Mic Check: A WDET exclusive interview with Robert Glasper

The Grammy Award-winning musician speaks with WDET about his groundbreaking musical projects, key collaborations and what it means to be a role model.

Black and white photo of Robert Glasper sitting on a couch

Robert Glasper

Producer, multi-instrumentalist and Grammy Award-winning artist Robert Glasper has been at the vanguard of contemporary music for many years, and is lauded for leading a resurgence in jazz while incorporating myriad music styles around a jazz framework.

Glasper spoke with WDET about his groundbreaking musical projects, key collaborations that have aided his growth and development, and what it means to be a role model and ambassador.

Listen: An exclusive interview with Grammy Award-winning artist Robert Glasper

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

On his award-winning Black Radio album series.

“I had been trying to do that series for a while as (Black Radio I) canceled three times (due to scheduling conflicts) with so many guests, artists, labels,” says Glasper. “When we finally were able to produce it, I thought it was gonna be a cool underground record, but we ended up winning R&B album of the year (at the Grammy Awards). The (Grammy win) changed how they looked at certain bands and certain genres of music and opened things up a bit. It’s been great to collaborate with so many amazing artists on wax.”

On one of his all-time influences, the late producer J-Dilla, and his affinity for Detroit.

“I’ve collaborated with a lot of artists,” he says. “(I love Detroit) and my relationship with the city goes back to 1998 when I was in college, my friend Bilal and I worked on a demo in my dorm room and he knew the iconic Dilla. I begged Bilal to take me with him to Detroit. He did and we got to hang with Dilla and Slum Village, and that changed my life and the way I play. Dilla is one of my top 5 music influences. He ushered in a whole new sound and vibe. He is the backbone of the neo-soul movement. Neo-soul is Dilla-infused R&B.”

On the recent sleight by Chris Brown toward him after Glasper won at the Grammy Awards.

“I’m used to people being surprised and a little uncomfortable that I’m in their space,” he says. “So, my thing was I don’t want to fight fire with fire. I hate when two Black people get to a certain space and it should be cool. We talked on DMs and he apologized and I told him, ‘Man, I really would love to work with you.’ He’s super talented. I think if he and I collaborated, it could be something special.”

On the importance of mentorship.

“Yeah, it’s important,” he says. “I’m not here on my own. I feel like it’s my responsibility to do the same, to mentor and do whatever I can. I hate it when (some artists) don’t take responsibility. You don’t say that when you cash those checks. You still (got here) on somebody else’s shoulders to reach that (level).”

On this year’s Blue Note Jazz Festival in Napa and its acknowledgement of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary and celebration of groundbreaking group, De La Soul.

“Dave (from De La Soul) passed away,” says Glasper. “He was one of the backbones of the hip-hop world and influenced a lot of people. (De La Soul) were like a party, and it was all about love. On the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, it’s great to have them, NAS, Chance the Rapper (and others) to be part of the artist lineup at the Blue Note Jazz Festival. We’ll be touching a lot of different musical bases.”

On his upcoming projects and immediate future.

“The immediate future is that I resume my Blue Note Jazz Club residency in New York,” he says. “I will curate and start figuring out who my special musical guests will be. I will be scoring another season of the HBO series Winning Time, which is about the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. And there are a couple musical projects in the works.”

To see Glasper perform live in Detroit, you can catch him at the Russell Industrial Warehouse on Saturday, June 17.

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