Photo via Jimel Primm

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It’s little surprise that Jahari Massaba Unit are artfully obliterating the lines between jazz, hip-hop, rock, and soul. After all, Madlib, and Karriem Riggins have been doing it for decades. And once again, with their latest album, YHWH is LOVE, the duo have delivered one of the year’s early contenders for funkiest jazz album of 2024.

The process for JMU is relatively simple. Riggins sends drum beats to Madlib to craft into more fully realized tracks. But the results are richly complex. On their debut album, Pardon My French, the two production legends suffused their grooves with xylophones and a smoky cafe feel. It had a, well, French vibe that outlined the contours of their sound and vision. Released earlier this month, YHWH is LOVE feels less constrained by theme, allowing for wider exploration and experimentation. From the Ray Manzerak-style keys on the funky groove “Otis’ Tambourine” to the late night lull of “All Things,” the album flows across myriad styles, all underpinned by Riggins’ lush percussion. Madlib takes care of everything else, including bass, keys, horns and probably some kitchen sink strumming for good measure. His sensibilities as an extraordinary crate digger serve him and the listener well.

No sound is left unexplored. Quiet storm over twinkling keys and crisp percussion? Why not? (“Anointed Soul” and “With YHWH Love”)? Bumping basslines? Everywhere (“Boppin” is a prime example). 70s stylings steeped in slinky keys? You bet (“JMU’s Voyage”). Marriage of African grooves and ballroom? Sure thing (“Massamba Afundance”). Thumping outro? Yessir (“Seven Mile to Oxnard”). More xylophones? Hell, JMU has you covered there, too (“Stomping Gamay”). If your desire is to find yourself awash in jazzy funkification, YHWH is LOVE should be in your library.

To get a better feel for the magic behind the music, I recently spoke with Karriem Riggins to discuss the creative process between the musical madmen. How did the two men meet and make this phenomenal music together? It’s one thing to jam out in person, but how does the JMU back-and-forth-but-not-in-person dynamic differ? How does a duo do its duo-thing under those circumstances? Is it due to the individual player’s dynamic bond? Actual telepathy? What’s the meaning behind YHWH is LOVE?

With SEVEN albums slated for release in 2024, it’s fair to assume that the longtime Dilla collaborator, percussionist and storied producer likely doesn’t get his full eight hours of shut-eye each night, but still Riggins took time out from a super-busy schedule – that also included attending the funeral of Joseph “Amp” Fiddler, which he wanted me to share, because as he pointed out, “we want to keep celebrating our geniuses – to fill in the details. Oh, and while it’s not here, he also has great travel suggestions if you’re visiting Paisley Park and want to impress the docent. Read on to find out more.

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The Rap-Up: Week of January 23, 2023