Robert Glasper : “Today’s jazz scene sucks”
In an exclusive interview with Funk-U magazine, Robert Glasper describes the creative process of Black Radio 2 and shares his views about today’s jazz scene and the current music industry.
Funk-U : As you might know, sequels are usually never as good as the original movie. Can we say the same thing regarding the second part of your Black Radio project ?
Robert Glasper : No, I got to say I think it’s as good. I think I did a good job of not making the same album twice, but capturing some of the essence of first album, without being the same album. It’s the same album but a different album(laughs). I think it’s a good balance.
A year ago, in a an interview for nextbop.com, you have declared that your mission while making Black Radio 1 was to « explore your hip-hop/soul side, but still jazz-infused », that you thought that you where « the first one to actually do it right. ». Has your mission changed with Black Radio 2 ?
It’s still mixing things. But this record was more hip-hop/RnB, not so much jazz. Because we got the Grammy of RnB album of the year, we entered in the R’n'B world, and to survive in the R’n'B world, I got to put a little more R’n'B in my R’n'B (laughs). And I love R’n'B music, so I’m not compromising anything, it’s fun to do this and not have to feel that we have to mix. I don’t want to mix all the time. Black Radio 1 was about mixture, that was the purpose. Black Radio 2 is not about really mixing album : we purposedly say : « let’s do a hip-hop/R’n'B album », but our way. Our way means gonna be having a little bit of glider of jazzstatic, here and there, certain songs. Like Norah Jones’s song, or Big Girl Body with KC making a sexy solo, a little stuff like that. So, when I said I think we’re the best representation of it, it was Black Radio 1, I believe. Because you have one band playing all that. I think we are the best band and only band to do what we’re doing as a band. We don’t need anything else to play hip-hop. The hip-hop musicians and the audience say : « those guys are the best at that », Questlove says : « they are the best at that ». Same thing with jazz, when we are improvising on jazz stuffs, jazz musicians say : « they are the best at that », when we’re doing R’n'B, the R’n'B world says : « they are the best at that ». You know what I mean ? There hasn’t been a one band that’s could arguably the best at each category they decide to play, each genre they decide to play. Most of the time that’s a weaker link. So in the past, there been jazz bands that do hip-hop mix jazz, but it’s jazz band with a DJ, or it’s a DJ playing hip-hop but he has jazz instrumentals. There hasn’t been one band that plays all the genres in its most honest and most original form of that music, without losing anything.
This new album more pop or radio friendly, less jam oriented. Can you explain your creative process on Black Radio 2 ? Does it differ compared to the first opus ?
This album differs because on the last Black Radio album, we were not looking for any mission, we wanted just playing and do stuff with friends and make a cool record (laughs). That represents a lot of different music. A lot of people who came at the studio didn’t know what the hell we were gonna do. There’s a lot of covers on the first opus, because we didn’t know what to do, like : « hey let’s do this song, you know this song ? Ok, let’s do it ». On the second album, I put my thought into it. I had to compose more original songs. I wrote some songs and some friends help me for the lyrics. Sometimes artists wrote lyrics : Emili Sandé, Marsha Ambrosius, Common, Eric Roberson, Lupe, Snoop, Luke James, and Jill Scott. Jill Scott wrote the melody and I wrote the chorus. But for the most part I had songs written for the artists, I had songs in mind for the artist. I write a song and I know this is for Anthony Hamilton, I feel it. I gave him the piano part, then he came to the studio and he recorded.
How did you manage get these incredible talents on this project ?
On the first album they were all friends, I knew all of them for years. On second album I knew half of them. I know Norah Jones since High School, we went to Jazz Camp together, because she’s from Dallas, Texas, and i’m from Houston, Texas. So we met at a Jazz Camp. But there’s some people I didn’t know : Faith Evans, Anthony Hamilton, Brandy… I asked to my Twitter Followers : « Twit them and tell them they have to be on Black Radio 2 ! » (laughs). The good thing about it, the easy thing was that we won a grammy. And when we won that grammy, most people known who we are. Faith said : « Yeah Robert Glasper, I saw him at the Grammy, I’ll do it », Brandy same thing, Anthony Hamilton same thing. If we didn’t win the Grammy, maybe they would be like : « Oh.. I don’t know, I don’t have time »… But they wanted to be on the record, to be a part of it, so I’m happy and grateful.
Many of us miss D’Angelo and think that you should have invited him on your album. Did you contact him for a featuring ?
I didn’t contact D’Angelo because I knew he would decline. D’Angelo is like Maxwell. They are both on studio to finish their own album. D’Angelo is finishing his own record, it’s supposed to be out. But when it’s time, I will ask him. I’m gonna meet him, we gonna talk about it, and when I’ll meet him he gonna know who I am and he gonna want to do it. D’Angelo’s team asked me to do the D’Angelo tour before they asked Pookie. But I was already on my own tour, and on Maxwell’s tour as well, I didn’t have time to do both my tour, Maxwell’s tour and D’’s tour. And he didn’t have a lot of dates at that time so… But I would love to, one day.
Is it difficult to transpose these songs live without the original singers ?
Some songs are hard to adapt without the singers. For example Jill Scott’s song, Beacause it’s a very girl song, and with KC’s vocoder it would be weird (laughs). A girl has to sing that… So we just choose certain songs, without singers we do Norah Jones’s song, we do “I Stand Alone” (just the chorus), we do “Big Girl Body”, and “Lovely Da”y. Bill Withers was on stage with us in L.A last week, it was amazing.
Where did you meet KC, Mark Colenburg, Derrick Hodge, and Chris Dave ?
Chris is not in the band anymore because he wanted to start his own band. We played for Maxwell together, and he left Maxwell to play with D’Angelo. From that, he met Isaiah Sharkey, an incredible guitarist, and Pino Palladino. So he started to tour alone. I’m happy to see him with his band finally. He deserves it, he’s arguably the most incredible drummer of our time, he is the most incredible to me, and to most drummers. Nobody has as much influence and creativity as him. When you hear him, you can say from the first second : « It’s Chris Dave ». I Knew Mark Colenburg, KC – and Bilal – from College in NYC, the New School. Mark is incredible too.
Why covering “Get Lucky” live ? Is it for the crowd, do you like this song ? Is it a in-joke with your band ?
When the single came out, I’ve never heard it. Everybody was saying on Facebook and Twitter that Daft Punk’s new album sounds like Robert Glasper Experiment, I guess because of the vocoder. And they say that this album sounds like different than any other of their albums. So, somebody sent me “Get Lucky”. Everywhere we went this summer, we heard it. So we decided to adapt “Get lucky “live. I’m all about doing some popular songs if I like it, if it’s good, and I like “Get Lucky”. It’s a good festival song. And with KC’s Vocoder, it make sense. Jazz in general doesn’t do that (laughs). They don’t play shit of the radio, because « it’s not creative » (laughs). But people wanna dance, they wanna enjoy.
Everybody always say that Glasper you are influenced by Herbie Hancock and JDilla . I’m sure that you have many other influences or jazz fathers…
Herbie Hancock ? I’ve never heard him (laughs). Everybody wants to compare me with someonelse, like, « What’s your favourite jazz musician ? ». I don’t want to respond anymore. I like people they’re listen to me and who tell me « it’s Glasper’s sound ». Some people just want to say : « He has listened to George Duke », I want to reply « No ! », but that’s not the truth (laughs). I’ve listened him, of course. I hate people who say : « You guys are the biggest Weather Report’s fans ». I’ve never bought any Weather Report record. People compare us with the Yellow Jackets because we have electric things. I think we sound different.
What about your tour ? Do you like the French audience ? Do you know any French singers ?
I like the French audience, he’s more receptive. Not as the americans, but more receptive just after London. Honestly, in London, the crowd is more ready for the music. French area little more reserved. My audience is strange, I have reserved jazz fans, and then I get the wild crazy people too. So it’s a mixture. But I’ve always loved France, I’ve been coming here since 2002, playing at the Sunset in Paris. The Audience is great. London come first because they get all of my jokes, and beacause of my english beard (laughs). I can talk on the mic and say stupid shit and they get it all. While in France, people are like :« What did he say ? » (laughs). French have the better women. I don’t know any French singers.
What about Daft Punk ?
I thought they were from Germany ! That’s hilarious.
What do you think about today’s jazz scene and the Nu-soul scene ?
Today’s jazz scene Sucks. There’s not enough elevation, not enough in people’s minds. I feel like hearing the same thing over and over. I don’t hear much exploration, nothing innovative, nothing captive like : « Wow… what’s that ? ». I don’t hear that anymore. When somebody does something new, like myself, the jazz community says : « Damn, wait, what are you doing ? ». I think that some people can change something but don’t because they’re afraid to be refused or things like that. Nu-Soul died, I was a part of the movement. I was with Bilal at the beginning, we were at the New School together, he has signed with Interscope Records in 1999. That’s when we met J Dilla, Common… We were in the same studio, at Electric Lady when D’Angelo recorded Voodoo, Bilal wason the top floor, Erykah was at the middle, and D’Angelo was at the bottom for two or three months.
Do you think that Black Radio 1 & 2 are breaking new grounds in Afro-American music ?
I do ! I think that the first is breaking ground now. Today’s music is going downhill. The integrity of music is going downhill. Live music, Live musicians are going downhill. People are not looking for live musicians, it’s all about computers, MPCs and so on… So the fact that we were able to come from the jazz world, and do a record with all live instruments, no loops, everything is played live, bring singers together… Because on part one, the only popular singers we had were Erykah and Musiq Soulchild. Everybody else were like underground heroes. At that time, the only super-popular singers were Erykah and Lupe Fiasco. The fact that we were able to do that : live musicians, bring real singers, at THAT time, was groundbreaking. And to win a Grammy for it was groundbreaking too. To do this again with Black Radio 2, and bring just real singers and vocalists, and hit the charts – we are number two after Justin Timberlake, that shit is fucking crazy -, is groundbreaking. I love my band and I think that we are the fucking dopest band to do the kind of shit we’re doing. I took a look at the Quincy Jones’s book, because he did Back on the Block, and that’s kind of my vibe : making the dopest songs with dope singers. Plus I wanted to do it with just one band. My blueprint for Black Radio 1 was Off The Wall. It’s my favourite record because, it’s one band for the most part, and it feels like one band, and you feel that they recorded all those songs in the same day. I recorded Black Radio 2 in the same studio as Off the Wall. So the essence was there already. My album sounds very warm, very intimate, and it’s not twelve producers trying to get the hottest track on the album. There’s a story.
What do you think about today’s music industry ?
It is full of people who don’t know music. It has become a business, and it is less about music. And the more people who don’t know about music, the more it becomes about business. It’s killing the industry, it’s killing music when you have people in high positions who don’t know about music. It’s like : « why are you a lifeguard if you can’t swim ? ». That just doesn’t make sense.
Will your Black Radio project be a trilogy ?
I don’t know. There was not supposed to be a number 2 bu the first got so much love and everybody came asking : « what about number two ? ». If I get the same response, it is possible. I don’t want to be like… Rocky, you know what I mean ? like « Rocky V, Rocky VI, Rocky VII » (laughs). Nothing like this, but I can see a possible number 3. I don’t know, let’s see how that part 2 works out.
Interview : Jim Zelechowski. Special Thanks to François Arveiller.
Robert Glasper Experiment Black Radio 2 (Blue Note/Universal).