For the week of 7/23/2012…

“We Can Get Down” by A Tribe Called Quest

Does this qualify as a deep cut?  It’s on Midnight Marauders, one of ATCQ’s three platinum albums, but since it was never released as a single, it remains a lesser-known gem.  Both lyrically and musically, this song is pleasantly upbeat and begs to be listened to on repeat.  The production here may very well be my favorite among all of the hip-hop tracks in my music collection; ATCQ draws upon Bill Cosby’s 1971 jazz composition, “Martin’s Funeral,” and a soulfully reflective four-chord electric-piano vamp in particular, weaving it into an upbeat soundtrack for their hip-hop positivity.

A little background on the song being sampled:  “Martin’s Funeral” is a 15-minute composition by Bill Cosby — yes, that Bill Cosby — which translates the experience of Martin Luther King’s 1968 funeral into the language of jazz music.  Cosby plays electric piano on the track, which appeared on Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral & Marching Band, one of his few non-stand-up-comedy albums; his liner notes for the album included a lengthy essay on the civil rights leader’s death.  For more on this interesting piece of African-American cultural history, read this.  And to listen to “Martin’s Funeral,” click here, or just scroll down to the bottom of this post; it really is worth listening despite its length.

At least in my case, listening to the original source music sampled by ATCQ, De La Soul, and other hip-hop groups of their era gives me an increased appreciation of sampling as an artistic exercise.  Weaving together a collage of samples can result in a sound dramatically different from the songs being sampled, and the transformation of the downbeat jazz of “Martin’s Funeral” into the upbeat (if relaxed) jazz-rap of “We Can Get Down” is instructive as an example.

“We Can Get Down”

“Martin’s Funeral”

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