Live: Lupe Fiasco And The Robert Glasper Experiment Trade Genres And “Yo Momma” Jokes At The Blue Note


Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Lupe Fiasco
Blue Note
Friday, February 25

Better Than: A re-run of Wilmer Valderrama’s Yo Momma

So I picked the wrong night to see the Robert Glasper Experiment at the Blue Note. Not to say the show I attended wasn’t fantastic, but alas, the very next night, during the adventurous jazz band’s last set with a rejuvenated Lupe Fiasco, a couple surprise guests showed up: Mos Def and Kanye West. I know, I already cried about it. It sucks. I’m still kind of pissed. But there’s no sense dwelling on it: As Kanye once put it, “I don’t need all the jazz.” Instead, I’d rather talk about the jazz (and hip-hop!) I actually did see.

Kanye and Mos Def at The Blue Note Ft. Robert Glasper Experiment by cisconyc
Though we ought to include the recording of Kanye rhyming the next night as well.

No matter how hard people try, these two genres rarely mix well: Mad props for the effort, but usually either the rapper gets too fancy or the jazz guys turn into dry-sounding backup musicians, disappointing both sides. But the RGE (Glasper leading on piano; Casey Benjamin on saxophones, vocoder, and keytar; Chris Dave on drums; and Derrick Hodge on bass) make you believe it can work, and proved their genre-crossing chops before Lupe even took the stage, starting with an impromptu jam jokingly titled “Sound Checking,” then went right into renditions of Chick Corea’s “Paint the World” and Little Dragon’s “Twice,” so hip even the rap fans unfamiliar with this Glasper guy were rocking in their chairs.

Then Lupe came out, and the group morphed into the best live band in hip-hop — yes, even better than the Roots. Lupe’s “I Gotcha” was a fitting opener, interpolating John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”; Glasper and company pushed Lupe along as his punchy flow bobbed and weaved, allowing both teams to feel each other out musically and making the jazz club feel clubbier — minus the bottle-popping, thankfully. Still, Lupe couldn’t help but remark how performing for a sit-down audience made him feel like a stand-up comedian, and soon he was lobbing the first of several “Yo momma” jokes at Glasper: something about her being so dumb she got locked in a grocery store and starved to death. Of course, Glasper gave as well as he got, so back and forth they went until Lupe said, “Let’s just play another song before things get out of hand.”

And on they went, flawlessly: RGE kept the breezy feel of “Kick, Push” intact, while drummer Chris Dave absolutely killed on “I’m Beaming.” For Lupe’s brainy “Dumb It Down,” Glasper couldn’t help but hop up off his piano bench, nodding his neck along in a 12-to-6 motion, just like the rest of the crowd. By the time the group closed with the catchy “Paris, Tokyo,” both sides of this equation were deep in the pocket, finding a way to do what most fusion projects fail to do: Exist cohesively while turning some hip-hop heads into jazz fans and some jazz heads into hip-hop fans.

Critical Bias: For my money, Chris Dave beats Questlove.

Random Notebook Dump: Pretty sure I can beat Lupe and Glasper in a “Yo Momma” battle.

Set List:
Paint The World [Chick Corea cover]
Twice [Little Dragon]
I Gotcha
Kick, Push
I’m Beamin’
Dumb It Down
Paris, Tokyo
E=MC2 [J. Dilla]
Freestyle Outro