William Ledbetter

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.