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Jon Batiste — The Multi-Hyphenate Talks Through His Cosmic Concept LP

After winning an Oscar (for scoring Pixar’s Soul) and five Grammys (four for his triumphant 2021 album, WE ARE), and leaving behind his day job as the bandleader on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Jon Batiste was itching to find a new frequency. And so, he tuned in, turned on, and went to Shangri-La, literally: the Malibu compound that legendary producer Rick Rubin lent him to record World Music Radio. “Shangri-La felt like the first stop of what this journey should be,” the singer and multi-instrumentalist tells Apple Music of the genre-bending 21-track collection, a bold but seamless tapestry that features guests ranging from Lana Del Rey and his fellow New Orleans native Lil Wayne to rising K-pop stars NewJeans and sax god Kenny G.

It’s all overseen by a cosmic disc jockey of Batiste’s own creation called Billy Bob Bo Bob, a character he describes as “this DJ-storyteller griot who has traveled around the universe to search for what he calls ‘the vibe’”—a spiritual wavelength. “It’s a vibrational frequency of time and space coming together to create bliss and inspiration and purpose,” Batiste says. “And those who know how to tap into that signal, it transports them to this region of the universe that no scientist has been able to detect or find the origin of.” Here, the artist provides the creative inspirations behind the album’s many sonic highlights—some interstellar, others much closer to home.

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“Raindance” (feat. Native Soul) “It’s trap, it’s reggae, and it has an orchestral influence mixed with indigenous Native American chants. I went to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and found an incredible group of artists who are Native, and they showed me their traditions of drumming and singing and all of these incredible ideas about life and spirituality that are just a part of their generation’s long-sacred rituals and traditions.”

“Be Who You Are” (feat. JID, NewJeans & Camilo) “One of the things that Billy Bob does is he takes moments that are happening in the present and, just as a DJ would, he may blend in an interpolation or a nod to a song that is on wax from the past. He’ll even sometimes bend time and space and take a performance that’s happened in the future. This song exemplifies that to a T, where you have echoes of ‘Pass the Dutchie,’ you have this K-pop section, then you have Camilo from Colombia coming in on the horns, and JID is rapping, and then I have my verse and I’m rapping. It’s a mission statement—I wouldn’t call it the deepest, but it’s the most banner track of what World Music Radio is all about.”

“Worship” “We wanted to create an experience that brought you to a sense of real perspective and appreciation of your own humanity and the collective of humanity. When you hear these lyrics over and over again as the chords swell, and the synthesizers are crafted in this way that feels like samba-slash-Swedish House Mafia, something about both of those sounds together is catharsis. It creates a release in people when you’re collected in a community, whether it’s at a festival or at a game at a stadium.”

“My Heart” (feat. Rita Payés) “Rita is a trombonist and singer from Catalonia, an unsigned artist in her early twenties who’s been playing and composing her own music. I was lucky enough to discover her online, and when we connected to write this song, I wanted to sing in the Catalonian dialect of Spanish to bring a certain feeling to the piece. It was already going to be an intimate and beautiful composition, but when we decided to put it in her native language, it really channeled something. Languages just have this ability to speak to art in different ways.”

“Clair de Lune” (feat. Kenny G) “Kenny G is probably still the most acclaimed, or at least the most commercially successful, instrumental artist of all time. And on World Music Radio, we have several different languages and several different kinds of vocalists, but I was thinking, ‘Who is an instrumentalist who has reached cultures around the world in a really profound way?’ I’d put Kenny G on the top five of that list. And it’s crazy because he’s got so many people who hate him! But just getting to know him through this process, you see that it’s not a gimmick for him. And when you listen to him here, he plays in a way that he doesn’t play on any of his other records. He really stretches, you know? And I loved hearing him do that.”

“Butterfly” “I really am proud of this one, of how transcending of any genre or any sort of classification it is. There’s a lot of textures and sonics and a very maximalist approach in a lot of the music here, but this is transcendent and simple. You can sing it as a nursery rhyme. You can sing it as a lullaby. You sing it as a ballad. I’ve heard kids sing it when we did a workshop at a school; it just has some timeless quality to it. But it’s a personal song for me, in my life as well, that was part of the inspiration—my wife [journalist Suleika Jaouad, who recently survived a second bout with leukemia] and particularly our relationship.”

“Uneasy” (feat. Lil Wayne) “Wayne! That is [area code] 504 representing. You know, the 17th Ward where he hails from, I partially grew up there. He’s a little older than me, but we were in that neighborhood three minutes apart from each other, probably around the same time. And together with the ‘17th Ward Prelude,’ which leads into ‘Uneasy,’ this is definitely the most New Orleans segment of the record.”

“CALL NOW (504-305-8269)” (feat. Michael Batiste) “Who do you get when you call? You get Billy Bob Bo Bob, the real number. And sometimes you get Jon Batiste.”

“MOVEMENT 18’ (Heroes)” “When you let the subconscious mind, the nonlinear mind, be heard through the frequency of the radio station, what would it sound like? Those are my thoughts coming up and my ruminations on things some of my musical heroes have said to me. You got Wayne Shorter in there. You got Alvin Batiste and Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington. The Wayne sound that you hear is him actually playing with me, and it’s layered on top of the piano that I’m playing on the track.”

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“Master Power” “There’s a few radical choices in here with the sampling. If you study different calls to prayer, you’ll hear sounds from the Muslim traditions of prayer, and then also a Jewish cantor singing as well. Then there’s these biblical references in the lyrics, and it’s just very much a real amalgam of different forms of folk-slash-spiritual music. You dig?”

“Goodbye, Billy Bob”/“White Space” “‘Goodbye, Billy Bob’ is what you’ll hear when a disc jockey on the radio is signing off, and ‘White Space’ is this last-call moment, this sort of lifting into the clouds and beyond, which is where Billy Bob is going. He’s leaving this experience that he’s curated through vibrations that he’s gathered from the planet Earth. He’s floating away.”

“Wherever You Are” “If ‘Goodbye, Billy Bob’ is the end of the movie and ‘White Space’ is the last scene, then ‘Wherever You Are’ is when the credits roll. You have this emotional moment as you process all that just happened. You take it in, and you listen, and you hear the spacecraft taking off. ‘Is the mothership going up into orbit?’ Then you’re going on to whatever the next destination is.”

“Life Lesson” (feat. Lana Del Rey) “Lana was in the process of finishing her album, and I was starting mine. She had come by to hang at Shangri-La, and we didn’t really have a plan of creating, but when we played each other some of our music, it was decided that I would help her to finish her record. So, that was the same time that we did ‘Candy Necklace.’

‘Life Lesson’ wasn’t even intended to be on this album, but it felt as the movie took shape, this was the perfect bonus, the spiritual cousin of the things I was talking about. And I love that it was so organic. It was just one thing that we did amongst many other things that people haven’t even heard yet.”

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