Grammy Award-winning pianist and ESSENCE Fest alum Robert Glasper is back with a new album that’s part jazz and part R&B. Black Radio 2 features a star-studded roster of guest vocalists, including Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Luke James and Emeli Sandé. He spoke with ESSENCE about his recent Grammy win (for the first Black Radio album) and collaborating with some of his favorite artists.
ESSENCE: What’s the concept behind the Black Radio albums?
ROBERT GLASPER: A lot of music is crashing and burning around us. But I believe music will survive the fire, just like the black box on an airplane. Good music always prevails.
ESSENCE: Like its predecessor, Black Radio 2 features amazing talent: Jill Scott, Luke James, Emeli Sandé and more. How did you pull off such a feat?
GLASPER: I asked artists’ fans to tweet them and say, “You have to be on Black Radio 2. Tweet me back and tell Robert you’re down.”
ESSENCE: Let’s back up. Your first Black Radio album earned you a Grammy and a high-topping position on the charts. When did you start working on this album and did you feel pressure to outdo yourself? What was your process?
GLASPER: That’s a good question because I knew that to stay hot and to stay afloat, I had to turn around another record kind of quick. I didn’t have the luxury of [thinking], ‘Oh, I’m going to take off a year after the Grammy, then I’ll work on a record and put it out.’ When we won that Grammy, it was like, ‘Okay, where do we go from here?’ [Laughs] I knew that I wanted to do a part two, but then I kept hearing people say, ‘Well, how are you going to outdo part one?’ But I knew, once you win the Grammy, I knew I wanted to do a record that was a little bit more produced. The first Black Radio album was more of a jam session. Like, people came in…some people didn’t even know what the hell they were going to sing. Once I figured out what artists I wanted have on [Black Radio 2], I teamed up with writers and just wrote songs. That’s why the album sounds a little bit more produced and tighter. I did it that way, also, because I didn’t want to make the same album twice.
ESSENCE: You won the Grammy in February…when did you start working on this?
GLASPER: I started producing Chaka Khan in early February…we went to the Grammys, won that Grammy, and then I was in the studio [working on the new album] mid-March.
ESSENCE: What do you want listeners to get from this album?
GLASPER: I just want this record to be able to speak to each person however they need to be spoken to. Everybody’s going through something different in life and the good thing about doing a Black Radio album is that there are so many different vibes of songs, so there’s something for everybody on there. Like, if you’re going through relationship problems, then you’re going to listen to the Marsha Ambrosious joint or the Anthony Hamilton joint, you know? Or if you’re going through some problems with yourself, you’re going to listen to the Emeli Sande joint “Somebody Else.”
ESSENCE: Is there going to be a Black Radio 3?
GLASPER: I don’t know. I don’t want to get too corny with the numbers and stuff, like Rocky or something [laughs] But, I do feel like Black Radio has become a brand and I do feel like it’s become an underground…well, not even underground anymore…it’s kind of like rising into the mainstream and becoming a machine. I don’t want to get rid of it [the concept], but I don’t know if I want to go “3, 4, 5, 6, 7” [with volumes], but maybe [I’ll] start using concept names or something like that.
ESSENCE: Well, you know, “underground” doesn’t really win Grammys, you know? It’s not “underground” anymore…that’s kind of an oxymoron.
GLASPER: [Laughs] Don’t remind me! I put my Grammy under my bed.
ESSENCE: It’s under your bed?
GLASPER: I keep my Grammy under my bed because I always want to feel like I’m reaching for something [more]. I don’t want to know that I’ve got that already. I try to forget about it…then, I can always keep working hard. Some people, you know…if you see a Grammy, you tend to think you’ve “made it.” [Laughs] I don’t even want to act like I’ve been there already. I want to keep working hard.
Black Radio 2 by the Robert Glasper Experiment is out today.