On one hand, he’s a devoted jazz lover and performer who’s skilled at playing so-called “pure” jazz with his Robert Glasper Trio. But he’s also a huge fan of his generation’s music: hip-hop and soul.
On Black Radio, his latest album, he splits the difference, twinkling keys and leading his other band, the Robert Glasper Experiment, on aural jazz excursions. But he also has invited his MC and soul-singing homies to add their own vocal interpretations.
He explains, “Yeah it kept evolving. I pretty much worked with most of the people some people more than others, cause they’re all my friends. I just called. You know it would be dope to do this song with her. It just snowballed after a while.”
In TheRoot Q&A, he talks about his attempt to bridge the jazz gap and even runs down his favorite albums.
However, read here how he bigs-up his bandmates, reveals why rides with Bilal, and explains further about how he got so many cameos on Black Radio without it sounding like a bag of mixed nuts.
Then watch the lyric-revealing video of the album’s title track below.
VeryArtistical: Were you concerned about keeping it cohesive and not sounding overstuffed with different voices?
Robert Glasper: The main thing is the artists I chose to do it. They fit with the band. Most of the artists we’ve already done stuff together. They’ve already been a guest with my band or, which most of the artist have, Ledisi, Lalah, Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, Mos and Lupe have been guests with my band. I kind of knew the vibe. The certain songs that I chose that go in and out of each other really well. The fact that there’s the backbone, a constant vibe that goes through the album is because we didn’t try to change much. We didn’t do all the kind of random different sounds for different songs to make everything sound so different. We wanted to make it to sound like a story at the same time, not to make it repetitive. That’s why I played piano and Rhodes on everything. I don’t do too much keyboard work. Pretty much everyone plays the same intstruments on every song so you feel like there’s a backbone, a consistency throughout the album.
VA: Is there a challenge in bringing something new to songs that have been heard so many times before?
RG: For the most part, my band is just so dope. Chris Dave on drums, Derrick Hodge on bass, and Casey Benjamin on vocoder. I don’t arrange. We just play and it comes out as an arrangement. Everyone is so skilled as musicians that it’s going to come out something new off top. I don’t have to do much at all. I’ll be like, let’s do this and it will automatically take on another identity—effortlessly.
VA: But it can’t be that easy. “Cherish the Day” by Sade is a track that’s already in that soul-jazz lane? How do you manage to bring something different to that song?
RG: I may change a chord or two here or there. What you actually hear on that recording is the sound check. I just kept it. That’s why it starts kind of in the middle. Lalah was testing her mike. I just gave everybody the signal like keep going, keep going. It turned into the arrangement. We’ve played it before live with her, but it was always something different. It was the same thing in the studio—we just went with it. The feel changed and it was not too far from the original feel but at the same time it feels new. That’s the genius of guys in band.
VA: Why did you decide to include cover songs on the album?
RG: I wanted to do covers that people know and covers that people knew from different genres, which is why I chose Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” No matter where you go in America, when you play it, people know it. Then Sade, everybody knows and loves Sade, no matter what color you are. Lalah was a guest with my band and she did “Cherish the Day” live. I knew we had to record this. And I wanted to do a tune that was obscure, that’s why I chose the David Bowie tune, “Letter to Hermoine.” It’s really beautiful and really short. Bilal reminds me of David Bowie. He’s just out there, strange, always pushing the envelope, not worrying about what’s current or what everybody else sounds like. Bowie’s like that. Bilal doesn’t sing with his testicles, he sings with feeling. That’s why I love that guy. And I’ve always heard Erykah Badu doing jazz standards, in my mind. She sounds like a reincarnation of Billie Holiday without trying. It’s just how her voice sounds [on “Afro Blue”], like a perfect match.
VA: Would you say that you understand how jazz connects to other music better than most jazz cats?
RG: Yes, just cause I do it. I’m in it. I’m a Blue Note recording artist and I have my own jazz records. But at the same time I’m the musical director for Yasiin Bey and have toured with Maxwell. I recorded with Q-Tip, toured with him. I’m in both worlds hardcore. I’m not just a fan. It’s different when you work in it rather than just liking it. I have no choice but to blend things. That’s just where I am.
WATCH “Black Radio” feat. Yasiin Bey: