Freestyling Over Jazz: Foundations For Underground Hip Hop

Nov 8, 2019

From left: Baron Tymas, Tymain Robbins, Nigel Blac, Thomas Taylor Jr., William Ledbetter and Annalise Stalls.
Credit Grant Holub-Moorman / WUNC

Thomas Taylor Jr. is fostering an appreciation of jazz legends like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk among the state’s underground hip-hop scene.

The professor of percussion at North Carolina Central University sees North Carolina’s long history in blues and jazz as a natural foundation for today’s emcees. In his classes, Taylor invites aspiring rappers to improvise with him in front of the class — him on the drums, them with their words. Two students from that course now freestyle with him regularly.

Thomas Taylor Jr. was raised playing drums in church and in his school marching band in Elizabeth City, NC.
Credit Courtesy of Thomas Taylor Jr.

For Nigel Blac and Tymain Robbins, feeling out how to flow over jazz grooves is more involved than A Tribe Called Quest’s loops of Freddie Hubbard. It requires collaborative improvisation — like letting a bassist provoke fresh lyrics. The Thomas Taylor ExTra Quintet is an intergenerational intergenre exploration of North Carolina’s musical offerings. The group features Thomas Taylor leading on drums and vocals, Annalise Stalls on soprano saxophone, William Ledbetter on bass, and Baron Tymas on guitar.

They are joined by emcees Blac and Robbins for an in-studio conversation and performance with host Frank Stasio. You can find individual band members’ schedules at the links above. The group is hosting a workshop at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem for the North Carolina Music Educators Association annual conference this Sunday, Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. and playing a set at 3 p.m.  Taylor will also play with Ariel Pocock at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 10 at The Fruit in Durham.