Robert Glasper Talks Blue Note Residency & ‘Giving Females a Platform to Speak Their Minds’


Musician’s latest project is ‘Fuck Yo Feelings,’ his first release on Loma Vista Recordings

If the queue of fans religiously snaking down the block from Blue Note Jazz Club over the last five weeks is any indication, October will have to make room for another tradition. On Sunday, Robert Glasper will wrap up his second residency at the famed New York City venue.

Already coined “Robtober,” the Robert Glasper Residency — inaugurated last October — kicked off Oct. 3-6 with special guest Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Glasper bandmates Chris Dave, Derrick Hodge and DJ Jahi Sundance. Featuring two performances each night (8 p.m., 10:30 p.m.), the sold-out residency’s jam-packed schedule boasted special guests such as Esperanza Spalding, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Black Thought and Anderson .Paak, plus tributes to Stevie Wonder (with Common, Luke James and Yebba), Roy Hargrove (including Terrace Martin, Ben Williams) and J Dilla (Slum Village’s T3). 

The latter weekend-long salute was presented in partnership with the Save the Music Foundation, benefiting its J Dilla Music Tech Grant. Glasper closes out the final week of his stay (Oct. 29-Nov. 3) with the original members of RG Experiment: Hodge, Dave, Sundance and Casey Benjamin.

The start of this year’s residency coincided with the release of Glasper’s latest project, F-ck Yo Feelings. Recorded in two days in Los Angeles, the improvisational mixtape is chock-full of high-profile guest collaborators, including Herbie Hancock, SiR, YBN Cordae, Rapsody, Andra Day and Baby Rose. Among the mixtape’s indelible moments is the title track featuring Yebba and “Expectations” featuring Baby Rose and Rapsody.

“That song carries such a powerful message,” says Glasper. “I wanted to give females a platform to speak their minds without me saying anything as there’s very much a female movement that’s happening now. I just wanted to set the stage and let them roll.”

Glasper’s prolific musical output also includes penning original scores for the HBO documentary The Apollo (Nov. 6) and February’s The Photograph with Issa Rae. The self-described “studio chef” talks about the creative bent behind his expanding residency, segueing to a new label home and collaborating with Brittany Howard: “She’s very much like a jazz musician: going with what feels good and then trusting the universe."

You graduated from 48 shows in 24 days during your inaugural Blue Note residency to 56 shows in 28 days this time around. Are you aiming for a Guinness record or something?

No. [Laughs] It's just me expressing all the different sides of who I am by way of a platform where I can pretty much do that in one shot. Depending on where they live, people probably get to see me perform live once a year if it’s not L.A. or New York. This is just a way to fit a lot of different projects into one place over a few days for each one so people have a chance to see different things at one time. It’s almost like condensing five years of my life into one month. But we’re looking like this is going to be a “thing” because I’m surely going to want to do a third. Trying to figure it all out in terms of all the different artists involved and their schedules plus budgets, flights and those kinds of things is a conversation that we literally start having in June or July.

Your new mixtape also signals your segue to a new label, Loma Vista Recordings. Why the change?

I love Blue Note [the label]. They’ve been great to me since I signed there in 2005. We’re talking almost 14 years and 10 albums, I believe. Loma Vista is new, young and hip. It doesn’t have the history that Blue Note has. But sometimes history can tie you down. Loma Vista is very much part of the new generation of technology in the way they move within the music industry and how they promote. It’s just like a brand new world and that’s important to me. 

How would you describe your mind-set while recording Black Radio versus F-ck Yo Feelings?

I always lick my musical finger, put it up in the air and see where the wind blows me. With Black Radio, I felt it was time to change something in the musical paradigm. Two things made me feel that way. One was I had a 2-year-old son, Riley, who was 2 years old then. I’m thinking I need a shift in my life to be able to take care of this boy in the right way. [Laughs] Let me do this record I’ve always wanted to do — a crossover using many vocalists — and maybe that will bump things up a bit. I felt the industry was a little stale then. Plus it was also about the politics of the music industry: being black and a jazz musician and [dealing with] what people want to play on the radio.

This new project is more socially based, speaking out about ism, gay rights and racism. In these last two to three years, there’s been a real push-back with people being like yo, we are who we are. Leave us the f— alone. You know what I mean? The mixtape is about acknowledging someone else’s fight; understanding what their fight is and putting your feelings aside from it. It’s not about what you feel, it’s about what’s right. People have sent me so many Instagram messages telling me what the title means to them. 

Beyond your various projects, you found time to collaborate with Brittany Howard on her new album Jaime. What was it like working with her?

We first met last year at the opening of The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala. She told me then that she had a project she wanted to do and rattled off the band members she wanted. We later spent about a week in an LA studio. She’s so cool because she knows who she wants to put in the room and has very specific things she wants done from what’s already written in her mind. But at the same time, she lets you be free to come up with things while asking for your input. I wrote a song on the album called “13th Century Metal,” which came out of me and the drummer jamming during a soundcheck. And Brittany is like, "What’s that? Keep going, don’t stop." Then she came in, put some stuff over it and it became a song. She’s very much like a jazz musician in that way: going with what feels good and then trusting the universe.

Have you penciled in a new studio album yet?

After finishing up this residency, I’m going to chill. Then I’m going to start making some new recordings — which will most likely be my Black Radio 3.