R+R=NOW’s Robert Glasper On Being Free AF For Juneteenth, ‘Collagically Speaking’ & More [Interview]
A few days before his Brooklyn concert, we spoke with Robert Glasper about his new group, R+R=NOW, celebrating Juneteenth, and why there are no bad mistakes in music.
Collagically Speaking, the brand new epic recording from Robert Glasper’s newest collective R+R=NOW, is now a week old and still in rotation here at @Okayplayer. To build on the movement, the gang, which also includes Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (trumpet), Terrace Martin (synthesizer, vocoder), Derrick Hodge (bass), Justin Tyson (drums), and Taylor McFerrin (synth, beatbox), created an exceptional project aimed at what’s going on in today’s world.
After providing unforgettable sets and records for the past 10 years, Robert Glasper, inspired by Nina Simone, gathered his friends to respond and reflect on the energies that have permeated from the White House to Wythe Avenue. According to the Grammy Award-winning pianist, R+R=NOW tells “our story from our point of view. Everybody’s sound is so different, but we all come from the same concrete garden,” which is true for many of us who have grown to become roses in our own right.
With the mission to create music that speaks to our current socio-political moment engaged, Glasper and co. will now share their POV across the country for their Collagically Speaking tour. The first date is one that hits close to home for yours truly, as the supergroup will perform at Prospect Park for BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!, beginning at 6:30 p.m. tonight, June 22. To commemorate the legendary moment of these artists coming together, BRIC has commissioned the group to write a new piece of music for their performance, which will have its world premiere at the Bandshell as part of their set.
@Okayplayer was fortunate enough to spend a few moments with Robert Glasper to talk with him about the supergroup, how he celebrated Juneteenth, and why mistakes whether big or small matter to the overall story of his music.
Okayplayer: As we get closer to the album’s release more people are digging into how R+R=NOW came together. For those who might’ve missed the memo, could you share how this all took place and what, if any, is the group’s message with the music?
Robert Glasper: I have known all of them for years, and I’ve played with each of them in different situations. The band came about because last year South by Southwest asked me to do some sort of all-star band. They wanted me to do a show just using a bunch of my friends that are dope musicians. This is the band I got. Now, a year later, when it was time for me to record a new record for Blue Note Records, I was trying to figure out what kind of project I wanted to record. I thought of this one because the one we did at South by Southwest is for one night only and it was great. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll record this,’ and that’s kind of how it came about. I called them again and asked everybody if they wanted to do a record with me. That was pretty much the vibe.
OKP: I was telling a friend of mine about the West Coast Get Down (and their close friends) and how different threads from the collective lead into other artists such as yourself. What were your first impressions when you heard Terrace Martin play and how would you say he’s grown since you guys initially met?
RG: We met when were 15-years-old, man [laughs]. He’s grown a lot. When I met him, he was not a producer at all. He never produced anything, you know what I mean? Obviously, he’s grown into a trailblazer musician and producer. He’s pretty much responsible for most of Kendrick Lamar’s music with the sound that he has. From Section 80 to DAMN. — he’s the connective piece, he’s that musical jazz artist within Kendrick’s sound that is the reason why it sounds the way it does for all these years. He’s produced for J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, YG and the list goes on and on and on and on with how many people he’s worked with.
It is great having him in the band because he understands the other side of the game, meaning the other genres outside of hip-hop. He knows the other side of urban music. He knows the R&B side, the hip-hop side, and understands what is needed to make that sound and what the people do and don’t rock with, you know what I mean? When it comes to records, he understands how to make a record and all those things that go into making it. He brings all that to the table.
OKP: Collagically Speaking is full of messages from other members of the artist community including Omari Hardwick, the homie Amanda Seales, Terry Crews, Stalley and Yasiin Bey. At what point in the album’s construction did you guys decide to add these voices to the mix to bind the album’s themes together?
RG: It was after the fact actually, after we recorded the album. I decided that I wanted to use some poetry or speech to talk about certain mentioned on the album. Obviously, Amanda [Seales] represents for the women, which I felt like was a really important move as it is a time for women when it comes to equality, justice and all kinds of things. She continues to add context to the conversation that people should see women of all spectrums as equals because they are.
I felt like this album should definitely represent that. I try to represent the times on my albums, and I felt there should be some female representation speaking upon how amazing and powerful and beautiful and intelligent women truly are. I wanted her to speak to that.
It’s not necessarily, we should have this, instead it’s more why don’t we have this. I wanted this all to come from the standpoint of being a light in the midst of all the darkness that is happening around the world today. I didn’t want you to listen to the album and remind you of the darkness again, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to repeat or regurgitate the obvious things that are going on and will stain this album. I want you to listen to this and feel uplifted and feel the light and the optimism.
At the same time, you know what we’re talking about, too.
With Terry Crews, he just so happened to be in the studio. He’s my friend and just kind of came through to hang out. He was talking to us about life and about the struggles he had, and I just happened to hit record on my phone while he was talking and that was what I got. After I did that, I put it to music when he left, and then I emailed it to him. He was elated when he heard it. With Omari [Hardwick] he’s been someone I’ve been working with for a few years, producing a few songs on his upcoming record.
He’s somebody that’s popular in pop culture right now, you know what I mean? People will listen to him, and I love how he speaks and what he speaks about. He’s just a different breed of poet because he feels like an MC. He approaches his work like one. It’s very much off the top of his dome, which is not normally what poets do, and it takes courage to do that kind of thing. I feel he is so impressive.
OKP: One of my favorite songs is “Awake To You,” not just because of the Dilla-esque vibes, but because hearing you, Terrace and the fellas jam out in that way felt like returning home to see the family having a good time. What were some takeaways about your group-mates that you might not have learned before this project?
RG: [Laughs] The reason why I got them was that I know them. It was no surprise with how the album was gonna come out because I knew what I was getting into. I knew that I was dealing with a bunch of all-stars that are great at what they do. They’re trailblazing at what they do, and there’s no ego attached. Once we get into the room, everybody leaves their egos at the door—not that there were egos there to begin with—and everybody comes in to do the work.
We wrote those songs in the studio. We had a four-day studio session and it all just came together. One person would write one part, another would tackle another, and so on. We would be recording and listening to each other while playing, just responding and reflecting each other, and it would turn into a whole other song toward the end. It would end up turning into a slow jam or some shit that was not planned.
This would happen to the point where we would have to rename the slow jam part and put it on a different track. So, when you look at the album, a lot of it is one long ass song that we chopped up because we just kept going and vibing with each other and making shit up. Everything you hear though is one take, one time.
OKP: By any chance did you see Kamasi Washington’s “Street Fighter Mas” video? If so, growing up what video games/arcades were your favorites? If there was any of your contemporaries that you would challenge to play against, who would it be, what game would it be, and why?
RG: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the video yet, but Street Fighter was one of my favorite games. I was playing it with my son last night on Nintendo Switch, actually. Street Fighter and Double Dragon are two of my favorite games of all time.
OKP: “Resting Warrior” is another jam that I can’t wait to see live when you guys come to Prospect Park this Friday. I first wanted to ask you if I’m hearing someone go “woo” when you and Justin Tyson were going back-and-forth on the track? The second question I have is how much actual direction took place during the creation of these songs? Was it more like everybody improv’d and flowed on the same boat?
RG: [Laughs] That’s Christian [Scott aTunde Adjuah]. He’s doing that. “Great play, Rob,” is what else he said, or something like that.
OKP: When I first heard it, I was like, “These guys are really doing this live.” It sounds like you’re at the session, similar to when Terrace came here back in April. He had a performance at National Sawdust, and he was saying, “This is not like the regular shows I’m going to do. It’s all experimental.” And it kind of was like you’re watching him direct. You’re watching him change things up. There’s no organized setlist, and it’s just-
RG: And that’s real art in real time. You wouldn’t want to go see an amazing painter paint a picture that he’s painted 200 times already. Or that you’ve already seen him paint before. That’s boring as fuck. You know what the outcome is going to be. If you really like art, you would enjoy watching the artist put their shit on the line and walk the balance beam.
They could very well fall and will fall a few times. Sometimes an artist will fall and doesn’t pick up after that because we’re also good at masking, but creating in real time is a major key. There’s a lot of falling on Collagically Speaking [laughs]. I messed up a few times.
I love the feeling of messing up, though. I’m weird. I love that realness at the moment. That’s why with this album everything is first take because I love people’s mess ups. A little slip here and there is good for the soul because after that you figure it out, you know? I like those little nuances because it is real to me.
OKP: A quote that you had said in the release resonated with me. You said, “In order for us all to make it into that room together, we’ve had to go through some hell, fight for some things, build up a lot of armor, and do a lot ourselves to forge our realities, to become who we are. Anytime we get together, it’s a celebration.” With that in mind, how did you and others close to you celebrate Juneteenth?
RG: I celebrated Juneteenth by being free as fuck. I was free as hell yester, just being happy. I’m happy. I was with my son. I just got home, and I’m going to be gone for a month beginning next week for touring. So, I and my son just hung out yesterday. I’m hanging out with him all week. He’s nine and his name is Riley. I did go through some of the posts on Instagram and we talked about Juneteenth. He knows what it is already. His mom keeps him up on all the social issues that have to do with us. I posted this artwork for a record I did about three years ago for Juneteenth. My homeboy redid it and I put it out again on my IG page.
OKP: Last question, for those possibly hearing this work for the first time when you and R+R=Now come to Brooklyn — what should they expect when you guys hit the stage?
RG: I think the audience should just expect a musical collage. Expect a musical journey that’s built from honesty and built from our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It’ll hit everybody differently, probably, as different songs will affect in different ways. But whatever they take away from the show, we understand that we’re up there [onstage] being honest and just coming here to play and hopefully heal souls.
R+R=NOW’s album, Collagically Speaking, is out and available now via Blue Note Records. You can also see the supergroup live at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell today, June 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST.