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BADBADNOTGOOD, a band beloved in hip-hop circles, rediscovers its jazz voice

Jamal Burger

It’s hard to believe that Toronto’s BADBADNOTGOOD has been around for over a decade. The millennial act has been quite an anomaly in jazz, first with their rise on YouTube, and now finding mass exposure on TikTok.

Over seven years ago, we covered their unlikely story to internet stardom: basically four jazz-trained late teenagers becoming the go-to house band for many hip hop stars (most recently for Kid Cudi at Virgil Abloh's Met Gala afterparty).

With the power of social media, they became famous before they landed a record deal while building a loyal worldwide following. I will always remember one brilliant night in 2016, when they closed down the Cape Town International Jazz Festival with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) crushing it as a special guest.

Today, the group continues to dodge the trappings of the music industry, but is now considerably wiser than before as they approach their early 30s. And, there's a reason why this band has become so successful and celebrated: they fit a model of tightness and perform brilliantly together as a unit.

However, their success came with a cost: burnout. It also cost them an integral founding member, keyboardist Matthew Tavares, who decided to leave the band. The remaining members — bassist Chester Hansen, saxophonist Leland Whitty, and drummer Alexander Sowinski — all agreed they needed a break.

Then the pandemic hit, providing an opportune time for the trio to hunker down and rediscover themselves. The result, after five years of recording hiatus, is Talk Memory, an album crafted by three creatives rekindling their passion for not only music-making, but art in general. Hansen and Whittey join us on The Checkout to talk about the recording, which is a nod to early influences like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The duo also admirably fills in Tavares' previous role on keys.

In classic BBNG fashion, the new record also comes with a twist, described as a “visual screening album.” With a smartphone and laptop, you can scan the QR code on their website. Suddenly your phone becomes a remote control, with which you can immerse yourself in some of their artfully directed new music videos, including this ode to the history of motion picture itself.


Its director, Camille Summers-Valli, wanted to pay homage to both the bizarre art of equestrian dressage and Eadweard Muybridge’s “The Horse in Motion,” a series of cabinet cards that produced an early form of movie.

Some other twists on this fantastic listen include their imaginative list of special guests: Arthur Verocai, Karriem Riggins, Terrace Martin, Laraaji, and Brandee Younger.

BADBADNOTGOOD kicks off a worldwide tour on Dec. 8; the band appears at Brooklyn Steel next March 16.

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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.