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On His 100th Birthday, Why Sinatra Is The Godfather Of Hip-Hop


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Kelly McEvers.


FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Let's take it nice and easy. It's going to be so easy for us to fall in love.

MCEVERS: Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the birth of a great man, Frank Sinatra. This year, there have been concerts, TV specials, CDs and about a dozen new books all celebrating the legendary singer. We wanted to talk about Frank Sinatra, the man and his music, in a different way with NPR's Sonari Glinton. He is our resident Sinatra fan, expert - some might say fanatic - and he has a theory about Frank Sinatra. He has done the reporting, and he is here to tell us about it. Sonari, I have been hearing this theory for years now so please share it with the class.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: OK. Kelly, as you may know, my two music loves are traditional pop and hip-hop. And I've come to learn that Frank Sinatra is the godfather, in a way, of hip-hop. And all you have to do is turn on the radio or TV to get a glimpse.


JAY Z: (Rapping) I'm the new Sinatra, and since I made it here, I can make it anywhere. Yeah, they love me everywhere.


SEAN COMBS: I celebrate with the best, Ciroc Ultra Premium Vodka.

F. SINATRA: (Singing) Come fly with me. Let's fly, let's fly away.

MCEVERS: OK. I'm hearing some Sinatra references, but I need to be convinced.

GLINTON: So those are two of the most important rappers ever, Jay Z and Puffy, and they're name-checking or associating themselves with Frank Sinatra. And this is a thing that rappers do. You can't imagine someone saying, I'm the new John Lennon. Like, that's not a rap thing. I'm the new Sinatra, though, is definitely a hip-hop thing. Kelly, if you don't believe me, I ran into two rappers and producers. They are twin brothers and they're a group called Christian Rich. They're Taiwo and Kehinde Hassan. They've worked with people like Lil' Kim, Pharrell, Drake and here's what they have to say about Frank Sinatra and hip-hop.

TAIWO HASSAN: It's just like rappers. He had a lot of money, a lot of women. He was very broke - went broke, had no money. And then he married this actress and she was about to divorce him, but before she divorced him, she put him on to this movie and that's how his acting got better and that's how he got his second wind. He had his first wind when he was, like, this teeny-boppy, Justin Bieber kind of dude, and then when he lost the money and everything, that's a good hip-hop part right there.

GLINTON: That is a good hip-hop part right there, Kelly, because that is the core story of Frank Sinatra - losing it all and then getting it back. It's the struggle that makes Sinatra so interesting. Now, of course, he's an Italian-American who's from the hood. It's different than what a lot of rappers are dealing with today. His music isn't transgressive, but it's Sinatra the cultural figure who's transgressive. The thing about Sinatra, the most important thing about him, you know, those alleged mob ties, that temper that he was famous for, doing it his way - the rap group the Hassan brothers that we talked to, they say that's the elemental thing about Sinatra, when you listen to him, it's the sensitivity and it's the danger.

KEHINDE HASSAN: So when you make music out of that energy, that's a real danger. You're like, and Sinatra's, like, cutting records, doing string arrangements and, you know, one of the hit men is sitting over there - oh, I got to leave, you know, Frankie, I got to go, I got to take care of, you know. That element, who else has that in music?

MCEVERS: So they're talking about, basically, his gangster lifestyle there. I mean, it sounds like these two producers agree with your theory. Is there anyone else out there who agrees with it?

GLINTON: Well, I went as close to the source as I possibly could, and I got to interview Frank Sinatra's daughter, Tina Sinatra, about her book, "My Father's Daughter," in which she describes running his business. With the hundredth anniversary coming around, Tina Sinatra has been thinking a lot about her father's influence on the culture today.

TINA SINATRA: We call it pop culture. It's part of - hip-hop is part of that culture today. And yeah, that's why he's still here and part of it. That's exactly - that explains it all. He appeals to all generations. That's rare. But I do understand the similarity. They're living the same way he did, and they all emulate him in their way. I see it. I get it.

GLINTON: So there you go - Tina Sinatra says he's a part of hip-hop, (laughter), some of the greatest hip-hop artists say he's the part of hip-hop and NPR's Sonari Glinton says, Frank Sinatra, the godfather of hip-hop.

MCEVERS: OK, I'm sold. That's Sonari Glinton, from NPR's Planet Money, making the case for Frank Sinatra as an influence on hip-hop. What song are we going to go out on here?

GLINTON: So I think as street as Sinatra gets is when he's singing with the Count Basie Orchestra led by Quincy Jones. You can hear the four-four time in the dance music. That is the same beat that you'd hear in a club today.


F. SINATRA: (Singing) I would sacrifice anything, come what might, for the sake of having you near in spite of a warning voice comes in the night, it repeats and it yells in my ear, don't you know you fool, there ain't no chance to win... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.