How an unassuming Canadian jazz trio wowed rappers Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator

Ahead of their Dubai show on Wednesday, BadBadNotGood reveal the history behind their success in the hip-hop world

From left to right, Leland Whitty, Alexander Sowinski and Chester Hansen. Photo: Live Nation Middle East
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BadBadNotGood are the dark horses of the hip-hop world.

The Canadian alternative jazz trio have been making waves within the genre with their subtle contribution to tracks by rappers Kendrick Lamar, Ghostface Killah and Tyler, The Creator.

The fact you need to dig deep into the song credits to find their name is not something the band is worried about, according to drummer Alexander Sowinski.

"With things like production, unless you really advertise yourself or your name is on the song as guest artist, you will probably get a small bump in popularity," he tells The National, ahead of the band’s performance at Hard Rock Cafe Dubai on Wednesday.

"But what we found — and these are some of the insights I tell younger artists I meet on tour — is that you really need to connect with your music first and, once you do, you will make space for other people to find you and appreciate what you do."

This is exactly what happened when Tyler, The Creator reached out to the group in 2011, having been enamoured by their frenetic take on Gucci Mane's Lemonade, which BadBadNotGood uploaded to SoundCloud.

At the time, they were in their early years, with the group of hardcore "jazz-heads" bonding over a shared love of hip-hop.

"We actually really started out by posting our covers online and Tyler reached out to us and we eventually met in Toronto and we jammed together," says Sowinski.

In this file photo taken on April 16, 2017 rapper Kendrick Lamar performs at the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival in Indio, California. AFP

"It was a really new experience for us as musicians because we are a band who like playing other people's songs in our own way and space. And, to have someone who we covered come and play with us made us feel like we went full circle."

Tyler’s stamp of approval also expanded their circle within the hip-hop world; before long the group were playing with revered indie names such as Frank Ocean, Earl SweartShirt and Danny Brown.

The group achieved their biggest slice of fame so far after US rapper and producer Kendrick Lamar sampled a musical loop they composed for the track Lust from DAMN., his 2017 album.

The group went on to win a Grammy Award, as producers, when DAMN. won for Best Rap Album.

While BadBadNotGood are classically trained and many of today's hip-hop stars are self-taught, you might think the chemistry powering these collaborations might have started slow. Not so, says Sowinski.

"The great hip-hop producers and artists like DJ Premier and Madlib came from a place of great knowledge regarding jazz," he says. "While they are absolute legends of production and rhyming, they are actually really jazz-heads who knew and studied the records.

"This actually pushed us as a group to be more comfortable in creating original music."

That increasing confidence shows across BadBadNotGood’s six albums, which feature the merging of jazz with electronic, soul and elements of world music.

Last year's Talk Memory could be their best album yet as they eschew some of the hip-hop elements for cinematic and baroque orchestration courtesy of another collaborator, Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai.

"We had a former band member leave the group before we started recording. Really, the album is the sound of us connecting with each other again," Sowinski says.

"We do want to separate some of the vocal collaborations we did in the past from this record and make it more instrumental. This is basically the sound of us just exploring."

BadBadNotGood will provide a similarly immersive experience when they make their UAE debut on the back of an extensive European tour.

"We always begin with the intention of bringing a very collected and positive environment on stage," Sowinski says. "Once we do that we can connect with the audience and when we improvise we can all enjoy that experience together.

“No matter who is watching or how many people are there, the aim is for everyone to be in the moment with the music because it is such a special time."

BadBadNotGood perform at Hard Rock Cafe Dubai on Wednesday at 8pm. Tickets are Dh299;

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Updated: July 12, 2022, 12:49 PM