While scrolling through new releases on Spotify earlier this year, I kept seeing an album with Ghostface Killah on the cover. The album is not by Ghostface, though. Rather, it isn’t an album entirely by Ghostface. It’s called Sour Soul, and it’s officially credited to BADBADNOTGOOD, with Ghostface appearing on nine of the album’s 12 tracks.
I was intrigued. I had questions that needed to be answered.
Who is BADBADNOTGOOD?
BADBADNOTGOOD is a three-piece band from Toronto; young gentlemen who met while studying jazz at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Matthew Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (bass), and Andrew Sowinski (drums) bonded over a mutual love of hip-hop, each one having similar stories of someone older than them exposing them to the genre. For Hansen, it all started when he was 12 or so and got a 50 Cent CD. From there, it was on to Dr. Dre, Gang Starr and more, mainly from the East Coast scene. He developed an especially strong affinity for Gang Starr’s DJ Premier.
At school though, this love of hip-hop put them in the minority among their jazz-loving peers. While they spent their days engrossed in jazz, at night they were enrolled in their own independent studies. You can call them Hip-Hop Appreciation, Hip-Hop Theory and Hip-Hop: Practical Applications. After jamming together a couple times, they took a stab at trying to play some of their favorite hip-hop beats as an instrumental trio. They found a commonality in both genres, a thread that unified the two together.
“Most iconic hip-hop beats are four-bar loops or eight-bar loops and really stripped down, straight ahead to listen to,” Hansen told Uproxx. “But some of the samples in some of our favorite beats are so intricate, from all these crazy jazz records. You could have an amazing beat from like, a two-note thing or a sample of an orchestra playing the craziest sh*t.”
After keeping their side hustle to themselves, they found a way to incorporate it into what they were doing at school. Humber students finishing the end of their second or third year are given an assignment where they are to play a jazz standard, then add music from other genres. Predictably, when it came time for Sowinski to complete the assignment, the boys of BADBADNOTGOOD chose to add hip-hop, playing music by Gucci Mane and Tyler, the Creator.
“It didn’t go over well,” Hansen said. “It was a weird thing for the teachers to hear, coming from kids who were playing these simple beats and then going crazy on them, kind of a weird thing I guess.”
But it served as a jumping-off point for better things. A video of them performing Odd Future (R.I.P.?) songs in 2011, The Odd Future Sessions: Part 1, got the attention of Tyler, the Creator, who became a fan and helped the video go viral. The Odd Future Sessions: Part 2 was released two months later and a few months after that, Tyler, the Creator was in Sowinski’s basement recording tracks with the band.
Get a guy like Tyler, the Creator in your corner, and you won’t be tolerating disapproving looks from professors in Canada for very long. BADBADNOTGOOD backed up Tyler, as well as fellow Odd Future affiliate Frank Ocean at Coachella in 2012, then assisted RZA on the Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack. That last collaboration is important.
How did the Ghostface Killah collaboration come about?
BADBADNOTGOOD were first introduced to Ghostface through the band’s producer Frank Dukes, who made the connection after they worked with the Ghostface’s Wu-Tang cohort RZA. BADBADNOTGOOD weren’t overly familiar with the rapper’s work; the rapper wasn’t at all familiar with theirs. Three years ago, they had started working on Sour Soul and hooked up with Ghostface halfway through recording. The band recorded in their home studio in Toronto and Ghostface recorded his vocals in his studio in New York. BADBADNOTGOOD did a deep dive into the rapper’s catalog during post-production and were then able to lock into the vintage sound that had been a hallmark of Ghostface’s records, making the album feel less like Ghostface just performing with a band and more like a traditional Ghostface Killah album.
Sour Soul was released in February 2015. Along with Ghostface, the album features spots by DOOM and Danny Brown. The music calls to mind beats from A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan albums, as well as the work DJ Premier did with Gang Starr. It’s not overly busy, but has enough going on to get tipped off to the band’s jazz background, as well as their knowledge of hip-hop’s history.
Since the album’s release, BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface have done close to 20 shows together, including at this year’s South by Southwest Festival.
“I think it’s neat for him (Ghostface) to hear those records he’s been performing for years and years in a live setting,” Hansen said. “It’s really fun for us to kind of like, take the back seat, hold it down for someone to perform in front.”
So, are they a hip-hop band or a jazz trio?
The best example of the duality of BADBADNOTGOOD is their appearance on Kimmel, where they did two numbers — one backing Earl Sweatshirt and one with just the band, performing “Kaleidoscope,” off their 2014 album III.
The band is currently working on a followup to Sour Soul. According to Hansen, it’s “kind of still just a big combo of everything. Some of the stuff is definitely jazzier than what we’ve put out in the past. And we might also look to collaborate with some vocalists. But it’s still so early, we don’t even know.”
There could be some challenges with a band that vacillates between styles as frequently as BADBADNOTGOOD. Which band are you going to get?
“Surprisingly, there’s quite a lot of overlap between the people that love listening to Ghostface or love listening to the hip-hop stuff we do or the more weird jazz stuff,” Hansen said.
Regardless if the’re playing hip-hop or jazz, the music sounds uniquely like BADBADNOTGOOD, which is a testament to their musicianship and comfort level. This summer the band is touring in Europe and playing Lollapalooza in Chicago. There will be more dates with Ghostface and, in their spare time, more writing for their next album.
By laying a track of unpredictability and versatility, BADBADNOTGOOD have managed to make their future look both bright and mysterious at the same time.