Once the primary soundtrack for social movements of the day, black music could use a rebirth of its own nowadays. Hence jazz pianist and all-around composer Robert Glasper's new album, Black Radio (Blue Note), which is both an inherent critique and sonic solution for the genocidal tendencies of mainstream black music. With collaborations from Erykah Badu, Bilal, Chrisette Michelle, Mos Def, and many more, it offers a hip, soulful alternative to the one-note radio rap and producer-driven sound dominating the culture. With the Robert Glasper Experiment due to play Atlanta's Variety Playhouse this weekend, we decided to ask Glasper for five ways he'd improve the state of urban-format radio.
Change program directors: They're the ones that choose what to play. I think they just play stuff that most of the time puts black people in a bad light. The songs that are so-called hot now talk about bitches and hoes, or money, or just the same stuff that degrades us as a people.
Change record company heads: Every record company is trying to sign the same person. Everybody wants a Chris Brown. Everybody wants a Rihanna. And if you don't fit that criteria, then you're probably not going to get signed. So you have to fit into some kind of cookie-cutter thing. But back in the day it was the opposite. It wasn't a money thing, it was how different are you and how good are you.
More music in schools: One [factor behind] the downfall of black music is music is no longer really a force in schools anymore. There are no musicians. Everybody's got a damn MPC and walks around thinking they're a producer. If I meet another person that says they produce — that's the new drug. Nobody even does drugs anymore, they just produce. That's like the new weed or some shit. Everybody's like, "Hey man, I got them beats." Oh Jesus, no! When you tell me you're a producer, I automatically think you're wack. And I know that may be bad or I'm not supposed to say that, but I'm sorry. There are too many producers that are wack that I run across. If you had more music in schools, [kids] could pick up instruments and realize what real music is supposed to sound like.
More live music venues: It's something about live music that evokes a better song, a more conscious type song, just a doper song. When people make beats, they automatically think, "Oh, I wanna be on the radio; I've gotta make this type of song." But when you have a band, a piano player, and a guitar player, you think on a more intelligent music level. That's why all of our greatest songs and greatest bands were timeless, and the music is timeless — Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Luther [Vandross]. There are certain things you can't translate to a machine or a loop that instruments can do with each person putting that emotion into that guitar part, that drum part, that piano part. So there's a spiritual connect, too.
No more wack vocalists: This is what I really fucking hate. I hate vocalists [laughs]. I don't mean it like that. I hate the idea that just because you have a throat you think you can sing, you're a singer. When you play an instrument, you still have to practice that instrument and learn that instrument to even be bad at it. To even get a sound out of the trumpet is hard as hell. But anybody can sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb." You're born with that instrument, so it's so natural that people don't work on it. People don't work on it and they think 'cause they can sing a song and they've got long hair or some shit that now they're a singer, and it's annoying. So practice your craft and study singers. I have some of the best singers on my record and they all studied.