Published Feb 27, 2012Jazz pianist Robert Glasper's mission has been to make music that bends musical genres without breaking them, and his successes thus far have brought him attention far outside the traditional jazz world. "I want to bring people into my world, but at the same time have a mainstream vibe as well so it's accessible to a lot of people who don't listen to jazz," says the bassy-voiced Houston native over the phone.
Being defined as more than simply a jazz musician captivates Glasper. Indeed, the four-member Robert Glasper Experience flips the bird to the collective "What is contemporary jazz?" debate. Consider his fourth studio album, Black Radio, which further advances a freewheeling musical milieu of "jazz meets hip-hop meets R&B meets rock." It's an approach that offers a trippy Vocoder cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" nestling contentedly with a resonant take on David Bowie's "Letter to Hermione."
The jazz artist notes he was particular in choosing the artists that grace Black Radio ― Bilal, Lupe Fiasco and Meshell Ndegeocello to name a few ― adding that the album is designed as a musical touchstone for the genres influencing today's popular music but though a jazz lens. Glasper, who's previously worked with icons such as Kanye West, Mos Def and A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, delves deep into a love of the hip-hop aesthetic without being beholden to it.
The titular Black Radio itself, notes Glasper, is a reference to Mos Def's rap musings on the indestructible "black box" recording devices that are recovered from downed commercial aircraft. It's a metaphor of sorts on how contemporary black music endures despite a turbulent music industry and fluctuating mainstream tastes. "My thing is to just make good music that's relevant for today's times," says Glasper. "Real music is crash protected."