A gifted jazz pianist who keeps one foot firmly planted in hip-hop and the other in neo-soul, Robert Glasper is one of those artists that defies definition. He serves as music director for Mos Def’s touring band and has worked and written with Q-Tip. While his latest studio effort features big names like Questlove and Lalah Hathaway, his group, Robert Glasper Experiment, has a jazz sensibility. He’s been quoted as saying, “We all have musical ADD and we love it.” Audiences seem to as well. The band’s June performance at the Toronto Jazz Festival sold out so quickly that an extra show was added (it also sold out). The band returns to Toronto to play The Hoxton this Friday.
Glasper spoke to us about his newest album, his collaborations, and his time in Toronto. Our interview is below.
Tracey: Your new release is a remix EP of your album Black Radio, which came out in February. Was the remix always part of the plan for this project?
Robert Glasper: No, the remix idea came a little later, it actually came in June. We thought about it in June and then put the wheels in motion in July. It was really last minute. It came together because we had a remix contest for one of the songs on the record, “Move Love,” and we had hundreds and hundreds of producers sending in their remix ideas. After that I thought it would be cool to do a remix EP for Black Radio, to just keep the music out there.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the name Black Radio?
It’s actually a song that me and Mos Def wrote maybe three or four years ago, basically talking about the device in the airplane [the black box] that holds all the information so that if the plane crashes you’ll know what happened. I named the album Black Radio because I felt like when music is crashing all around us…good music always lives on, no matter what. I felt like this was one of those albums.
We’re sharing “Afro Blue,” featuring Erykah Badu, with our readers. [It’s track two on Black Radio. Listen to it by clicking the “play” button, above.] What was it like working with her, and producer 9th Wonder, on this track?
Working with Erykah was an amazing experience. I’d been on stage with her before. I’ve known her for years, but being in the studio with her and her producer, it was a whole different thing. She’s just really cool and down-to-earth. She’s very open to anything that you might want to do. She’s not an overly “diva” type person that you can’t talk to; she’s extremely cool and willing to learn, so it was a really dope experience working with her. As far as 9th goes, I didn’t even work hands-on with him on this, I just sent him the files from the original song from the album and then he just chopped it up and sent it to me, ’cause he lives in North Carolina. I just met 9th Wonder last week when I did a Master Class at Harvard University and he was there also, because he’s an Artist in Residence there. They [that is, Harvard] have a whole Hip Hop archive, a whole building dedicated to Hip Hop. It’s full of old posters and magazines and records and even figurines and stuff.
You’ve become notable for the people you collaborate with, from jazz bassist Derrick Hodge to drummer Questlove from The Roots. How would an unknown musician get an opportunity to work with you?
There’s a few different ways. If I’m coming to your city, sometimes what people will do is they’ll have a late set somewhere with an afterparty vibe and they’ll invite my band to come out. And a lot of times we’ll go to hang out ’cause it’s a great opportunity for us to hear you play live. That’s so much better than sending in CDs, you know what I mean, ’cause everybody gets CDs all the time and you don’t get around to listening to them. That whole act of putting a CD in your computer, nobody really does that shit anymore. So yeah, that’s the best way. We travel all the time, we’re going to be in your city at some point!
You were just here in the summer playing two sold-out shows. Have you been able to spend any time in Toronto? Any thoughts on our city?
The crowd is awesome. I love Toronto audiences. I was in town for a full month in 2009 when I was playing with [R&B singer] Maxwell. He opened his tour here, so we were rehearsing and getting all the lighting together and all that. So yeah, we were here for a month and it was great! We really got a chance to feel Toronto and be in Toronto. Normally I don’t get a chance to be in any place for a full month, I don’t even get a chance to be home for a month.