Jazz rap is a fusion of alternative hip hop and jazz, developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The lyrics are often based on political consciousness, Afrocentricity, and general positivism. Allmusic writes that the genre "was an attempt to fuse African-American music of the past with a newly dominant form of the present, paying tribute to and reinvigorating the former while expanding the horizons of the latter." Musically, the rhythms have been typically those of hip hop rather than jazz, over which are placed repetitive phrases of jazz instrumentation: trumpet, double bass, etc. The amount of improvisation varies between artists: some groups improvise lyrics and solos, while a great deal of them do not.
Peter Shapiro, in his Rough Guide to Hip-Hop (2nd ed. London: Rough Guides, 2005) lists Louis Armstrong's 1925 recording of "Heebie Jeebies" in his timeline of hip hop. In the 70s, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Watts Prophets placed spoken word and rhymed poetry over jazzy backing tracks. There are also parallels between jazz and the improvised phrasings of freestyle rap. Despite these disparate threads, jazz rap as a genre didn't coalesce until the late 80s.
In 1988, Gang Starr released the debut single "Words I Manifest", sampling Charlie Parker, and Stetsasonic released "Talkin' All That Jazz", sampling Lonnie Liston Smith. Gang Starr's debut LP, No More Mr. Nice Guy (Wild Pitch, 1989), and their track "Jazz Thing" for the soundtrack of Mo' Better Blues, further popularized the jazz rap style.
De La Soul and their cohorts in the Native Tongues Posse also had jazzy releases, including the Jungle Brothers' debut Straight Out the Jungle (Warlock, 1988) and A Tribe Called Quest's debut, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive, 1990). A Tribe Called Quest's follow-up, The Low End Theory (Jive, 1991), had only a modest jazz influence, but it was a critical success, and earned praise from jazz bassist Ron Carter, who played double bass on one track. De La Soul's Buhloone Mindstate (Tommy Boy, 1993) featured contributions from Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis, and samples from Eddie Harris, Lou Donaldson, Duke Pearson and Milt Jackson.
Though jazz rap had achieved little mainstream success, jazz legend Miles Davis' final album (released posthumously in 1992), Doo-Bop, was based around hip hop beats and collaborations with producer Easy Mo Bee. Davis' ex-bandmate Herbie Hancock returned to hip hop in the mid-nineties after coming to the genre in the early 1980s with his single "Rockit", releasing the album Dis Is Da Drum in 1994. Jazz musician Branford Marsalis collaborated with Gang Starr's DJ Premier on his Buckshot LeFonque project that same year.
The Dream Warriors' 1991 release And Now the Legacy Begins was an innovative jazz rap album which became a critically-acclaimed hit record in Europe, their native Canada and underground hip-hop circles throughout the USA.
Digable Planets' 1993 release Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was a hit jazz rap record sampling the likes of Don Cherry, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Herbie Mann, Herbie Hancock, Grant Green, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It spawned the hit single "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)". Also in 1993, Us3 released Hand on the Torch on Blue Note Records. All samples were from the Blue Note catalogue. The single "Cantaloop" was Blue Note's first gold record.
Beginning in 1993, Guru's Jazzmatazz project uses live jazz musicians in the studio. Its four volumes so far have assembled jazz luminaries like Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Courtney Pine, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Garrett and Lonnie Liston Smith, and hip hop performers such as Kool Keith, MC Solaar, Common and Guru's Gang Starr colleague DJ Premier.