The Influential Jazz-Funk Keys of Weldon Irvine

The Influential Jazz-Funk Keys of Weldon Irvine

Keyboardist Weldon Irvine was not only frequently sampled (Madlib, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Drake, et al), the jazz-funk great also embraced hip-hop himself. On top of a string of albums, he continued working with Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and even giving piano lessons to Q-Tip and Common.




October 23, 2019

Nina Simone enlisted the Virginia native as her bandleader in 1970. That led to his official breakthrough, even more so after writing the lyrics for "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" off Simone’s Black Gold album, which was considered an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Later covered numerous times by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway & Elton John.

A few years later Weldon Irvine parted with Miss Simone to start his own 17-piece jazz group. Iconic artists in the realm of jazz and funk such as Billy Cobham, Randy Brecker, and Don Blackman were all part of it, always changing its formation. Albums including Liberated Brother and Time Capsule followed in the early 70s.

“Over the course of these records the keyboardist truly hit his stride,” writes All Music editor Jason Ankeny for a biography of Weldon Irvine, “honing not only his singular yet skilled fusion of jazz, funk, soul, blues, and gospel—a direct antecedent of what would later be known as acid jazz—but also the social consciousness and impassioned spiritually that further defined his career.“

“It's all about that bassline [on ‘Award Tour’]. I just wanted to flip it, so I went through some more records and I got that Rhodes to counter the melody in the bassline.”

— Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest)

Two decades later, it was Q-Tip who was one of the first to sample Weldon Irvine’s fusion. The upbeat Rhodes was an important building block for his beat for Award Tour, as he explained to Vibe Magazine two years ago: “I love the drums on 'Award Tour.' And then there's the sample I used from Jade's 'Don't Walk Away.' It's all about that bassline. I just wanted to flip it, so I went through some more records and I got that Rhodes to counter the melody in the bassline.”

(Wait for the 43-second mark in “Freaky Rita”…)

And that’s where Weldon Irvine comes in, feeding his already-big love for hip-hop music even more. In 1999, he featured Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Q-Tip on his The Amadou Project: The Price of Freedom, dedicated to Amadou Diallo and other victims of police brutality. He remained working with them. Including handling key and string arrangements on Mos Def’s groundbreaking solo debut, Black on Both Sides, playing the keys on Black Star’s "Astronomy (8th Light)," and giving Q-Tip and Common piano lessons in exchange for being taught how to rap under his hip-hop-moniker of Master Wel.

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