During the second decade of Nnenna Freelon’s illustrious career, she expanded her role as a jazz singer by exploring gospel, pop and Latin music, as well as the works of Stevie Wonder and Burt Bacharach. Now she can add hip-hop to her repertoire, thanks to Freedom Suite, a recent collaboration with hip-hop quartet the Beast and a host of other revered underground hip-hop and R&B artists. The project features Phonte, 9th Wonder, Kooley High, Yahzarah and Darien Brockington, all of whom are based in the fertile North Carolina music community revolving around Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Freedom Suite was released as a free download via the website Okayplayer’s jazz channel The Revivalist: http://revivalist.okayplayer.com. It can also be downloaded on a “name-your-price” basis at http://thebeast.bandcamp.com, in MP3 and lossless formats.
The project is the brainchild of 27-year-old rapper, North Carolina Central University college professor, and leader of the Beast, Pierce Freelon, who happens to be the jazz vocalist’s son. Nnenna Freelon’s last disc, 2010’s Homefree (Concord Jazz), foreshadowed this hookup with a take on “Lift Every Voice and Sing” that showcased her son’s rapping skills. The mother and son team also came together on a soundtrack to M.K. Asante Jr.’s The Black Candle, an award-winning documentary on Kwanzaa. Still, few people expected her to delve into hip-hop as thoroughly as she does on Freedom Suite. “Genres are boring,” argues Freelon, 56. “There’s only two kinds of music: good music and the other kind. My standards are to make the best music and to be involved in the best creative experience as I can.”