Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist with a knack for mellow, harmonically complex compositions that also reveal a subtle hip-hop influence. Crucial to the enduring relevance of Blue Note Records since his mid-2000s debut as a leader, the Houston native regularly topped Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart with his highly collaborative recordings for the label, such as the Grammy-winning Black Radio (2011) and Black Radio 2 (2013), as well as ArtScience (2016), all three of which were credited to Robert Glasper Experiment. In addition to guiding projects such as the soundtrack for Miles Ahead (another Grammy winner) and R+R=Now’s Collagically Speaking, Glasper has contributed to dozens of sessions across genres, most notably Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Since moving to Loma Vista Recordings, Glasper has released Fuck Yo Feelings (2019), a mixtape that exemplifies his resistance to expectations and devotion to spontaneity, and Black Radio III (2022), a progression from his Blue Note sessions.
Inspired to play piano by his mother, a gospel pianist and vocalist, Glasper attended Houston’s High School for the Performing Arts. After graduation, he studied music at the New School University in Manhattan, where he found performance work with such luminaries as bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, and others. After graduating college, Glasper worked with a variety of artists, including trumpeter Roy Hargrove, vocalist Carly Simon, and rapper Mos Def. The pianist released his debut album, Mood, on Fresh Sound New Talent in 2004. Canvas and In My Element followed in 2005 and 2007, respectively, on Blue Note Records.
In 2009, Glasper released the forward-thinking Double Booked, which featured a mix of modal post-bop and funky, ’80s Herbie Hancock-inspired numbers with two separate bands. The first of these was his trio with drummer Chris Dave and upright bassist Vicente Archer; they recorded five originals and a cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.” These tracks were followed by five more originals by his electric band, dubbed Robert Glasper Experiment, featuring Dave, electric bassist Derrick Hodge, and Casey Benjamin on saxes and vocoder. Vocalist Bilal was featured on “All Matter,” Glasper’s first Grammy-nominated recording (for Best Urban/Alternative Performance).
Three years later, Robert Glasper Experiment (with a slew of guest vocalists) issued their first stand-alone album, Black Radio, for Blue Note, which sought to blur the boundaries between jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and rock & roll. It entered the jazz chart at number one and went on to win a Grammy for Best R&B Album. Later in the year, Glasper and Blue Note released Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP. 9th Wonder, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Pete Rock were among those who participated. The following year, Robert Glasper Experiment (then including Hodge and Benjamin with drummer Mark Colenburg) returned with their equally star-studded sophomore album, Black Radio 2. Grammy-nominated in the Best R&B Album category, it didn’t win, but its cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” took the award for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Glasper returned to his original acoustic piano trio format with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid. They cut 2015′s Covered live at Capitol Studios in front of an invited audience. The album’s pre-release single was a reading of Radiohead’s “Reckoner”; it came out in April, followed two months later by the album, which was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Jazz Instrumental album. Glasper also played on Kendrick Lamar’s celebrated To Pimp a Butterfly and Maxwell’s blackSUMMERS'night. For Don Cheadle’s 2016 Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, the pianist curated the soundtrack and wrote original music, which included contributions from Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Gary Clark, Jr. The album eventually won that year’s Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Glasper also recorded a Davis tribute album, Everything's Beautiful, celebrating what would have been the trumpeter’s 90th birthday. Glasper reimagined classic tracks with an all-star list of collaborators who included Stevie Wonder, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Erykah Badu, Hiatus Kaiyote, and John Scofield. Featuring the single “Ghetto Walkin’” fronted by Bilal, the album was issued that May.
Robert Glasper Experiment returned to the studio in early 2016 with a different M.O. Instead of working on the pianist’s music or covers, the quartet members wrote and arranged together in the studio for the first time. The resulting ArtScience was issued in September and became another number one entry on the Jazz Albums chart. Glasper then worked with August Greene (with Karriem Riggins and Common) and R+R=Now (with Christian Scott, Derrick Hodge, Justin Tyson, Terrace Martin, and Taylor McFerrin), the latter of which he formed. During the first half of 2018, August Greene released their self-titled album, and R+R=Now issued Collagically Speaking. These albums arrived as Glasper expanded his oft-overlapping side discographies as an instrumentalist and producer with work on albums by Royce da 5'9", Shafiq Husayn, Philip Bailey, Flying Lotus, and Brittany Howard.
Informal sessions with a broad mix of players, singers, and rappers were shaped into a mixtape, Fuck Yo Feelings, released in October 2019 as Glasper’s Loma Vista debut. Glasper then provided the soundtrack for Stella Meghie’s 2020 romantic drama The Photograph, released that February. Also in 2020, Glasper teamed with Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder, and Kamasi Washington for Dinner Party, and released a preview of Black Radio III, “Better Than I Imagined,” featuring Meshell Ndegeocello and H.E.R. At the following Grammy ceremony, Fuck Yo Feelings was up for Best Progressive R&B Album, while “Better Than I Imagined” won Best R&B Song. Glasper appeared on releases from the likes of Ledisi, Common, Martin, and Flying Lotus before he completed Black Radio III. Unlike the first two volumes, both of which were recorded in a week, Black Radio III was put together over a year in remote fashion. It arrived in February 2022 with Lalah Hathaway, Q-Tip, and Jennifer Hudson among the additional participants. Also on the album was the track “Therapy, Pt. 2,” featuring the late rapper Mac Miller, which worked as a sequel to Miller’s previous song “Therapy” off his 2014 mixtape Faces. Black Radio III topped both the Billboard Jazz and Contemporary Jazz Albums charts. It also won the award for Best R&B Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in 2023. ~ Matt Collar & Thom Jurek