Robert Glasper is a musician on a clear mission: bringing back real music. With his Grammy Award-winning album, Black Radio he presented a fusion of genres from jazz to rock to hip-hop for what became one of 2012’s most critically acclaimed albums. Now a little over a year later, Glasper aims to continue to blur the lines and bend the notes of music to bring jazz to a wider and more diverse audience.
At the intimate Hennessy Home Session held last night in New York City, he shared with EBONY.com how fatherhood has inspired his movement and reaffirmed his socially conscious stance. It is a viewpoint that he promises will be heard throughout his forthcoming album Black Radio 2, which he recorded with Norah Jones, Common, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton and more.
EBONY: How will Black Radio 2 move the concept of your music forward?
Robert Glasper: The title is from the song “Black Radio” that Mos Def (yasiin bey) and me did about the black box of an airplane. It holds information and can survive a crash. So great music survives all fires and everything. It will always live on. That’s why you can always go back to Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway because good music always survives. So part one and two are my visions of what I think music should be. Radio stations and the music industry is about the business. It’s not about the music anymore. So I want to take it back to where it used to be about the music.
EBONY: So do you see yourself as someone who documents history in music? If so, what important issues do you delve into on Black Radio 2?
RG: I did a tribute to the children of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Now I am a grown man and I have a son of my own who is four. So I look at things differently when it comes to children. When you have a son you think about the future and his future. You want to be an advocate of what goes on today so that you can set a solid foundation. Another issue is the fact that as African-American artists we are the main trailblazers of popular music. We come up with different styles of music but they think it is their music. We came up with rock, blues, jazz, R&B, gospel and hip-hop. It comes to the point where people copy each other and music got to a standstill and it is whack. So we touch on reaching down into our heritage to continue to create. We don’t want to get into this dumb circle we are in where everybody tries to sound alike.
EBONY: Speaking of Sandy Hook what is your position on gun laws reform?
RG: I am down with gun laws and not just letting anybody buy a gun. You can take guns off the streets and that’s fine but you also gotta go into communities and change people. The hardest part is changing the mindset of the people. There are so many young people who aspire to be great musicians. It’s hard though when you are a great musician coming up in the world that looks down on musicians. It’s all about computers and manufacturing music. So that can make you lose confidence and make you stay on the streets. I know mad musicians who carry guns. They are still halfway in the gangster land and half way in the music world because they don’t think they can make it just off the music. They think they can make more money selling drugs or robbing people. So I want to bring real music back and show that you can be successful and get recognized for it as a musician.
EBONY: When the average person thinks of jazz musicians or vocalists they don’t necessarily think of socially conscious music figures. So it sounds like that’s something that you wish to change.
RG: Most jazz is not vocal so it isn’t obvious. I am incorporating a lot of people from the mainstream R&B and hip-hop world so it’s not just jazz. I am using all my friends and some of them have platforms bigger than mine. We can reach more people like that.
EBONY: When merging the worlds of jazz and hip-hop there are certain things you take and others that you leave behind. When it comes to hip-hop what are you leaving behind that you don’t consider to be positive elements for your movement?
RG: It’s mainly certain things that I don’t indulge in anyway. I've never been a person to use drugs. Most of the rappers I listened to and collaborate with are more of your conscious, all about the community type of cats who are advocates for uplifting Black people.
EBONY: So would you collaborate with a rapper with lyrics and an image that was against everything conscious you stand for—for example someone like Fat Joe?
RG: I don’t mind collaborating with somebody who is against what I do because in my mind I will reach his audience. That’s like Jesus going to the bars to preach. You can’t just preach in the church because those are the people already trying to change. You want to go to a place where people aren’t trying to change. So if it is Fat Joe or somebody against something I am for, I will still collaborate with them because now I get a chance to reach and try to change his audience. So you gotta go to the fire and you have to put some water on it.
EBONY: So many people cover the jazz standards. With your approach you cover some jazz songs but with a hip-hop/R&B influence. Do you see yourself as creating new standards of jazz music?
RG: I am all about not doing something somebody else did. I will do it in a way you didn’t think of dong it. I want to ask artists what are you dong now that hasn't been done? So many of them do the same things and have the same subject matter about the clubs and it’s annoying. What are you doing to make history and a mark on people twenty years from now? We have to make our own history. The more you recreate history the more you erase your own history.