I first heard of BADBADNOTGOOD in the winter of my freshman year. My roommates were giving me a hip hop education, and everyone I knew started listening to Odd Future rappers Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. We listened to and watched everything we could find online. A random YouTube search took us to a video of three kids still in music school. Clearly set up in a classroom reminiscent of Zankel, the three began playing the opening chords to Tyler, the Creator’s “Bastard.” The next thing I know they’re shredding through Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade,” but never how I had heard it before. Gone were the drum machines, synthesizers, and vocals. Inserted in their stead were acoustic piano, electric bass, and drums. Jazz chords, and soloing, took the arrangement by storm building the song to a huge climax. And just like that, I was hooked.
One viral video later, the trio quickly released their first record, BBNG1. Buzz soon formed, and we learned that the three were jazz performance students at Toronto’s Humber College. Almost overnight, an outpouring of love came from the hip hop community. Tyler, the Creator played, soloed, and improvised with them. Giles Peterson became an early fan and included them in his Worldwide Awards in London, England. They released BBNG2, and then Frank Ocean called upon them to back him up at Coachella. They’ve produced for Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, and currently have much more in the works. In anticipation for their first label-backed release BBNG3, off of Innovative Leisure, they headlined the annual WSPN Earth Day Music Festival. Before their jaw-dropping, mosh pit-inducing set, we got to show them around Zankel and give them a jazz student’s inside look at the Skidmore music department. After we got to show off for a sec, the whole crew sat down (along with their producer, Frank Dukes) for a rousing conversation about performance, hip hop, and what it means to be a jazz kid in 2014:
So which one of you at the end of BBNG 1 was like “Fuck Giant Steps, I hate that song?”
Matty: It was Alex.
So as a drummer why do you hate “Giant Steps” so much if you don’t have to deal with the chords for it?
Alex Sowinski: Well I don’t really hate “Giant Steps” anymore. I don’t really hate it. It’s actually a pretty fucking badass song originally.
Matty Tavarez: I mean I don’t think any of us really hated the song. I think we hated the performance practice of it. It’s like “Can you play ‘Giant Steps’?” You know what I mean? But it’s actually not that difficult…if you go to music school. It’s stupid that people talk it up.
Alex: I was just being stupid and getting fed up with Jazz school.
Matty Tavarez: Yeah, we were in Jazz school and everybody’s like learning their new triadic elements and shit.
Do you think you’ve gotten a lot more from being out of that conservatory/Jazz school community?
Alex: Yeah, one hundred percent, definitely. We’ve learned a thousand times more from being out of school for the last year and a half.
Chester Hansen: It’s just such a small part of music that you focus on in school and once you branch out into other things you realize how much more there is.
Did you guys get shit for the kind of Jazz you were playing from your professors?
Alex: I mean the funny thing is, when we were in school we weren’t really playing stuff like that. It was literally like goofing around and jamming. The only time we played it for our professors was the one assignment we did with [Chester] basically, which, yeah, we got shit for.
Matty: It wasn’t like we were the dudes around town. It was more just us goofing around in our free time.