Thursday night, LA jazz luminary and hyper-tapped-in hip-hop producer Robert Glasper and his musical friends took over Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom for Robert Glasper’s Grammy Jam, a live show celebrating the upcoming Grammy Awards and Glasper’s star-studded mixtape, F*ck Yo Feelings, which was released last fall on Loma Vista. The sold-out show, presented by Uproxx, featured appearances from jazz icon Herbie Hancock, rapper Lupe Fiasco, comedian Affion Crockett, and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin.
While much of the show’s run time was dedicated to exuberant performances from all across Glasper’s extensive catalog, concertgoers were wowed as he and his band covered Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines In a Crushed Tin Box,” provided backing tracks to Fiasco and Crockett’s freestyle raps, and as Glasper himself ceded his usual seat at the keys for the 79-year-old Hancock, who traded solos with Martin while beaming from ear to ear. As a showcase of instrumental virtuoso, Glasper’s Jam was a departure some of the Grammys’ top-line nominations, but Glasper himself has intricate ties to some of the show’s nominees in unexpected ways via his recently released mixtape.
While F*ck Yo Feelings is ostensibly a jazz album well inside the accomplished pianist’s wheelhouse, he also stepped outside of that comfort zone, bridging the generational gap that’s kept hip-hop’s traditionalists and its new school class fighting like cats and dogs over the past few years. Guests on the album include up-and-coming rappers like Buddy, Denzel Curry, and YBN Cordae, who is nominated for Best Rap Album for his Atlantic debut, The Lost Boy. Former Grammy nominee Rapsody and emerging R&B star Baby Rose joined well-established industry veterans such as Bilal, Hancock, James Poysner, and Yasiin Bey to show that both sides can not only coexist, but flourish with the right guiding hand.
That hand was fully apparent throughout the live show Thursday. Glasper led his band through affectionate covers of hip-hop staples, freewheeling displays of lyrical levity from Crockett and Lupe Fiasco — the latter rapped about his upcoming tour dates in a lighthearted freestyle session that also included spot covers of his beloved hits “Kick, Push” and “The Cool” — and improvisational jams. Those improv moments let the guest musicians cut loose for an appreciative audience of industry bigwigs, hardcore jazz fans, and curious casual listeners enticed by the promise of a cool crowd and the laid-back atmosphere that countered some of the stuffier Grammy-related events taking place this week.
Watching Lupe Fiasco kick his coolly efficient, old-school tinged but progressive raps with Glasper, it’s easy to see how the producer was able to transition so smoothly to working with rappers half his age on F*ck Yo Feelings. Cordae and Curry have a similar fondness as Lupe for complex rhyme patterns, soulful beats, and thoughtfully-constructed, narrative-style raps, a proclivity that sets them apart from some of the more off-the-cuff rap styles of their peers. Another clear comparison is to Yasiin Bey; you could draw a straight line from his debut Black On Both Sides to The Lost Boy, which underlines how easily Bey coexists on the same tracklist with rappers like Cordae and Buddy, who borrows from the older rapper’s approach to melody, which was considered adventurous back in ’99 but is now more-or-less industry standard.
The common thread is jazz, the musical backbone pretty much all American styles are built upon, especially hip-hop, soul, and R&B, which explains why Glasper is able to stitch together those seemingly disparate styles into a seamless tapestry. With his gifts on full display, Glasper’s Jam and his mixtape light a path forward for fans of three generations of hip-hop, by looking to the heritage and history that bind them, and the outside-the-box thinkers with the skill and confidence to bring that vision to life.