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COURTESY OF PHONIKS

Phoniks’ new musical project Autumn in New York is a collection of jazz-remixed hip-hop tracks.

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★★★★✩

Autumn in New York

Phoniks

Released Feb. 3, 2014

“The What.” It’s not a question.

March 9 marked the 17th anniversary of the death of Christopher Wallace, pioneer of the Brooklyn Way, known to the world as the Notorious BIG, Biggie Smalls, or affectionately as just BIG. A titan in hip-hop, BIG elevated listeners through his music and continues to inspire artists today. Maine-based producer Phoniks pays homage to BIG and other classic acts in his latest project Autumn in New York. The project features a collection of jazz-remixed hip-hop titles immediately recognizable to fans of the city’s illustrious history, including BIG’s classic “The What,” featuring Method Man from his debut Ready to Die.

Jazz’s influence in hip-hop is widespread, heard in the use of samples for instrumentals, coloring rhythm, and in scat singing’s influence on rhyme delivery and flow. Much of the underlying structure of hip-hop is derived from jazz, and their shared foundation allows for smooth collaboration between the two genres. Their fusion has resulted in beautiful projects, such as Guru’s Jazzmatazz and Funky DL’s Jazzmatic, a collection of jazz-remixed Nas classics.

The legacy of jazz hip-hop welcomes Phoniks’ Autumn in New York among its numbers. The soulful sounds of horns and brass along with playful and lighthearted piano are prevalent throughout. Drums supply the support — snares are shared by both genres, and deeper bass drums set the tempo for emcees to reinvent and push the boundaries of the art even further. Whether accompanying BIG’s melodic flow, Mos Def’s sing-song delivery, or Pun’s buckshot rhymes, Phoniks deftly melds music to join voice, softening rugged styles without detracting from their authenticity.

Perhaps the most interesting track is the remix of “Ready or Not” by the Fugees. With their reggae-influenced blend of hip-hop, sung vocals, and island intonations, the track would seem difficult to blend with jazz. But the rewarding result lends yet another lens to the Fugees’ variable style. My personal favorite is the final track, opening with a piano riff, which, once established is fluidly graced by Nas’ assertions that if you need proof of his credentials, “Go ask my pre-school, even talk to my old principal. He’d tell you how I used to pack a No. 2 pencil.” Followed in form by trackmates Pun, Jadakiss, Raekwon, and Fat Joe, the group represents for their city’s place in history.

From the opening sample citing hip-hop’s reinvigoration of jazz to the fading keys of the closing track, Autumn in New York is deeply rooted in hip-hop’s culture, pulling from a storied cast of emcees and tracks with classic status. Phoniks’ idols Pete Rock, Lord Finesse, Diamond D, and others serve as teachers to this producer’s style, and their influence is clearly seen in his high quality work.

“And if you don’t know, now you know.” — BIG

Other recent notables albums:

DJ Premier — March 9th (BIG tribute)

De La Soul — Dilla Plugged In

Showbiz (of D.I.T.C) — Rare Breaks: Stack 3

Editorial Note: “Word is Born” is a new column about hip-hop, its influences, and its history. Nate also hosts “Word is Born” on Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight at WMBR 88.1 First on Your FM Dial.