “hip-hop” in the album’s title I think I would have enjoyed the album more. Hearing hip-hop leads to a certain checklist of expectations and very few of them were met with Jazz Mafia’s Hip-Hop Symphony: Brass, Bows, & Beats. The album is pretty good for what it is, but it is not exactly what it is advertised as.