“Jazz is the great grandfather of hip hop”
Robert Glasper plays his jazz with flair and style, underpinned by hip hop grooves and swagger, with subtle musical threads, writes LAURENCE MACKIN
IT’S TRICKY trying to corner Robert Glasper for even a moment. “I’m on my way to Madrid and I’m in the Czech Republic,” he says between mouthfuls of airport food, and gulps from a drink that he is suddenly quite upset isn’t in a bottle. “I’m in a restaurant, you order a drink and you want it in the bottle, and then I poured it into a glass without thinking. The bottle is a different experience and now I won’t have it.”
Glasper can be forgiven for being a little distracted. He’s tearing around Europe touring his latest album, Double Booked, and this Saturday he’s bringing it to the Workman’s Club in Dublin, his first show in the capital, and his second time here after last year’s Cork Jazz festival.
Glasper seems to live in two musical worlds, jazz and hip hop, and the album reflects this. It is essentially two albums in one, though not because of some historical homage to the era of vinyl, when albums were split into A and B sides.
“It’s two different bands, not necessarily an A and a B side, but when you slip it over, it’s musically a whole different ball game,” he says. What you get is a band of serious jazz intent, in the pristine shapes of the Robert Glasper Trio; then the more wide-ranging, hip hop-influenced Robert Glasper Experiment flex their muscles, with a selection of guests, most notably Mos Def.
“There are parallels, in the very first half the middle one when Mos Def comes on,” says Glasper. “All you are really getting is 3.5 minutes of hip hop. I’m not making a hip hop/jazz record but I think with a band you can feel the hip hop aesthetic and have that vibe without necessarily playing it.”
This is Glasper’s calling card: jazz played with flair and style, underpinned by hip hop grooves and swagger, decked in subtle musical threads. It’s given him success with the prestigious Blue Note label, he gets regularly mentioned in the same breath as jazz luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, and he’s worked with some of the biggest names in hip hop, including the Roots, Erykah Badu and Kanye West.
It’s consistent, and after a few tracks, there is no doubt that when not touring the world, there’s only city he could call home. “Well I’ve been living in NYC for 15 years now and it’s a melting pot of music, so what you are hearing is all that influence.”
Glasper is originally from Houston, Texas, but that twang is a little more muted these days. As a child, he performed with gospel choirs, and these musical experiences still shape his approach. He says the grooves in gospel are similar to hip hop, and he traces a natural trajectory from gospel to hip hop to jazz, and back again.
“Even if you aren’t necessarily a church musician, just being around it, it’s in the blood, it’s in your family, and you come up with it without even realising it. Modern gospel now, within the last 12 or 15 years, has been influenced by hip hop. Growing up playing in churches, especially playing in the Baptist church, automatically you are incorporating a little jazz, a little hip hop.
“Jazz has been influencing hip hop since the very beginning, it’s always been there. Strange hip hop, more hip pop, doesn’t have much of this, but the hip hop I look to, the more backpacker as its called, I think its totally there. Jazz is the great-grandfather of hip hop.”
Glasper reckons the essence of the music is polluted by the more crass end of the market: the bling, the gun culture, the money worship. Does he find himself fighting this with each release?
“Exactly, without a doubt. But at the same time, people like the music, I’m not necessarily trying to change the people around it. My whole thing is just giving regular people who don’t get the chance to hear my record something different, to have this person who is not into jazz to listen to it.”
The Robert Glasper Experiment play the Workman’s Club, Dublin on Saturday. Double Booked is out now on Blue Note