We caught up with jazz pianist Robert Glasper for a conversation about the second instalment of his collaborative Black Radio albums, 'Black Radio 2'. On this record Glasper has concentrated far more on creating well-sung 'songs', downplaying the jazz aspect and reducing even his own piano to a backdrop.
An interesting and diverse musician, Glasper has worked with musical greats. His work was recognised this year when he won a Grammy Award for 'Best R&B' album. Marian Okogwu meets with Robert to dig a little deeper...How are you feeling and what sort of reactions have you been getting since the release of Black Radio 2?
I am feeling good! The reactions have been really cool, mostly great. People were saying ‘How are you gonna follow up after Black Radio 1?’ I was saying the same s***, I was like 'What the f*** am I gonna do?' But people wanted another record so I did it and it’s great that they love it just as much as the first one and I got really good feedback... well, people like it if they bought it and it went to number two in the R&B charts!Obviously, it’s a sequel to 'Black Radio' which was critically acclaimed, had a massive reaction AND won a Grammy Award for 'Best R&B' album. How difficult was it to follow that up?
After winning the Grammy it put us in the R&B world and R&B people are looking at us now. Before we put an album out we have to format our whole game plan. I am used to a jazz game plan but now my whole game plan has to be R&B, so I figured the only way that I could do another record like it is to change some elements, make some things different to the first 'Black Radio'. It had a lot of cover's, half of the record was cover's, so I said I’m gonna concentrate on songwriting and have original's, so this was all original's apart from one or two songs. Then I said, I want to make this album more R&B, soul, hip hop, so there's less of a loose, jazzy feel to it. The first album was more loose and the jazz part was kinda obvious. With this one, it sounds more produced, more like 'Hey, these are songs', you know what I mean? So that was my purpose. You have just mentioned a few different genres that you fall into - hip hop, R&B, jazz, neo-soul... what would you categorise yourself as or can’t you?
I would say that I am a bit of everything... I would say that I am a jazz musician that can play everything.Wow, that’s a nice summary, its impressive!
Yeah, you know, f*** it! I think that’s what it is, because when you play jazz it gives you the tools to play everything and technically you can! It gives you a feeling that a lot of people don’t have. When they play R&B it doesn’t feel good and that’s the point where jazz musicians have to get together and work that out... I make it feel good, do you know what I mean? And because I grew up with that music, I know how it is supposed to feel. Now, on the record you feature many legends and incredible musicians. What was the process behind including them on the record? You have Snoop Dogg, Emeli Sande, Jill Scott, Norah Jones...
Well, with the first 'Black Radio' I knew everybody so I literally text everybody like ‘Yo... I’m doing a record.'So you got it just like that?!
Yeah for the first one! I’ve been doing hip hop and jazz for a long time, like walking in the line of both genres for a long time. I was always playing in my jazz trio, I got signed in 2005 but at the same time I was Bilal’s music director, I was Mos Def’s music director, I’ve been on tour with Maxwell and now for the last five years, I play piano for Max. Things like that I’ve always done while playing my jazz trio stuff, so I've always been around both R&B and jazz so that's why I know so many people in those worlds, because of that.
With 'Black Radio 2', I didn’t want it to be all people I knew, I wanted it to have some people that I knew and some people that I didn’t know and I'm a fan of. Luckily, when we won the Grammy, it gave us the platform we needed for people to get to know who we are. So, when I reached out to people for 'Black Radio 2', they were kinda quicker to respond because they know what the vibe is.
I ran a Twitter campaign thing because I knew that I wanted Brandy, I wanted Faith, I wanted Anthony Hamilton but I didn’t know them personally. I wanted it to be organic, so I told all of my fans, that if any of them are fans of Faith, Brandy and/or Anthony, please could they tweet them and tell them that they need to be on Robert Glasper’s 'Black Radio Volume 2'. Thousands of people got involved and I said tweet them and then get them to tweet me that they are down. Faith tweeted me that she was down, Brandy tweeted me that she was down and Anthony tweeted me that he was down... bingo! There you go!
So, it was the people, my fans, they had a hand in it because I asked them all before I even made 'Black Radio 2', 'Who do y’all wanna hear?' 'Who do y’all want on 'Black Record 2'?' Its funny because the overwhelming response from everyone was Dwele! I knew Dwele so I just called him up and also one of my friends was connected with Snoop Dogg. Snoop was a fan of 'Black Radio 1' and once my boy called me up and said he'd just got in the car with Snoop and he was listening to my track 'Cherish THe Day!' Snoop is a real little Hathaway fanatic and I asked him if he would be on 'Black Radio 2' and he was like ‘Yeah nephew’ (in Snoop voice).
So, just things like that and other people I pretty much knew, like Common I knew for years.Your mother was a jazz and blues singer... how much did you learn from her and how relatable is it to your career now?
The thing is I didn’t know anything else but music because she was pretty much a single parent and she didn’t do babysitters and stuff, so she would literally bring me to the club and I’d be in the back. I was three or four, she would have her waitress friends checking on me so I was just always around the music. All her rehearsals and studio sessions, I was just there, from early... 3-years-old, 2-years-old and one-year-old! She had a huge influence on me and the fact that she sang gospel, jazz and broadway, all made me well-rounded.Will there be a Black Radio 3?
I don’t know if there will be a Black Radio 3. I don’t wanna be like Rocky and be like Black Radio 7! So I’m waiting to see what this record does and what the response is. I think I’m gonna keep Black Radio going for a while but just do concepts of records. I want to do a gospel album so maybe Black Radio Gospel, something like that. I might get away from the numbers and just have Black Radio whatever, like Black Radio Ballads, Soul Songs... something like that!Black Radio... where did you even get that title from?
It came from a song that Mos Def and I wrote in 2006 called... 'Black Radio'! It’s basically about the black box or black radio in an aircraft and if unfortunately an aircraft crashes and it's burning up or whatever, the black box or black radio survives the crash and tells you what happened to the plane. It gives you all the info, that’s how people can tell what happened when a plane crashes because they retrieve its black box. They can still hook it up to a computer and it can tell you something like, the left engine went out... it’s on every plane! It survives from burning fires! Mos Def had a joke... if that survives plane crashes then why don’t they make a whole plane out of that?! That was his vibe. When music is crashing and burning, great music always survives, great music will always be around... Very interesting! What are you up to at the moment?
I just came from a US tour I did with Common and Marsha Ambrosius. Now I'm just concentrating on more production stuff so I'm going to start back up producing Chaka Khan’s record Do you sleep?
I know, right?! I don’t have enough time to rest. I also have a five-year-old son, so you know... I produced a whole record for Jill Scott out next year and Seun Kuti, you know Fela Kutis’ son? I'm in the process of mixing stuff, a European tour in March, then coming back here to play at the Hammersmith Apollo... I'm trying to figure out who the guest is gonna be. Last year I wanted Laura Mvula to come on but she was too scared.Now for a few quick-fire questions to have you thinking on your feet!In order of importance... Love, family, money, success?
Family, love, success, money.Where is your favourite place to be alone?
Bathroom.Favourite thing about a lady?
Sense of humour!Catch Robert Glasper at the Hammersmith Apollo 12th March 2014 - www.viagogo.co.uk
Download his album 'Black Radio 2' out now on iTunes.