Who Did It Better Nas vs. Blu!
The Sample: Ahmad Jamal Trio - ‘I Love Music’ (1970)
Anyone who knows anything about jazz music beyond Miles and Coltrane will tell you that Ahmad Jamal is one of the greatest pianists ever, hands down. Whether it was 'At The Pershing – But Not For Me' in 1958 or 'The Awakening' in 1970, Jamal had a way of finding his voice through his fingers. He wasn’t as disjointed as Thelonious Monk nor as tip-toe as Bill Evans, but just as powerful as both. He could pound the keys as if he had fingers of rock or he could flutter a phrase like a feather in the wind. This elasticity of style is what led esteemed jazz critic Stanley Crouch to claim that “no single artist after the great alto saxophonist [Charlie Parker] has been more important to the development of fresh form in jazz than Ahmad Jamal.”
The breadth of his innovation is apparent in what is probably his greatest album, the Ahmad Jamal Trio's 'The Awakening' on Blue Note. On 'I Love Music,' it’s as if every single utterance of the keys could be transformed into a loop. At the start it sounds like a classical piece before he swoons his way towards a jazzier, free-flowing technique. The way he carves out small sections of the song to indulge in his improvisatory whim makes the song stretch out into eternal paradise.
Flip 1: Nas - 'The World Is Yours'
Pete Rock is a magician. He can isolate one sound, be it a bassline or a snare or a vocal sample, put a filter on it and expand that sound into an entire atmosphere. Here the flip is doubly impressive. Not only does he do what's described above, but he makes it happen with a faint piano riff at the 4:58 mark. The way Jamal plays it, it's almost an afterthought, like drifting smoke after a forest fire. Pete Rock claims he made Nas's 'The World Is Yours' in less than ten minutes. If he had the same laissez-faire attitude in making the beat that Jamal sounds like he had in playing the keys, it's hard to tell.
Flip 2: Blu & Exile - 'Maybe One Day'
Fast forward a minute of the Ahmad Jamal song and you find our second sample from Blu and Exile's second album, 'Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them.' Exile's sample is more punchy, as he chopped up the individual keys that Jamal plays with more conviction at the 6:01 mark. You can hear Exile drown the chops in reverb at the start of the song, which serves to isolate and introduce the sample that's woven underneath the beat that soon drops.
The beauty in all this is how three different musicians manipulate their instruments to come up with beautiful sounds. 'I Love Music' is littered with more sample-ready opportunities than a Chinese buffet. Pete found a quick, soft sample that he looped to perfection, while Exile found heavier sounds to split up. Exile might have done more manipulation to the Jamal song by chopping up each note to play separately on a drum pad, but come on. Pete Rock wins this by a landslide. That beat, thanks to that piano loop, is forever embedded in hip-hop's collective consciousness. DJ Premier might have flipped yet another part of Jamal's classic the best with Jeru the Damaja's 'Me Or The Papes,' but that's another chapter. And don't forget Q-Tip's timeless mix of 'The World Is Yours,' too.