Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who is closely connected with the most progressive schools in hiphop and soul. His rise began in 2005, when he signed to the venerable Blue Note Records and released Canvas, a collection of crisply produced compositions (all but one by Glasper) that do not break with standard jazz. His second album with Blue Note, In My Element, expanded into hiphop territory. The first half of his third album, Double Booked, went back to the jazz tradition as the Robert Glasper Trio, while the second half went forward into the hiphop present as the Robert Glasper Experiment. His latest, Black Radio, released earlier this year, is basically an extension of the second half of Double Booked.
What distinguishes Glasper, who was raised in Houston and educated at a number of art schools, is his ability to successfully fuse hiphop and jazz. One of the reasons for this success can be found, I think, in his recognition of the differences between the forms. Jazz is one thing; hiphop is another. So often, jazz musicians or hiphop producers guide their experiments with the bad idea that the two forms are closely related—part of a smooth and unproblematic continuum. This kind of thinking almost inevitably results in a mess of a jazz that sounds nothing like hiphop or hiphop that sounds nothing like jazz. Glasper knows that any experiment in blending these forms needs to be sensitive to their real dissimilarities. In a 2007 New York Magazine article, "Elegy for Fort Greene," Glasper states: "Playing in a hiphop setting requires more discipline than playing jazz... You have to learn how to duplicate that sample, playing the exact same thing over and over again with the same inflection." Jazz is much less rigid and more expressive than hiphop.