The producer and beat maker started Dolo Jazz Suite to meet others like him, and discovered links between hip-hop and jazz.
In 2013, “Dolo Jazz Suite” events started showing up on Facebook. It wasn’t clear what a Dolo Jazz Suite was, though a quick check on YouTube revealed that it was more hip-hop than jazz. Or maybe not, according to Amahl Abdul-Khaliq, who performs as AF THE NAYSAYER (all caps, according to his website).
“‘Dolo’ is New York for slang for ‘myself’,” he says. “It’s a play on words: Dolo jazz—jazz for one’s self.”
The shows invite bedroom beat makers to show off their music, freed from hip-hop’s commercial constraints. “This is the equivalent of the bebop era,” AF continues. “We’re not necessarily making music you can dance to. We’re making music you can feel. Back then, we’d probably be playing horns and jazz music. Today with computers and whatnot, we find ourselves rooted in beats and production.”
AF the Naysayer will perform on his own Wednesday night when he opens for Quantic at Gasa Gasa. His music tends toward dense, psychedelic, richly textured, slightly spacey grooves. He points to ‘80s videogame sounds, West Coast g-funk and new jack swing as influences, and the results have a lot of the atmosphere of dub-influenced mid-’90s hip-hop minus the overbearing drum tracks. His sound is a result of his tendency to lead with chords, then melody, then rhythm. “I do the bass line last,” AF says.
The best example of his work is The Autodidact Instrumentals, Vol. 1—an album’s worth of instrumental tracks that began as backing for a Baton Rouge-based rapper and band. They performed a few times, but the project never entirely came together. The live bassist struggled with the bass parts, AF says, because the parts are a little “loose”—not locked to the bass drum as is often the case.
“There’s a pocket, when I write it, but maybe traditionally it’s not normal,” he says.
AF has bounced around, from Los Angeles to Lake Charles to Baton Rouge to New Orleans, where he has lived off and on for the last three years. In his travels, he tried to find his people—other beat makers and bedroom producers who were trying to make music first, backing for rappers second.
“I wanted to make the compositions interesting enough where you can listen to them by themselves, but they wouldn’t take away attention if someone were to rap or sing over them,” AF says. On The Autodidact Instrumentals, Vol. 1 he succeeds. The pieces have a nodding, utilitarian quality, but they also have clear moods and reward attention when you focus on them.
He started putting together Dolo Jazz Suite nights in Lake Charles and Baton Rouge in 2013 to create a showcase for producers and beat makers. “There are lots of opportunities to DJ, but not many where people can play their own music,” he says. He also hoped to create tour stops along the I-10 corridor, and while that hasn’t panned out, AF has seen a growth in the communities.
“I feel like the scene is stronger in Baton Rouge,” he says. “There are more people here [in New Orleans], but they’re not as tied together and organized.”
The Big Top was the New Orleans home to Dolo Jazz Suite nights until it closed. Since then, he has run them as house parties, and he likes how they work as community-building events. He announces them on Facebook with an email address you have to write to find the address of the party. He’d like to be more user-friendly than that, but “you don’t want a hundred people coming to your house,” he says.
Since much of what AF and his peers do is between them and their laptops, their live entertainment value isn’t obvious. Or so AF thought until he saw Justin Peake, the New Orleans musician who records as Beautiful Bells and has connections in the technological, jazz, and improvised music camps. Seeing him gave AF permission in his head to take his music to live audiences. The “suite” in “Dolo Jazz Suite” is a nod to Peake’s influence as it references one of his songs, “Southern Suite C.”
The subtle peer pressure Dolo Jazz Suite nights create gives AF and others a nudge to keep creating as no one wants to come in with old music or a short set. At the same time, it pulls together a sympathetic audience, many of whom know what each performer is going through and can lend a critical ear.
“Let me get a second opinion; let me get a third opinion,” AF says. “The whole idea is to make a great song.”