Robert Glasper captures the best of hip-hop and jazz on new disc

There are jazz aficionados who believe that hip-hop and jazz should not be merged or even share any musical affiliation, whatsoever.  But, I disagree with that belief, especially after listening to creative, young jazz musicians such as Robert Glasper, who knows how to navigate both genres.

Glasper skillfully combines hip-hop, jazz, neo-soul, and rock music to create a satisfying blend that will take you back to the days of real jazz rap.

The golden years of jazz rap took place during the early 90s when artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets and Guru fused  jazz instrumentation or sampled jazz riffs with rougher, bass heavy beats. Nowadays you wont hear too much jazz rap in the mainstream other than from alternative hip-hop artists like The Roots.

Robert Glasper

So for those who were obsessed with classic jazz raps albums like Tribe’s The Low End Theory  or Guru’s Jazzmatazz series, you’ll be satisfied with Glasper’s approach to the genre.

Here’s a quick run-down of Glasper’s background for those who may be unfamiliar with his work.

The Houston bred pianist got his start playing in church and got his first taste of experimenting with various genres by blending gospel and jazz harmonies. According to Glasper, “depending on the type of song, church music has jazz elements and pop elements, too.” Glasper’s mother was also a jazz vocalist, so her musical talent definitely had an impact on the young artist.

While in college, Glasper met neo-soul singer Bilal, and through their association, he began connecting with other soul/hip-hop artists such as Kanye West, Talib Kweli, J-Dilla, and Maxwell.

Glasper’s experience in the hip hop world further influenced his career as a jazz musician and helped him to develop his signature sound.

“If you really dissect hip-hop you will find a whole lot of Charles Mingus, Ron Carter, Ahmad Jamal, a lot of classic jazz samples in there,” said Glasper during an interview with Slate magazine. “My idea was to go full circle. Like hip-hop sampled jazz to make hip-hop, so now I’m a jazz trio sounding like a hip-hop track that sampled jazz.”

His new album, Black Radio, which Blue Note will release February 28, embodies the eclectic sound he is known for and includes cameos from some of today’s hottest urban artists such as Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, and yasiin bey(Mos Def).

It may be a while before we are able to experience the entire album, but the anticipation is somewhat eased by the release of his first single, “Ah Yeah.”

Ah Yeah” is a sexy, urban soul track featuring singers Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele. The singers’ soothing chants give the song a mellow tone, which blends nicely with Glasper’s cool phrasing.

It’s R&B flavored tracks such as “Ah Yeah” or more hip hop based songs like “Always Shine” from the new album that fully justify Glasper’s philosophy about his music, which is that he refuses to be pinned down to any one genre.

His previous albums Canvas and In My element may have fooled some into thinking he was merely a straight-ahead jazz pianist.

Both Canvas and In My Element are straight-ahead jazz albums featuring  his Trio, but if anything, they highlight his talent as a virtuoso pianist and have earned him a spot as one of today’s most promising jazz musicians.

Glasper is, however, most creative and in his “own element” when he bridges the gap between hip-hop and jazz.

Some of that creativity can be found on his 2009 CD Double Booked, where he splits the post-bop and hip hop genres in half. The first part finds Glasper in total jazz mode channeling bebop pianists such as Thelonious Monk.  The other half of the album includes hip hop/funk inspired tunes with more electrical instrumentation.

The Robert Glasper Experiment

Yet, there are no genre battles on Black Radio.

Musician’ s such as Lupe Fiasco, yasiin bey(Mos Def) and Bilal grind out their lyrical flow to the fullest as Glasper collectively improvises with his other band, The Experiment.

If you are strictly a jazz traditionalist, then you may not dig the way Glasper fuses Afrocentric beats with jazz instrumentation.

You definitely wont hear any Dizzy Gillespie or Louis Armstrong references on Black Radio.

But, Glasper admits that “the guest artists on the album are all jazz musicians at heart.”

So, I’m assuming he means that when you hear Lupe spitting a verse or Erykah ornamenting over a beat, just think of them as improvising on trumpet or making beautiful music on the sax.

To preview more tracks from Black Radio, check out Robert Glasper’s website.


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