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Music

Five Songs By The 'Rhodes Scholar' Keyboardist Of Hip-Hop

Keyboardist and producer Bob James' 1970s work helped to establish the sound of smooth jazz — and lives on in hip-hop samples galore.
Keyboardist and producer Bob James' 1970s work helped to establish the sound of smooth jazz — and lives on in hip-hop samples galore.

Professing love for Bob James' music can yield a side-eye in some circles. Jazz purists routinely view the keyboardist's 1970s period as a progenitor to smooth jazz — an idiom they frequently react to as if it were a sign of the apocalypse.

Nevertheless, James knows his way around the keyboards, and has demonstrated a keen gift for concocting catchy melodies and funky grooves, enticing many R&B and funk fans. His music also seduced legions of hip-hop and deep house producers such as DJ Jazzy Jeff, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez. In fact, James' output on the CTI and (his own) Tappan Zee labels is some of the most sampled music in hip-hop.

That's one of the reasons why the new two-disc compilation, Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974-1982, is a motherlode for any DJ looking for jams with a deeper sense of music history that will still ignite dance floors. And don't be surprised if you hear some of today's funk-informed jazz stars such as Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins and Ben Williams drop a Bob James quote or two in their live performances.

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