20 minutes with ROBERT GLASPER

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

Tired of the same old repetitive and disposable anthems that seem to pollute contemporary black radio, the Robert Glasper Experiment utilised their background in Jazz and recruited a number of R&B vocalists and rappers to create a fusion record. This album was used as a vessel to transcend Genre and perpetuate a singular vision of black consciousness. The said vessel was titled Black Radio – referencing the indestructible black box in an airplane – and went on to win a Grammy in 2013 for best R&B album. I caught up with Robert Glasper himself for a chat about the success of Black Radio and its follow-up Black Radio 2, his Grammy win and his buddies on the east coast.

“When I lived in Texas, I didn’t really know much about hip-hop music. But when I moved to New York in ’97, I immediately met so many people. I was meeting guys like Q-Tip, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. I got to see the hip-hop movement first hand and it became a community that I was a part of.”

Robert Glasper – a trained Jazz pianist – grew up in Houston, Texas and regularly performed at Church with his mother. After moving to New York to study music at the New School University in Manhattan, he met and began collaborating with rapper Mos Def. In 2005, he signed to Blue Note Records and released several jazz albums. His first jazz-fusion record Double Booked (2007) was an innovative album split into two distinctive styles. The first half is populated by his post-bop trio, while the latter half introduces his new fusion band, the Robert Glasper Experiment. It was this quartet – Glasper on electronic keyboards, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, Mark Colenburg on acoustic and electric drums and Casey Benjamin on vocoder and sax – that enabled Glasper to pursue an investment in hip-hop that had enticed him since moving to the east coast.

“When I moved to the east coast, I got the chance to befriend and work with a lot of artists, so by the time I signed to Blue Note, one of the guys at the label told me ‘You know, you could do a record with all the people that you know’ and I was like ‘yeah, let’s wait for that.'”

Well, the wait was certainly worth it, allowing Glasper to recruit a number of talented friends he’d made since leaving Texas. Black Radio features collaborations with Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco and yasiin bey (Mos Def).

After the unprecedented success of the first Black Radio, Glasper was more than ready to make a volume 2, finding it much easier to get people on board that he wasn’t particularly acquainted with. “A lot of people on part 2 I didn’t know personally. On the first record I literally knew everyone. It was easier on the second to get people I didn’t necessarily know because we won the Grammy for the first one. They knew who I was. Cause otherwise, if you try and call up Snoop Dogg’s people they’d be like ‘What? Jazz?'”

Even though Black Radio 2 – released in October last year – featured a much wider range of vocalists (Jill Scott, Common, Snoop Dogg, Norah Jones, Patrick Stump, Faith Evans), Glasper still has a soft spot for the first volume. “It was the first one of that particular sound and I got to work with my friends. The fact that we even made it to the Grammys and then the album’s inclusion in the R&B category kicked off this whole Black Radio movement. We were representing a whole community because we weren’t doing what’s popular.”

Keeping the subject on the Grammys and although acknowledging a win as an unquestionable honour, I wanted to ask Glasper if he considered his inclusion in the R&B category as a slap in the face due to Black Radio‘s deliberate swerve away from mainstream urban music. “Not at all,” he answered to my surprise. “You always have to be in some sort of category. There’s no category for artists like me, because there aren’t many artists like me. What a lot of people don’t know about the Grammys is that the artist will always choose what category they want to be nominated in. I chose to be nominated for R&B album of the year, as opposed to Jazz album of the year.

“Most of the Jazz world didn’t really understand Black Radio. Anyway, a lot of it is not straight up Jazz, it has more of an R&B/Hip-hop sound. If you’re in the R&B category, you’re on a bigger platform, no one knows or cares about the Jazz Grammy except the Jazz community. I wanted to make this album on a bigger platform with a bigger message.”

With the message being that versatile and alternative black music is both alive and successful, it makes sense that Glasper chose the most accessible category, using it as a means of inspiring the younger generation by showing them a different shade of black music.

I asked Glasper if he’s heard his buddy Q-Tip’s new collaborative mixtape with Busta Rhymes yet. “I haven’t. However people have been texting and tweeting me asking if I’m playing piano on this one song. I’ve worked with Q-Tip for years and I’ve done a lot of stuff at his house studio wise, so I wouldn’t be surprised if  he chopped some shit I did up and put it on the record.”

 

The ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT will hit up the Forum on Friday March 7, featuring the legendary jazz-fusion icons Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith as supports. Black Radio and Black Radio 2 are available now.

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FILM REVIEW: HER (2013)

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More than simply a tale about an alienated man who falls in love with his computer operating system, Spike Jonze’s Her is a thought-provoking and prophetic film about the future of relationships. Set in a futuristic sterile LA, the science fiction film is beautifully sick in its almost dystopian representation of human relationships. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely man struggling with the ghost of his married past. After purchasing a new operating system – which he initially uses as an email organiser – he quickly forms a friendship with it; a strong mental bond that is not dependent on physicality. Unable to sustain healthy relationships with real women, Theodore finds himself falling in love with Samantha (OS), played by Scarlett Johansson.

Theodore and Samantha’s relationship begins to emulate all the positive and negative aspects of a physical relationship. Samantha’s high-tech programming enables her to feel human emotions such as jealousy, lust and love.  A particularly disturbing scene involves Samantha hiring  a surrogate body to fulfill what she can’t physically with Theodore – the surrogate female being used as a means to an end in the same way a surrogate parent would be used today. Samantha is incredibly intelligent and communicative and consequently, their love grows into something even more genuine than other various physical relationships displayed throughout the film.

Her is prophetic in its depiction of the growing sterility of human relationships and our increasing dependence on computers. Our relationships with our operating systems is extrapolated as a means of hypothesising the extreme possibilities of technology. Instead of perpetuating new physical connections, we are hiding behind our screens, seeking solace in the virtual world and making friends with multiple avatars. Spike Jonze’s original screenplay creates a world in which operating systems are everyone’s best friends and intimate lovers, perfectly imperfect and available.

Both Phoenix and Johansson play the sweetest roles in their careers yet. While Johansson usually plays the ice queen in her physical roles, it is ironic to hear nothing but warmth in her vocal performance. The film also features Amy Adams as Theodore’s best friend, who like Scarlett has proved her versatility in both art house and blockbuster films (The Master, American Hustle, Man Of Steel).

The women in the film are hardly wearing any make-up and all look quite haggard, a nuance that only serves to reinforce the enigmatic Samantha. These female bodies are not objects of lust for Theodore anymore, as he has become completely fixated with the mind, voice and spirit of Samantha. So on the one hand, the film is magnifying the successful absence of physical importance and on the other, it is amplifying the unsuccessful relationships between real human bodies, i.e. between Theodore and his wife and between Amy (Adams) and her husband. Incredibly positive in one sense, it is still technically a dystopia in its disheartening portrayal of human connections.

A realistic insight into the inevitable (Yes, I am a cynic), Her is my pick for the Oscars.

5/5

ALBUM REVIEW: BUSTA RHYMES & Q-TIP, The Abstract and The Dragon

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

A few weeks before the new year, Bussa Bus and Q-Tip released The Abstract And The Dragon, a self-righteous excuse to revive “original rap,” the boom-bap golden era of the ’90s. The 28-track mixtape boasts a collection of classics and remixes, with only a handful of originals. Vivrant thing is re-worked, along with Scenario and Tip’s Gettin Up. Busta Rhymes (The Dragon) and Q-Tip (The Abstract) simultaneously revive and validate the legendary golden era of hip hop, “the real hip hop” as The Dragon calls it and he’s right. This is the real hip-hop; the authentic unpolished “boom bap boom boom bap,” beat of the game, the game that both veterans accuse contemporary rappers of disrespecting.

I’ve listened to this record a lot; I’m in double digits here and I can honestly say that this could be the best hip-hop mixtape since Dilla’s Donuts in 2006. It’s all ego and pride, and rightly so. These guys were at the front of the boom-bap movement, the original shit and they should be proud. There’s nothing modest about this album. Busta is all up in your grill, huffing and puffing over rhymes like “You can’t erase me..somehow I’m never done” and “Here I am, RUN.” In the intro track, he also boasts “This is where it all started.” Tip is a little more humble, embodying the role of a minimalist artist as opposed to one who sprays red all over the canvas. The contrast is effective, however it does end up sounding more like Buss’ record by the end of it.

The boys are brothers and it’s represented and re-enforced throughout the entire album, but especially in the intro and Butch and Sundance. They’re a duel force to be reckoned with and new age players won’t be able to ignore the palpable criticism in You Can’t Hold The Torch, a track written like a letter of criticism. “These niggers in the game don’t sound the same” and “You’re hurting the game when your shit sounds off” are only a few rhymes from that heavy complaint. I’ll let you enjoy the rest of it.

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10