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Robert Glasper was not a stranger to The Grammys, but this night in February of 2013 was a little different. Three years prior, the jazz pianist had taken the stage at The Staples Center to perform with Maxwell at the 52nd Grammy Awards. Maxwell had been nominated in the R&B Album of the Year contest for his comeback album, “BLACKSummersNight.”
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But tonight was about Rob and his stellar album, “Black Radio” which had been nominated in the same category up against the likes of Usher and Trey Songz.
“It was crazy. I felt once we got nominated that was one thing, that was great. For me it was stopping there. At least you got nominated, that’s cool,” he recalls months later. “I was looking at the people in that category and thinking I’m definitely the underdog. I’m a Jazz musician. When they started reading names like Anthony Hamilton, Tyrese and R. Kelly and then Robert Glasper all my friends were like “Whooo!” but I’m sure people looking at that were asking “Who is Robert Glasper?”
While that is a fair question it is also an unfortunate one. The extremely talented Glasper is a pianist and record producer from Houston, Texas who’s mother, Kim Yvette Glasper, sang jazz and blues professionally. As a teen he attended the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York where he met Bilal Oliver. His musical resume includes work with Mos Def, Q-Tip, Kanye West, Erykah Badu and Common just to name a few. But he has remained on the outskirts of notoriety until recently.
“In the spirit of Herbie and Miles, Robert Glasper is Jazz’s latest revolutionary,” says his close friend Anu-Sun, who has performed and recorded with Glasper since 2002. “His musical sensibility is vast, yet inherently Hip-Hop. The boundless exploration that exists in working with him makes for an extremely dope experience.”
Thanks to the broad appeal and provocative title of “Black Radio” Glasper earned the recognition of those outside of traditional Jazz and two Grammy noms for “Gonna Be Alright” (Best R&B Performance) and the aforementioned album. But the bigger coup was actually winning.
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“When they called my name it was like slow motion,” says Glasper. “It took a few seconds to realize it. Jimmy Jam said my name. Musicians don’t win that award. Artists that sing win that award. Of course I had all singers on my album but for that to win is [incredible]. That’s an award Mary J. Blige and Chaka Khan win. Alicia Keys and Beyonce. Those people won that award. So it was a huge accomplishment. I won it for all of the musicians in the world.”
So what do you do for an encore? You release the follow-up, “Black Radio 2.” The musical compilation is a buffet of adult contemporary soul and hip-hop with contributions from Common, Dwele, Jill Scott, Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton and even Snoop Dogg. TheUrbanDaily caught up with Glasper a few weeks before its release to talk about breaking boundaries, changing the rules and making the music matter.
TUD: You took it upon yourself to remix “Black Radio” months after it came out. What inspired that?
Robert Glasper: The remix album helped me out actually. I like DJs, I like beatmakers. So the only way they’ll collaborate with me is if I do a remix project. Because I have a live band and I don’t mix DJs with my band, as far as beatmaking and stuff like that. “Black Radio” is like having a bunch of different artists so I wanted to do something that showcased different producers.
My album came out in Feb and after a few months it died down and doesn’t have the same hotness as five months earlier. So I wanted to make sure before the Grammy ballots go in I put something out to reignite the fire. So when I put that remix album out it was two or three weeks before the Grammy ballots and it made my original album popular again. It started selling again, gave it more life. I always wanted to work with 9th Wonder and Pete Rock so we did the compilation and it kept the album out there and people talking. It was definitely a smart idea. I’m probably going to do that this time as well.
So when did you start working on “Black Radio 2?”
I didn’t plan on doing a “Black Radio 2” originally. “Black Radio” was just an album on its own. And once we did it and it came out and it got accepted the way it got accepted, that’s when I said “Oh, maybe we should do a part two.” It was only because of the acceptance and love we got from part one.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ramsey Lewis and he had some great things to say about the lack of music in the schools. What are your thoughts on the decline of music in the schools?
The music programs have been cut and it sucks. It’s bad because that is why I’m here. The reason I’m talking to you right now is because I had music programs in my H.S. I was in Jazz band and Jazz ensemble and big band and music theory. All these classes to help hone my craft and because of that I was able to get a full scholarship to the top two or three schools in the country. Thats’ why I live in NY and…especially being an urban kid we don’t have money like that to just go to college. You know what I mean? $40K a year for college is what it costs. I had to get a full scholarship. A lot of colleges, they visit the high schools that are known for music and have music programs. You’re not gonna go to some random inner city high school to find that one really good Black organ player. It’s great if you have programs in schools that [promote music].
You were in the audience at the last Beat Society in NYC, a producer showcase. Maybe we need something like that for musicians to show what they can do…
That would be great. That would be amazing. It gets people thinking outside of the box and giving them an opportunity to be outside the box. A lot of young black musicians are stuck in church and don’t get a chance to do anything that has any kind of flavor that people outside of their city would know about it. So having competitions would be great. That’s a really good idea. I’ve thought about doing things like that myself, like having a tour where I go to different churches and talk to the musicians and play with them. A lot of times they don’t know anybody that plays jazz, or does anything but church.
Denaun Porter made a mixtape sampling your stuff, “Porter Chops Glasper,”have you heard it?
Yeah, I met Denaun through that. He sent it to Madlib first for him to hear it. So he tweeted me and said “Have you heard this?” I was like “No.” I listened to it and I tweeted Denaun like “Yo, this is crazy!” I was honored that he would do something like that. It was thoroughly done. It wasn’t even just from my albums. It was Youtube clips he was chopping up. I recognized some things like, “Yo, you really searched!”
So I ended up going to L.A. last month to work with him and we did like 10 or 15 beats together. He already chopped up “Calls.” It’s so nasty. He did it for international vinyl day and that particular remix is going to be put on vinyl. He did that on side A and on side B he did a whole other “Porter Chops Glasper” that’s 12 minutes long. So I’m looking forward to see what else comes out of those sessions.
So you have no issue with being sampled…
I love being sampled. That’s the lineage of hip-hop. I think it’s an honor to be sampled. Now if I get sampled and they make a whole lot of money and they don’t give me my credit and my publishing then we got problems. [laughs] But if you just do it and give it out to the world for free and people know it’s me that’s paying homage.
Did the Grammy win help ‘Black Radio’ get play on Black radio?
Yeah, I think so. Especially the single “Calls” with Jill Scott. The video dropped today. I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from that and it’s great to be played on radio stations. We were able to put that out before the album. Before hand I wasn’t able to do that. I had to put the record out first.
You obviously cross over genres from jazz to R&B to hip-hop, so is it all just music to you?
It’s all music to me but people need to have boundaries and genres, I understand it. Since I started off as a jazz musician and now I’m mixing it with R&B they don’t know what the hell to call me as far as genres go.
Are you touring in support of the release?
Yeah, we’re doing a record release show in NY on the 29th at the Best Buy theater. I’ll have Common and Marsha Ambrosius with me. They’re actually going to do a few cities with me. We’re starting the tour and putting together some of it now.
You manage to get so many great artists on this album. What are the economics of a compilation these days? Is it all still barter?
With some people it is like that. It works better when you know the people. I knew everybody on “Black Radio” one and most of the people on BR 2. It was most people bartering with me but with some we paid them. But at the end of the day everybody did it for the love. I tend to get people who are already hip to BR 1 and know what its’ about. Once you know what it’s about you kind of want to be a part of it and that kind of vibe. You’re cooler with taking a smaller payment because it’s art and it’s good art. I sacrifice money for art all the time and all the artists felt the same way. That’s the only way the album was gonna get made.
Earlier this year the “Great Gatsby” movie came out and I felt like there was a missed opportunity to reestablish the bridge between hip-hop and jazz…
I haven’t even seen the movie yet…
Do you think we can bring hip-hop/jazz back to the forefront?
Me personally I think the best people did it. We heard it with A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr but I like to hear people play it live. The sampling of it is cool but it’s been done. I don’t think anyone is going to take it to the next level. I wanna hear these joints live. I’d rather hear that come back, have bands playing those kinds of things live. That creates work. Give the urban kid another area to go to and play.
Robert Glasper’s “Black Radio 2” is out now on Blue Note Records!
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