Throwback: Herbie Hancock-Rockit

Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” marked his move into a new sound with his Future Sound album. His previous album, Lite Me Up, set upon a core of R&B and jazz thanks to the influence of his friend Quincy Jones. In his quest for a new direction his much younger manager approached producer Bill Laswell to write a new song for Hancock. The two eventually met and Bill Laswell took Hancock to a New York City nightclub to see hip-hop pioneers Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Mixer DXT perform DJ sets. 

This inspiration led to Hancock, Laswell, DXT and synthesizer player Michael Beinhorn recording “Rockit”  in multiple studios at different locations before finishing it. The name of the song came from a sample of Bambaataa’s hit single “Planet Rock.” The results were a hard-hitting funk and hip-hop hybrid matched with an equally innovative video. The vision of Hancock playing keyboards surrounded by robotic mannequins was a defining moment of the MTV era. He had an epic performance of “Rockit” at the 1985 Grammys with Stevie Wonder, Thomas Dolby and Howard Jones. 

“Rockit” was one of the earliest examples of a high-profile hip-hop collaboration. Hancock’s single came out in 1983 one year before Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” which was another great partnership that found her singing with an intro by rapper Melle Mel. Future Shock was a hit and most critics understood the new direction. The title came from a Curtis Mayfield composition he also covered for the project. The video for “Rockit” won five MTV awards, two Billboard Video Music Awards and the song won the Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance. Hancock proved to be forward-thinking like his mentor Miles Davis who also acknowledged hip-hop by working with producer Easy Mo Bee. Hancock’s last album was The Imagine Project from 2010. His forthcoming album will pair him with rap music again in addition to jazz and R&b. Terrace Martin is producing the album and there will be appearances from Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Wayne Shorter, Snoop Dogg, Zakir Hussein, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and Lionel Loueke. 

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