In the Beginning: Hip Hop's Early Influences
Photograph courtesy of the Miller Nichols Library, University of Missouri at Kansas City.
If the lighter side of rap and hip hop's wordplay and rhyme has a spiritual father, he might be Slim Gaillard (1916–1991, shown here at the right), the great jazzman and scat artist of the 1930s and 1940s, whose nonsense syllables and quick-witted and humorous rhymes can be heard as echoes in the raps of De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, and A Tribe Called Quest. Born in Santa Clara, Cuba, Gaillard was raised in Detroit and New York City. As half of the jazz duo Slim & Slam, Gaillard developed his own hip argot, a musical vocabulary of wildly colliding nonsense syllables and the surprise of unexpected rhyme Gaillard called "vout." Armed with it, a quick wit, and an ability to scat with the best, Gaillard produced hits like "Chicken Rhythm," "Flat Foot Floogie," and "Cement Mixer." Though he was not as famous as Cab Calloway or Scatman Crothers, Gaillard's comic derring-do and hip personal style made him a cult favorite among jazz listeners and fans of scat for generations to come.