I used to hate Birdy because she was outrageously successful and the same age as me. I felt like she was my arch nemesis, my antithesis and the symbol of my lack of stardom. There are just some people whose youthful genius makes you feel like Rob Kardashian- outshone, ignored and frankly a bit boring. Reading the words “age 18” on someone’s Wikipedia page sends a disconcerting shiver down my spine. There I am, laptop resting uncomfortably near the face, wearing a stupidly large t shirt and bedsocks and munching on some cheap chocolate. And there this person is, signing a record deal, discovering an unknown element or just generally winning at life. “Oh woe” is what comes to mind. Oh woe that this person should be so outrageously talented and deserving of success.
Just such a scene took place as I began listening to the band “BadBadNotGood”. This group of jazz students from Toronto started making music when they were still at college together. They began by covering rap songs, to the distaste of their jazz performance instructors. Their style was so innovative and fresh, however, that their YouTube video covering “Lemonade” by Gucci Mane attracted the attention of none other than rap superstar, Tyler The Creator. Two albums later, they’re recording a live session with Tyler in one of the band member’s basement. Say WHATT?! Say ACTUAL WHAT?!
Their first album release, BBNG, was recorded in a three hour session and was called “a welcome reinterpretation of modern jazz without the pretense of snotty wine parties and thick rimmed hipster dinosaurs” by Sputnikmusic. What kind of crazy review is that? That’s the kind of review that makes you prick your ears up. A genre defying group of innovators you say? Mind if I take a look?
My intro to the band was their 2013 album ‘III’. When I first heard the song “Confessions” on a compilation playlist, I physically stopped what I was doing so that I could just listen and groove. At first it sounds like the opening credits to a spy series from the 50s. All smokey streets and shadowy guys with huge trench coats. And then that saxophone begins sexing things up and finally that creamy piano sound ices the top in a deep red. Despite the spy series reference, there isn’t even a hint of cliche in this writing. The combination of each element makes the whole sound totally new and even slightly unpredictable. I think that’s what you want from this kind of modern jazz, that movie-score-like quality that keeps things twisting and turning smoothly. This is raw raw talent, and not yet wizened enough to be self indulgent.
They experiment with electronics on tracks like “Since You Asked Kindly” and manage to strike just the right balance between suspense and groove with those cymbal clashes. Other tracks have a much more old timey jazz bar feel. One such track is “Differently, Still”, whose title perfectly sums up the way BadBadNotGood have taken traditional styles and built upon them in a new and exciting way. “Differently, Still” showcases their ability to effortlessly work together to produce a clever and unified sound.
Listening to the smooth tracks on ‘III’, with the back heavy drum riffs and the drama of the production, it’s hardly surprising that big rappers have taken so much notice of these guys. It’s a new, full bodied sound, that with the right flow could meld seamlessly across genres. And so they have in their collaboration with Ghostface Killah, (a member of the actual Wu-Tang Clan), “Sour Soul”. This album is firreeee. If you like old skl rap and mellow yet flamingly jazzy backup then you will eat this album for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t even know what that metaphor means. That’s how excited about this I am. They collaborated with a frickin member of the WU-TANG CLAN. THEY HAVE ACHIEVED THE AMERICAN DREAM.
My favourite is “Street Knowledge” because of the esoteric backing and the lethargy of the vocals. I also absolutely love “Nuggets Of Wisdom” which starts with the same 50s detective show vibe we’ve heard on the rest of BBNG’s collection. The chorus is groovular and the lyrics are thought provoking. My final pick is “Ray Gun” which features DOOM (a.k.a MF DOOM). The backing is sultry and dramatic and these two are meant to rap together. There is also this crazy bit at the end that could have been taken straight from a James Bond film. Needs to be heard to be understood.
So, although my initial reaction is always to resent these unnaturally talented boys, I cannot help but concede that these guys DESERVE THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD for what they have created in their relatively short existences. I can’t help but feel oddly proud of them for reaching these dizzying heights, and ultimately wish them well with tears in my eyes and a forced smile on my face.
Keep it jazzy party people,