Lehman’s music has always drawn from disparate sources in distinctive ways, but with Sélébéyone, he takes an unexpected turn: drawing, from modern jazz, Senegalese rap, live electronics, and underground hip-hop, to create a unique form of urban experimentalism. The project stands apart from almost every other jazz/hip-hop collaboration that has preceded it: this is not an album where live musicians imitate repetitive samples in 4/4 time. Instead, the musical elements – shifting rhythms, electro-acoustic harmonies, and contemporary sound design – are wholly integrated with the lyrical content. Add to that the unique juxtaposition of English and Wolof that permeates the record, and one gets the sense of the development of a whole new musical universe.
And though the music on Sélébéyone may seem like a radical departure from Lehman’s more recent ensemble work, it is actually the product of his long-standing engagement with experimental hip-hop and its surrounding community. Lehman’s critically-acclaimed octet has released arrangements of seminal hip-hop tracks, like Wu-Tang Clan’s “Living In the World Today” and Camp Lo’s “Luchini.” And his professional ties with Meshell Ndegeocello and other pioneering members of the contemporary R&B community date back to 2004: most recently Lehman was a featured soloist on Ndegeocello and Jason Moran’s 2014 Blue Note release All Rise.