Everyone who’s up for an award says that it’s an honor just be nominated, but that sentiment was a bit more believeable for Robert Glasper, a jazz keyboardist who found himself competing against the higher-profile likes of R. Kelly and Tyrese for the Best R&B Album statuette at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
“I’ve walked the red carpet before,” says Glasper, who performed at the 2010 ceremony backing neo-soul singer Maxwell, “but to walk down the red carpet knowing what I was nominated for was a whole different vibe. I loved the fact that I’m a jazz cat and so many people didn’t know who the fuck we were.”
What was even more shocking was that the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio actually won the award. The album was a fusion of jazz and soul styles that featured guest appearances by a host of R&B and hip-stars including Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Ledisi – who the RGE will open for at the Tower Theater on May 1.
Glasper fully expected to go home empty-handed, though he felt that if anything the band had a shot at the Best R&B Performance award for which they were also nominated. When Usher beat them out for that honor, Glasper says, “I was like, ‘Ok, I see where this is going. We’re not winning.’ But when they said our name, it was amazing. I feel like we won for so many other people, struggling artists who’ve done great music but because of the way the machine is built right now, real music with integrity doesn’t get any mainstream love. This really opened some doors and gave a lot of artists hope.”
Glasper’s 2013 follow-up, Black Radio 2 (Blue Note), features an even more star-studded line-up than its predecessor, with appearances by Common, Brandy, Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, and Anthony Hamilton, among others. Live, the band itself takes the spotlight, with multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin substituting vocoder for some of the vocal songs from the two Black Radio albums – though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the evening’s headliner joining the band as well.
When I spoke to Glasper in late 2011, just prior to the release of the first Black Radio, he called the album “more of a music record for me” than a specically jazz or R&B album effort. Continue reading →