Robert Glasper and the "black box" of music

by Patrick Lauppe

With the fervor that has surrounded Robert Glasper’s recent genre-defying hip-bop release Black Radio, it was refreshing to hear Wednesday afternoon that he was having none of it. In a conversation with producer and Harvard Hip Hop archive fellow 9th Wonder at Farkas Hall for the OFA Learning from Performers series, Glasper spoke in simple terms about his music. Rather than pontificate about why he chose to fuse the myriad genres that critics have been pulling apart with fine tweezers since his newest album’s drop, Glasper said he hadn’t really thought about it. "I didn’t set out to write a jazz/hip-hop album. It’s just the music that came to me. I’m being honest and playing what I hear."

Know thyself and be thyself were the two fundamental prescriptions of the lighthearted and frequently hilarious conversation. Glasper’s one-liner explanation behind the title Black Radio, for instance, drew laughs: "If the black box in the airplane always survives the plane crash, why don’t they just make the whole plane out of that?" His candid, even irreverent attitude toward his album, which sounds enshrouded in a mystical melancholy, was surprising but charming. Glasper revealed himself to be full of playful and creative energy, a hearty spirit in contrast to his generally restrained voice on the keys.

Once, he even got mischievous: "I’m gonna get Wynton on a hip-hop record," he said of prominent jazz trumpet player and frequent Harvard speaker Wynton Marsalis, whose views of hip-hop are well known.

Black Radio is Glasper’s attempt at creating a lasting musical statement, a musical black box that he expects will endure any cultural crash. "Lots of people think it’s called Black Radio because of all the black people on it," he noted with a chuckle, "but really it’s because I think it will stand the test of time when the rest of music’s become even stranger than it is today."

After all, it’s the authentic that shines through when everything else has rusted, and Glasper certainly proved to have his fair share.

[Caption: Robert Glasper PHOTO: Jake Belcher/OFA]

[Caption: Glasper instructs Harvard students. PHOTO: Jake Belcher/OFA]

[Caption: Glasper offered lively insights into the music world. PHOTO: Jake Belcher/OFA]