A look back at the roots
Sometimes looking at a photograph of your parents from when they were your age can freak you out a little bit; it’s like looking back in time to and seeing yourself as part of your own roots. Listening to little-known reggae singer 1971 Jerry Jones’ rendition of legendary jazz pianist Les McCann’s 1969 “Compared to What?” is a little bit like going back in time and seeing little glimmers of hip-hop in its jazz and reggae roots. Les McCann’s lyrics are laced with the anti-government, anti-consumerism sentiments that are often more heavily associated with classic rock than jazz, with confrontational lines like “Possession is the motivation / Is hanging up the whole damn nation” and “Say the president has got his war / Folks don't know just what it's for.”
Jones’ translation of the song from a long, heavily instrumental, winding jazz track to a more vocally-focused reggae song seems natural, like hers was the original. Simple percussion and off-beat guitar strums are accompanied by the occasional noodling guitar solo and support from a saxophone, leaving traces of the McCann’s original jazz composition. Jones’ soulful voice is one that is criminally under-recognized as one of the great voices of the ‘70s, bringing a forceful passion and full-bodied sound that is not often found in reggae music. Hearing the counterculture-based lyrics and consistent beat give us little hints and reminders of where hip-hop came from and what shaped it to the sprawling form it takes today.