“We made Trap Jazz out of necessity. We felt the city needed it.” 

Little Rock musicians Phillip “Philli Moo” Mouton and Quincy “QNote” Watson, collectively known as Trap Jazz Giants, are fusing together not just two genres, but two generations of music born of black culture. There’s the younger sound of trap — defined primarily by its grimy, hard-hitting hip-hop beats and lyrics. And then there’s jazz — at times, gentle and placid, at other times, tempestuous and dissonant. 

QNote, who plays keys in the duo, shares the concerns of older generations of jazz lovers — concerns about the genre’s longevity, and about its ability to pique the interest of younger listeners. 

“So we put the trap in front of it,” he said. “It’s like a bridge. Oh, you think this stuff you’re doing with trap music is new? Nah. Jazz is the original trap music. Bebop is the original trap. They were doing this without the 808s,” he added, referring to the Roland TR-808 drum machine.

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Moo, the band’s saxophonist, compares their music to a nostalgic time machine. “It puts you in a trance,” he said.

New Music From Philli Moo and QNote "Little Rock Nights"

Posted by I AM TRAP JAZZ on Sunday, June 23, 2019

For both artists, natives of Little Rock, their decades of musical experience trace back to religious roots. 

“I’ve been playing since [I was] 10 years old,” said QNote, now 36. “Church got me into it. You had to do something if you didn’t usher [or] sing in the choir. My parents were real cool with my pastor’s nephew. He started teaching me how to play at a young age.”

Moo got his intro to music in youth choir. “I didn’t want to be an usher,” he said. “I didn’t want to do all that standing in one spot. My dad was a band director. The music has been in me the whole time.” Moo taught himself to play the drums at church and stuck with percussion until he discovered the saxophone in high school.

Decades passed before the two artists, also cousins, joined forces. QNote, a studio rapper and producer at the time, had never considered performing on stage. 

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“So you have this producer who links up with this live performer,” QNote recounts, “and [Philli Moo] says, ‘Cuz, I think you’ve got the talent. You could be playing live.’ ”

Nowadays, the duo’s shows are standing room only at local venues like South on Main. They’ve performed for hundreds at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, paying homage to Arkansas influences like legendary saxophonist Art Porter Jr., who got his start playing with his own father’s band around Little Rock as a teenager. 

“My dad used to run the Afterthought Jam Sessions,” Moo said. “Art Porter [Jr.] made his name and claim to fame in the legendary bar and grill.” Porter Jr. was ultimately banned from playing at clubs because of his age, Moo pointed out, until President Bill Clinton — then attorney general, and a fellow sax player — pushed for legislation known as “The Art Porter Bill” to allow minors into adult venues if they were accompanied by their guardians. Mouton and Watson speak of this time as a Golden Age for Little Rock music.

Quincy “QNote” Watson (left), Phillip “Philli Moo” Mouton (right)

It’s hard to tell where jazz begins and where hip-hop and R&B end with their 2016 album “I Am Trap Jazz,” which was one of the Arkansas Times’ 12 “don’t-miss Arkansas albums” in 2016. And that’s the way Trap Jazz Giants prefer it, likening their style to the classic Creole dish that merges culinary traditions of multiple cultures.

“It’s the gumbo,” Moo said. “You’ve got everything. There’s a whole bunch of stuff in it. Yet, it’s still real good.” 

The tracks range from triumphant bangers to somber, trance-inducing ballads. “Drew’s Mood” is a tribute to Moo’s fraternity brother Andrew Perkins, who died December 22, 2012. Recordings of Drew laughing and joking as a band student, interpolated with vocals and unpredictable saxophone riffs, give the listener a glimpse into his personality. The song samples an interview with Quincy Jones, who claims “People could not live one week without music.”

“I got so many responses from that, because he was loved by many,” Moo said. “People texted me like, ‘Man, I’m sitting here crying.’” 

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The two artists consider connections like this with their listeners as the ultimate reason they make music. 

“That’s why we do what we do.”