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Tenface moves beyond the boundaries with Jazz Raps.

Tenface moves beyond the boundaries with Jazz Raps.

Jazz Raps Tenface album cover

Since its inception, hip-hop has been of a part with jazz. From the rapped vocals of James Brown and Gil Scott Heron, to Herbie Hancock’s use of scratching on future shock, to the samples chosen and referenced by A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets, the genres have nourished one another in a series of offshoots and reincorporations, allowing each to bloom into fresh territories. It’s in this lineage that we might place Jazz Raps, the new project from producer and KMHD host Luis Ocasio, aka Tenface, out now via Gorge Mouth Records.

On one level, Jazz Raps sits comfortably within the tradition of a hip-hop record whose bedrock is sampled jazz, but Tenface wanted to take the approach a step further: “As a jazz artist myself, I knew I would be the one to make beats that really had jazz language in them, not just because it was a piano in the sample or something, but real bebop language used for the beats,” he says of the production. Chopped keys swirl around laid-back drums, sidechained alongside the dusty vinyl hiss and the low murmur of a club crowd, all of which comes together to recreate the vibe of a loose jam session in a smoke-filled room. The jam session also provides the blueprint for the way the album is structured, with Tenface’s beats filling the role of the rhythm section as a series of MCs take turns soloing over the changes. 

The raps themselves also carry an element of jazz in their slant towards the improvisational. Though meditations on the genre provide a thematic throughline, the MCs have largely embodied the spirit of the freestyle-as-solo, focusing less on particularly pointed or flashy wordplay and more on a stream-of-consciousness approach which preferences the sonic over the semantic. Tenface takes a turn on the Mic under his given name, Luis Ocasio, and is also joined by fellow KMHD hosts, including Bryson Wallace, who appears on several tracks and shouts out the station every chance he gets. Asked about the link between Portland’s jazz radio station and Jazz Raps as an album, Tenface says “A couple of rappers are also KMHD djs, and everyone else on the album is a local PDX artist. This was a KMHD album, I just did it on my own because that’s how I am.

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Jazz Raps is both a nod to the station, and to the Portland scene that it supports in service of the larger project of preserving the cultural history of jazz, viewing it in the broadest sense, and holding that breadth of sound as the most important element in stewarding this music beyond the boundaries, and into the future.