The best of Robert Glasper: Five albums from the genre-defying innovator

Robert Glasper is a forward thinker. He has never been trapped in place, curating a tradition. He has always courageously surged ahead, defying artificial genre parameters and taking chances like a renegade.

His influences are powerful fuels for artistic propulsion. Among them are the likes of Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tynor. And whenever Glasper makes music, he chooses to surround himself with creative artists who play along the edges, just like he does.

Since emerging in 2003, Glasper has recorded 10 albums. He has won three Grammy Awards, including best R&B album for Black Radio. 

Whether you’re new to Robert Glasper or just want to gain a new appreciation for his artistry, these five albums best exemplify his constantly thrilling sense of defiance.

Canvas (2005)

This was many people’s first introduction to Robert Glasper. He emerged as a young piano player with traditional jazz foundation, a fearless sense of harmony, and a richly lyrical melodic touch. The players on Canvas — bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid — have followed him throughout his career. This record reveals a diversely creative sound that places Glasper at the nexus of contemporary jazz, hip hop and neo-soul. In the words of The Guardian’s John Fordham at the time of its release: “You can hear why Blue Note has hopes for this newcomer.”

In My Element (2007)

Now more than simply a new Blue Note discovery, Glasper has at this point established himself as a player who’s able to fit into the modern streams of jazz while still retaining his R&B and hip-hop influences. Among the standouts from In My Element is “Tribute,” the album’s plaintive closer that includes the eulogy for Glasper’s mother delivered by Rev. Joe Ratliff. True to Glasper’s sensibility, In My Element incorporates no shortage of musical innovations that define his originality.

Double Booked (2009)

When a speeding race car takes on a curve and heads for the next straightaway, it charges forward with the roar and thunder of a well-oiled machine. That’s what it feels like to arrive at Double Booked. Here, Glasper brought in some new players, and the cast stays true to his commitment to bringing together sounds that are often assumed to oppose each other. Derrick Hodge takes on the role of electric bass, and Casey Benjamin is unmatched as a creative soul saxophonist while also adding the sonic audacity of the vocoder. Neo-soul vocalist Bilal dashes the project with excitement, as does the work of Mos Def and the mixing wizardry of QMillion.

Black Radio (2012)

With Black Radio, Glasper went all-out in brilliantly breaking down artistic barriers. Introducing an electric quartet called the Robert Glasper Experiment, the album had a demanding studio session of only five days — making the result all the more extraordinary. Numerous artists at the top of their games add their spice to the mix: Solange Knowles, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Ledisi, Lupe Fiasco and Lalah Hathaway, among many others. Simply put, Black Radio is a major piece in an exciting reawakening of modern jazz.

Black Radio 2 (2013)

With the followup to Black Radio, Glasper breaks his own record and lifts the previous year’s project to breathtaking heights. The Robert Glasper Experiment is back at breakneck speed. They not only bridge genres — they challenge them. Glasper incorporated spoken-word artists and a cast of players from numerous genres of shared influence. The track Jesus Children of America, featuring Lalah Hathaway and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, is stunning in its brilliance. The way each element on Black Radio 2 is used, placed and mixed speaks directly to an ever-evolving artistry that is unique and seemingly boundless.