If you ask José James, hip-hop is an extension of jazz music. The 33-year-old singer grew up listening to the typical ’90s mix of A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys—”I had the CDs, they had all the samples clearances on them… that’s how I got into Joe Henderson, Thelonius Monk,” he explains. “For me, jazz was always a cool thing that I associated with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and it was only later that I realized, ‘No one else listens to jazz who’s my age.'”
With No Beginning and No End, James’ third album and first with Blue Note Records, he is trying to reconnect the two genres. If jazz music today is divided into “easy listening” and “esoteric,” James is neither. He is not a hip-hop artist, but unlike his crooner contemporaries, his songs such as “It’s All Over Your Body” and “Sword + Gun” do not need to be framed by rap verses to feel cool. “I want to be a contemporary artist,” James emphasizes. “I’m trying to find ways to mix in all kinds of music, and not be pigeonholed.”
James is excited when we meet him and his wife, Nicola, at the W Downtown. The Minneapolis-born, Brooklyn-based musician wants to talk about legendary bassist Pino Palladino, who, after working on a single song with James, decided to co-produce No Beginning and No End. Palladino’s involvement is a good sign; he’s produced some of James’ favorite albums, such as D’Angelo’s Voodoo, as well as one of the world’s favorite albums, Adele’s 21. “He just takes the musicianship to another level,” says James.
Read more: Interview