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Jazz for the hip-hop generation

FUSION KING: Robert Glasper

THE ROBERT Glasper Experiment is undoubtedly the most credible band to fuse jazz with hip hop and R’n’B without it sounding makeshift or clumsy.

This is no surprise given that Glasper and his band members have performed and toured extensively with hip hop and R’n’B royalty such as Erykah Badu, Kanye West, J Dilla, Common, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli and Maxwell. He was also the music director for rapper Mos Def and has worked closely with neo-soul singer Bilal, whom he met at college.

In 2005, Glasper became the first artist to be signed to legendary jazz label Blue Note in seven years, securing his place alongside great jazz pianists such as, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Herbie Hancock.

That was just the beginning for the then 27-year-old, who, although signed to a major label ,still found it hard to break through to the mainstream. Now, six years and five albums later, the pianist is finally getting the exposure he deserves, with his new album Black Radio.

"This is my fifth album for Blue Note but with this album there's finally a different reaction."

One reaction took the form of Glasper being recently revealed as a contender at the up-coming 2013 Grammy Awards. Garnering two nominations for Best R&B album and Best R&B performance for his track Gonna Be Alright (f.t.b), 2013 may finally be the year for the producer.

Speaking about the positive reception of his music, Glasper believes that the genre of jazz has undergone a metamorphosis, a change that until recently has not favoured up-and-coming or young artists.

“Jazz has been disconnected from society and popular culture,” said the 34-year-old. “Older jazz enthusiasts praise the history so much that they ignore the people alive now who are doing something new with it. They would rather praise the dead, than the young cats that are alive today! No other genre of music does this. I'm trying to bring jazz to a younger audience and people of my generation."

The reaction to the Black Radio album which fuses jazz with hip hop and R’n’B has been phenomenal, launching the Texas-born performer into the mainstream. The groundbreaking album features rappers Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco, neo soul diva's Lalah Hathaway and Eryka Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Meshell Ndegeocello and many more.

Glasper describes this trailblazing cast of artits as the "perfect marriage" between musicians who are self confessed jazz lovers from the hip hop and R’n’B world.

Jazz being his first love, Glasper wasn't introduced to the hop-hop world until 1997, when he moved to New York and began to meet and sit in on jam sessions with the likes of Talib Kwali, Common and Q-Tip. And it was while he and his band members recorded, toured and performed with these artists that he built a fan base amongst rap and soul fans which helped to support his albums.

Fusions between various genres have been attempted before from as far back as rapper Guru with his pioneering Jazzmatazz albums. Yet, not until Glasper, has it been so credibly performed by a single band that plays both genres equally well, which according to Glasper explains his new album’s popularity.

"This explains the truly organic feel to the album. There's never ever been one band that plays hip hop the way we do and plays jazz the way we do – never."

Robert Glasper’s new EP, Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP is out now on Blue Note Records.

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