BadBadNotGood performing in Germany 2017;
L–R: Leland Whitty, Chester Hansen, James Hill, Alexander Sowinski
|Also known as||Easy Feelings Unlimited|
|Origin||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
BadBadNotGood (stylized in all caps) is a Canadian instrumental music group from Toronto. The group was founded by bassist Chester Hansen, keyboardist Matthew Tavares, and drummer Alexander Sowinski in 2010. In 2016, they were joined by saxophonist Leland Whitty, a frequent collaborator.
They group combines jazz musicianship with a hip-hop production perspective, and are best known for their interpretations of hip hop tracks and collaborations with artists like Tyler, The Creator, Daniel Caesar, Mick Jenkins, Kendrick Lamar, and Ghostface Killah. The group has had critical and crossover success, finding audiences in the hip-hop, jazz, and alternative music communities. In October 2019, Tavares announced his departure from the band.
2010–11: Beginnings and BBNG
Matthew Tavares, Alexander Sowinski, and Chester Hansen met in 2010 through the Humber College jazz program in Toronto. The trio united over a shared love for hip hop music, including that of MF Doom and Odd Future. In this lineup, Tavares handled keys, playing rhythms on a Prophet '08 and electric piano, joined by Hansen, an acoustic and electric bassist, and drummer Sowinski. Sowinski often donned a pig mask during performances in the first years of the group, in part inspired by MF DOOM. The name of the band came from the tentative title of a comedy television project that Tavares was working on, which was eventually abandoned. In a 2012 interview, the trio commented that both Tavares and Hansen had since withdrawn from Humber, while Sowinski had remained enrolled "for the school's dental plan;" Sowinki later left Humber as well.
One of BadBadNotGood's first collaborations was a cover of "Lemonade" by Gucci Mane. They played a piece based on Odd Future's music for a panel of their jazz performance instructors, who did not find that it had musical value. After they released the track on YouTube as The Odd Future Sessions Part 1, it got the attention of rapper Tyler, The Creator, who felt differently and helped the trio's video go viral. BadBadNotGood uploaded their first EP BBNG to Bandcamp in June 2011, which included covers of songs from A Tribe Called Quest, Waka Flocka Flame and several tracks from Odd Future.
In September 2011, they released their debut album, BBNG, recorded in a three-hour session. Dante Alighieri on Sputnikmusic called the album "a welcome reinterpretation of modern jazz without the pretense of snotty wine parties and thick rimmed hipster dinosaurs." The trio had their first show together at The Red Light in Toronto that September. There, they met hip-hop producer Frank Dukes who would become a close collaborator. The album was followed by two live records, BBNGLIVE 1 and BBNGLIVE 2, which were released in November 2011 and February 2012, respectively.
BadBadNotGood recorded a live jam session with Tyler, The Creator in Sowinski's basement in October 2011. Videos from the session received more than a million views between them on YouTube. In the following year, they also connected with other Odd Future members like Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean and their contemporaries Joey Badass and Danny Brown, among others. The trio opened for Roy Ayers at the Nujazz Festival in January 2012 and played for Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards in London. At a February tribute to J Dilla in Toronto, their covers of "Lemonade" and "Hard in da Paint" had hundreds moshing.
2012–2015: BBNG2, III, and Sour Soul
BadBadNotGood released their second album, BBNG2, in April 2012. Recorded from a ten-hour studio session, it features Leland Whitty on saxophone and Luan Phung playing electric guitar. The notes to the album indicate that "No one above the age of 21 was involved in the making of this album." The album has original material as well as covers of songs by Kanye West, My Bloody Valentine, James Blake, Earl Sweatshirt, and Feist.
Prior to the release of the album III, the first single "Hedron", became available on June 20, 2013 when it was featured on the compilation album Late Night Tales: Bonobo. BadBadNotGood assisted in production and musical composition for the soundtrack of The Man with the Iron Fists. On January 14, 2014, the second single from III was released titled "CS60". The third single, "Can't Leave The Night", was released on March 11, 2014 with the B-Side "Sustain". In March 2014, BBNG took part in SXSW for a second time and played a series of show, including one with Tyler the Creator.
III was released on May 6, 2014 on CD, vinyl, and digital download, and was the group's first album of entirely original music. Following the release of the record, BBNG toured through the end of the year, first in Europe, then Canada and the US East Coast, ending their tour in December with a hometown show in Toronto.
The fourth album, Sour Soul, was released by Lex Records on Feb 24 2015 in collaboration with Ghostface Killah. Unlike their earlier works, it is more of a heavy hip-hop album with light jazz accents. The group toured from April through October 2015, with Ghostface making a few appearances along the way. Leland Whitty joined the band unofficially at this time, with BBNG needing a fourth musician to play tracks from Sour Soul on the road, and continued to work with the group in the studio.
In December 2015, the band posted covers of some holiday classics on their YouTube channel, including a performance of "Christmas Time Is Here" in collaboration with Choir! Choir! Choir!. The group produced "Hoarse" on Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt's studio debut, Doris, and "GUV'NOR", a remix on JJ DOOM's Key to the Kuffs (Butter Edition).
Saxophonist Leland Whitty, a frequent collaborator of the group, joined the band on January 1, 2016. In April, BBNG took part in the Coachella Music Festival, making their first official appearance there.
Their fifth studio album, titled IV, was released by Innovative Leisure on July 8, 2016. It features several guest collaborations including Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring, saxophonist Colin Stetson, Kaytranada, hip hop artist Mick Jenkins, and singer-songwriter Charlotte Day Wilson. In December 2016, the album was picked as BBC Radio 6 Music's #1 album of the year. In the following two years, the group would release a series of unreleased tracks from their IV sessions as singles, namely collaborative songs with Colin Stetson, Sam Herring, and Little Dragon.
To support the release of IV, the band toured extensively for two years. This included festival and US club dates throughout Summer 2016, followed by European and Australian tours at the end of the year. In Fall 2016, jazz pianist James Hill joined the group on stage for the first time as a touring member. Hill, who knew Tavares from their time together at Humber College, filled in for Tavares, who stepped away from touring to focus on producing music as well as developing his solo project Matty. The group continued to tour throughout 2017 and into 2018, playing many more shows in North America, Europe, and Australia. In mid-2018, they toured Canada, before more US and European festival dates through November. Outside of a few one-off shows and a short Fall tour in South America and Asia, the band took a break from touring during 2019.
In 2018, the band served as the musical opener and instrumental backdrop to the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019 Collection runway show held in the gardens of the Palais Royal. Opening with a cover of Kanye West's "Ghost Town" from his 2018 album Ye and playing a variety of original work and covers for the remainder of the show. The band worked with Benji B and Virgil Abloh, both frequent collaborators with Kanye, to refine the creative direction of the music of the show.
During and following the production of IV, the members of BBNG took time to develop other musical projects together and bringing other artists into their Toronto studio to produce and record. This included artists like Kali Uchis and Mick Jenkins, as well as fellow Torontonians like Charlotte Day Wilson, Jaunt, and Jonah Yano. In October 2019, Matthew Tavares announced his departure from the band.
In a February 2020 interview with Sowinski and Whitty regarding their collaborative film score for the indie thriller Disappearance at Clifton Hill, the two noted that BBNG was currently working on a new album, tentatively due later in 2020. Before the rescheduling and cancellation of live events in 2020, the band was planning to resume touring in April beginning with Coachella. In April 2020, BBNG released the single "Goodbye Blue" backed with "Glide (Goodbye Blue Pt. 2)," their first original release in almost two years.
BBNG has cited a wide range of influences, including Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai, Miles Davis, saxophonists John Coltrane and Albert Ayle, Sam Rivers, drummers Tony Williams and Art Blakey, Sun Ra, producer J Dilla, Kurt Cobain, and Wu-Tang Clan.
BBNG generally eschews being called a jazz band, acknowledging that their music contains elements of rock music, Brazilian music, electronic music, and soul music, and does not maintain jazz tradition, with Whitty commenting, "all we’re really trying to do is create something that’s unique and honest to who we are... we don’t really belong in any sort of box or are following any tradition or anything like that.” When asked in a 2016 interview about the group's relationship with jazz, Sowinski explained:
"We look at what we do as approaching music with jazz training. We use the jazz language when we’re writing, but we’re not proficient. We’re not the top musicians of the genre, so we don’t try to assume ourselves as prolific innovators because jazz has this history of boundary-pushing limitless constant progression, eight hours a day of practice. We’ve learned to find different interests—whether it’s production, recording techniques, writing, exploring totally different genres of music—instead of progressing our instruments per se as soloists. We listen to Coltrane and Sun Ra and all these progressives, but for us because of the internet and the age we’re a part of we love to study everything. It’s this weird ongoing thing for us to keep being educated and learning."
BBNG's relationship with the style is further complicated by the fact that the jazz community at large sees the group as outside of the genre but more mainstream music fans, those with less knowledge of the tradition and musicianship, perceive them to be jazz and representative of a bright future for the genre because of their accessibility. Ethnomusicologist Matthew Neil noted, “BBNG will continue to represent jazz, even as the jazz community, and even the group themselves, wish that they did not speak for jazz. Put simply: BBNG is jazz if people think they are.”
Paula Mejia, in a 2012 Prefix magazine review, called BadBadNotGood "a jazz trio on paper -- but often strange, forever imaginative, and ultimately revolutionary hip-hop and electronic beatmakers at heart." NOW magazine's Anupa Mistry has lauded BadBadNotGood's "spastic, sonorous, genre-fucking rap covers." Jerell Tongson, in describing BadBadNotGood's hip hop influences, wrote that the group "deconstruct the four bar loops, understanding how to work crescendos by stretching out and reshaping the music into their own vision of silky smooth key progressions, pounding drums, and tasty bass lines."
Despite BBNG’s rising popularity and press coverage by popular music media, the band went unnoticed by the jazz community at large until after the release of their second album, when off-the-cuff comments disregarding the jazz establishment were perceived as inflammatory by the jazz media. Critics quickly jumped to compare BBNG’s musicianship to jazz artists that had achieved similar-sized audiences, not accounting for age or experience, and thus comparing them to musicians who had spent years developing their skills. In hindsight, the reactionary response was likely due to the fact that BBNG's popularity and success in popular music preceded any recognition or approval from the jazz community itself. Sentiments on both sides have cooled in the following years, and the band was quick to walk back some of their comments and have been increasingly complimentary of their jazz conremporaries.
- Alexander Sowinski – drums, sampler (2010–present)
- Chester Hansen – bass guitar, upright bass (2010–present)
- Leland Whitty – saxophone, guitars, woodwinds, violin (2016–present; featured/touring 2012–2016)
- James Hill – keyboards (2016–present)
Early in their career, BBNG helped produced two tracks for the soundtrack of The Man with the Iron Fists which were performed by Idle Warship and Wu-Tang Clan with Kool G Rap. This was followed by songs by Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, and multiple tracks for Mick Jenkins, among others. In the late 2010s, BBNG coproduced songs for Freddie Gibbs, Kendrick Lamar ("LUST."), Daniel Caesar (including "Get You"), Kali Uchis (including "After the Storm (feat. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins)," and Thundercat.
Awards and nominations
|2014||Polaris Music Prize||III||Nominated||long-listed|
|2015||Polaris Music Prize||Sour Soul (with Ghostface Killah)||Nominated||short-listed|
|2016||Juno Awards||Rap Recording of the Year||Nominated|||
|2017||Polaris Music Prize||IV||Nominated||short-listed|
|2019||Libera Awards||Best Live Act||BADBADNOTGOOD||Won|||
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Though criticisms of BBNG might not state this explicitly, I believe there is an implicit criticism in denouncements of BBNG—that the band had defiled the sacralization of jazz tradition by attempting to forego the normative path of development... For some, BBNG’s shortcomings offered evidence that they should have in fact stayed in school a little bit longer, the band’s lack of playing ability proving the merit of the jazz education mode... For the average local jazz group, lack of mastery at the age of 19 would not be a big deal, but because BBNG had already reached a national audience, a correction in the form of criticism of the band’s talent was needed. The backlash then seems to have stemmed from what many felt was undeserved hype for a band whose proficiency did not match the heaps of attention they had received.
- Neil, Matthew Sean (2018). "BadBadNotGood and Jazz Blasphemy". Locating Jazz in 21st Century American Society (PDF). Riverside, CA: University of California Riverside. pp. 226–230.
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