Jazz musician Robert Glasper: ‘Hip-Hop is the new jazz’

In a conversation with BBC Radio 4, celebrated pianist Robert Glasper waxed philosophic on the current state of jazz and on how one of the oldest forms of Black music can learn from — and improve by aligning itself with — the Hip-Hop music adored by the younger generations.

Speaking with BBC’s Rebecca Jones, Glasper decried jazz’s decline in relevance and the jazz community’s staunch resistance to change, going so far as to call the community “snobbish.”

Jones: You’ve said, ‘I think Jazz needs to be more interesting.’ What’s the problem?

Glasper: The music is struggling with being relevant in today’s society. Every magazine you look in is promoting reissues of John Coltrane albums and Miles Davis albums. When you look at Jazz as a whole it looks like a really big tribute to something that passed away.

Is the jazz community too snobbish?

And they’re too snobbish, yes. It’s like a secret club; like a golf club you can’t get into unless you have a certain pass.

Glasper goes on to detail why he feels the jazz community is the way it is (“Soon as you try to do something out of the box, everybody’s lookin’ at you crazy.“) and explains why, although he plays jazz for a living, Hip-Hop is the music that defines his life.

What you do is mix it up with gospel, blues, soul — and particularly Hip-Hop. Why Hip-Hop?

Because Hip-Hop is the new Jazz. Hip-Hop is the most popular music of my era. … That’s a part of my soundtrack to my life. Duke Ellington is not part of the soundtrack to my life.

Glasper also defends Hip-Hop against those wary of its reputation for “bling,” violence and drugs, saying, “Hip-Hop learned their stuff from jazz.”

“Jazz is not a ‘clean’ music,” he explains. “We were the first ‘bad guys.'”

As a 34-year-old man from the inner city of Houston, Texas, Glasper’s affinity for Hip-Hop should come as no surprise. But Glasper is more than just a fan of the music; he’s also been a participant in its creation, having tickled the ivories for the likes of Jay-Z, Mos Def, Common, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli and the late J. Dilla.

Glasper spoke with BBC as a lead-in to next month’s UK leg of his band the Robert Glasper Experiment‘s tour featuring crooner Bilal. Get your tickets for that here.

Visit BBC News to hear more of their conversation with the forward-thinking musician.