Robert Glasper

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What was a simple interview at a local radio station for Robert Glasper, has made headlines on publications all over the world because of Lauryn Hill’s response. But rightfully so, these are two black giants of modern music.

But Hill’s response to Glasper does little to address longstanding perceptions about her.

Ever since 1998 when New Ark, the group of musicians who helped Lauryn Hill put together Miseducation, sued her for not properly crediting them for the work they did on the classic album, there’s been a cloud of suspicion hanging over Hill and that album.

“The Miseducation was the first time I worked with musicians outside of the Fugees who’s report and working relationship was clear. In an effort to create the same level of comfort, I may not have established the necessary boundaries and may have been more inviting than I should have been. In hindsight, I would have handled it differently for the removal of any confusion. And I have handled it differently since, I’m clear and I make clear before someone walks in the door what I am and am not looking for. I may have been inclusive, but these are my songs,” Hill writes in her letter.

The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2001, for a reported $5 million

Hill’s weakness in punctuality and prima donna antics are well reported. In 2012, when she was in the country for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she disappointed with her performance, not because she’s wack a performer but it was down to her insistence on wanting to change how the sound was set-up by the organisers who know the venue very well and are experienced at catering for each artist on the line-up. Before her performance on the Kippies stage, Hugh Masekela had killed it in his tribute to Miriam Makeba which featured Thandiswa Mazwai, Vusi Mahlasela and Freshly Ground frontwoman Zolani Mahola. Hill was not audible enough and resigned to walking off stage. While just last month in Toronto, while in Canada for the 20 year anniversary of Miseducation tour, she arrived an hour late for her performance.

Hence I was baffled when she made an excuse for her late coming in the letter. “Me being late to shows isn’t because I don’t respect my fans or their time, but the contrary, It can be argued that I care too much, and insist on things being right. I like to switch my show up regularly, change arrangements, add new songs, etc. This often leads to long sound checks, which leads to doors opening late, which leads to the show getting a late start. This element of perfectionism is about wanting the audience to experience the very best and most authentic musical experience they can from what I do.”

It’s one thing to be a perfectionist and it’s just plain ill-mannered not to honour ardent fans and disrespect qualified sound technicians.

If anything, this comes-off as being unprepared. I mean people buy tickets, using their hard-earned cash to see you at a specific time-by virtue of being on the line-up for that particular performance, means an artist agrees with all the prerequisites.

I don’t remember anyone questioning her undeniable talent and palpable influence she’s had in the industry. Ever. So she’s very much correct to say “I was also a member of the Fugees, another ground-breaking, multi-platinum selling group, who bridged social and cultural gaps, and were ambassadors of hip-hop all around this planet. We laid important groundwork upon which an entire generation of artists and musicians still stand. We broke through conventions and challenged limited world views every time we played.”

To add to that, she was an integral part of the Fugees, I personally think the fellas would’ve been another bar-spitting average clique, had she not been part of the group. She’s an impeccable emcee with beautiful vocals. The original rap singer.  But it’s her attitude that’s always been questioned- even by former group members, Pras and Wyclef Jean.

What I found particularly interesting in the letter, was not really her responding to Glasper’s statement, but addressing a bigger issue: misogyny and patriarchy in the industry when she said “And yes, Ms. Hill was absolutely a requirement. I was young, Black and female. Not everyone can work for and give the appropriate respect to a person in that package and in charge. It was important, especially then, for that to be revealed early. I adore Stevie, and honor [sic] Herbie and Quincy, who are our forebears, but they’re not women. Men often can say ‘I want it done like this’ and not be challenged. The same rules don’t always apply for women who may be met with resistance. When this happens you replace that player with someone who respects you and the office you hold.”

If we wake up tomorrow and someone like Priddy Ugly says, he wants be called King Priddy from now on, reluctant as society might be at first, they’ll eventually heed that call. And it would totally be a different story if a Gigi Lamayne, associated herself with royalty. Her artistry would be questioned.

It was like reading useless Facebook posts about people who brag about being older, to those born in the new millennium, when Hill wrote “Most people are probably just hearing your name for the first time because you dropped MINE in an interview, controversially. Taking nothing away from your talent, but this is a fact.”

A cheap shot, really. Glasper is a multi-award winning genius artist that has paid his dues, she knows very well that he’s a pianist that only came to the fore in the popular music scene just over a decade ago.

But fortunately there was no malicious speech between the two artists, it was honest criticism and a simple difference in opinion, which both creatives respected.Or so it seems.

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With the US being dominated by Caucasians in numbers, it’s no wonder black Americans feel safe and at home when they’re on the African continent.

“In America, especially now with Trump, there are certain spaces that are very uncomfortable to be in as a black man. One, you never know how certain people feel and then two, because you know now how certain people feel. Before you’d assume it was racism…”says US rapper Javier Starks.

Starks spoke to Tha Bravado while in the country for the O.R Tambo music project titled Voices On OR. It is a collaborative double-disc album between South African and USA artists and some politicians, paying homage to the life of the late former ANC president.

Starks was in the country for a week, together with talented musician Miles Mosley who is also part of the project. They have been in studio throughout the week, but a bit sad for first time visitor Starks, because he hasn’t had the opportunity to experience South Africa and all its multifaceted beauty.

“There’s a pain in my heart, it’s like ahhhhh….it would’ve been nice to see Soweto, would’ve been nice to see other things. But I am very grateful just to be here-not a single moment in the studio has felt like ‘oh man, we still here’ every minute has been real. From the moment that I landed here, I felt very welcomed you know,” he says.

Unlike stable mate Mosley, who is on three tracks on the album, Starks is featured once on Voices On OR. “The lyrics I wrote for the song I wrote back home. While I was writing I did a lot of research on Tambo and God, this dude is a champion.” The track is titled Promise Land.

The double album is musically directed by renowned singer Gloria Bosman while seasoned saxophonist McCoy Mrubata is tasked with the role of producing. Among others, the project will include Jonathan Butler, Tsepo Tshola, Mandisa Dlanga, Jabu Magubane, Herbie Tsoaeli and Steve Dyer. Performances in the recording will be characterized by interpretations of musical themes based on events around Tambo’s life. It’s due for release in October this year.

A fairly new artist in the industry, but has been fortunate to be surrounded by great musician such as Mosely and Robert Glasper. “More than anything else, being around people like Miles and all these kats who are really talented, I really get to learn a lot. It really broadens my perspective in how I approach music, in how I see music because these guys aren’t just masters of their genre, which emcees and rappers tend to be you know,” says Starks.

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Starks met Glasper in 2012, just a year after the latter released his critically acclaimed Black Radio album.  The two met at an event, DC Loves Dilla, which celebrates the work of late virtuoso producer J.Dilla. Unzipping his hoodie, Starks shows me his t-shit with a Dilla illustration on it, he tells me that performed three songs from Dilla’s countless produced joints at the event, which Glasper was also billed to perform at.

“I did Busta Rhymes’s Woo-hah because Dill did a remix of it, I did Common’s Payback is a Grandmother and Common’s The Light. After I was done with my set, I hear this guy playing the piano and I was like ‘damn, this guy’s really good’ and I went up to him after his set and told him he was really dope…we sat there and watched the Slum Village set from backstage together, and went out to dinner with those guys [Glasper and his band].”

The two have built a solid relationship since and whenever Glasper is in town the two link up. In 2015 during Grammy weekend, Glasper invited Stark to a meet and greet that he was attending. “I flew myself to Cali, I didn’t have a place to stay and told myself I’m gonna sleep in the car-I’m gonna make it work and I’ll be there regardless. I got there, and found out it was a concert. I’m standing outside the line, I’m like this ain’t no meet and greet. I got inside and I was in the front row and 20-30 into his set, he’s [Glasper] like ‘eyo Javier, come kick some rhymes’. I had his number and we would chat and he knew I was there, but we never talked about me rhyming. It was so spur of the moment. When he said come kick some rhymes, that’s when I learnt I’m about to rap,” says Stark.

True to their bond, Glasper offered Starks his hotel room, since he’s was leaving town for another gig.

He is s socially conscious emcee who is very economical with the words because he doesn’t curse on any of his records. “I can perform at your local club, I can perform at a school library, I can perform at a church and I can perform anywhere you know. That’s the beauty of being curse free and keeping your music uplifting and real –people can relate to that. You think about the stuff that most people rap about, it has its time and place- but most people can’t relate to shooting people or doing drugs, driving fancy cars and spending dollars. My goal is to show people that it works, not just because I say so, but look at my Instagram I’m everywhere because it works.”

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In your music collection there’s at least one album created between 1998-2003 at the Electric Lady studios. That was the period which the studio homed the music collective The Soulquarians, the gods of the Neo-soul sound.

In 1998 D’Angelo moved into Electric Lady Studios in New York to record his Voodo album. He roped in drummer Questlove to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and because of the long studio hours, the drummer simultaneously moved the recording of the Roots LP Things Fall Apart to Electric Lady.

Questlove and D’Angelo’s chemistry was sparked by their love for classic songs from years gone by. The core of the Soulquarians was completed by composer James Poyser, Detroit genius producer J Dilla, Common and Erykah Badu. Although they never want to be tied to the genre, the Soulquarians are heavy influencers of the Neo-Soul sound we know today. Their influence can be heard in some of today’s artists such as Robert Glasper, Rayvn Lenae, NxWorries and MoRuf.

Not suggesting that these musicians no longer work together, because they do, but here are some of the classic albums that were produced in that period of them working together in one space sharing their gifts.

D’ANGELO-Voodoo

YEAR: 2000

The 13 track album which was overshadowed by D’Angelo’s strip down and steamy down video in Untitled (How Does It Feel), which left a lasting effect on a lot of women. But it was a masterpiece from the music genius which had a funky soulful Hip Hop feel thanks to J Dilla’s sick sampling. D’Angelo featured Red Man and Method Man in Left and Right. Such was the level of artistry here that Q. Tip had initially laced a verse for the song but it was deemed lukewarm hence D’Angelo roped in the New York duo. The album bagged a Grammy.

 

THE ROOTS-Things Falls Apart

YEAR: 1999

This was a follow-up to their Illadelph Halflife project which came out in ‘96. It’s this the project here that earned them critical acclaim from industry fundis and probably that ‘legendary’ tag too. It was the group’s novel experience at selling over 500 000 copies. The Roots won the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys for You Got Me featuring Erykah Badu. Stand out songs here include Act Too (Love of my life) and Step Into The Realm.

 

COMMON-Like Water For Chocolate

YEAR: 2000

Common just sounds extra nice on J Dilla beats. Dooinit is one of the finest tracks where Common rips the beat and some rappers with the energy of Julius Malema at a rally behind the mic.  While songs like The Light and 6th Sense remain classics till this day, Payback Is A Grandmother, Film Called Pimp and Song For Assata were gems that many never paid close attention to. There’s a great balance of social commentary, love, lyricism and musicality throughout the album.

ERYKAH BADU-Mama’s Gun

YEAR: 2001

Mama’s Gun is probably the album that made a lot of the young fans of Badu fall in love with her music. It’s unbelievable how an album can be so cohesive with a cocktail different sounds. Cleva is a beautiful Jazz joint that doesn’t sound out of place alongside the sticky Jay Dee drums on Didn’t Cha Know. So many musicians consciously and subconsciously use this album as blueprint to creating a Neo Soul project. This is a classic-I can visualize myself listening to this at 60. Orange Moon and Bag Lady are just some of the classic joints in this album.

 

COMMON-Electric Circus

YEAR: 2002

Some people said this album was Common’s regress after Like Water For Chocolate which came out two years prior. But this project was simply ahead of its time. It was great body of music by the Chicago rapper. It had influences of Rock, electronic and funk soaked in the Soulquarians sounds. Common once said that he wasn’t feeling Hip Hop at the time of creation and his choice of sound was influenced by Jimi Henrix and Pink Floyd. Stand out tracks here include Between Me, You and Liberation, Heaven Somewhere, Ferris Wheel and Soul Power.

 

What’s your favourite Soulquarians influenced album?

 


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