Originally published in The AU Review.
Delivering an equally remarkable and innovative second chapter to 2012’s Black Radio is the Robert Glasper Experiment, a trio that continue to push the boundaries of jazz music further and further away from its tradition.
In 2012 Robert Glasper – the commander of this electric post-bop vessel, composed a brilliant album which completely defied Genre, fusing Jazz, Rnb and Hip hop as a means of stitching together every aspect of contemporary black radio to create one singular vision. Ironically, Black Radio was awarded Best Rnb album at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Glasper’s success in breaking down the barriers of genre was completely disregarded and instead, this masterpiece, was interpreted and labelled as a single generic form. With a primal focus on lyricism and theme, Black Radio also featured a collection of prominent guest-vocalists, including Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu and yasiin bey. In Black Radio Volume 2, Glasper continues to shine a bright light on the illusion of genre importance, an illusion that hopefully next year’s Grammy’s will cotton on to.
The overrated importance of genre is only one of Glasper’s messages throughout Black Radio 2. Like its predecessor, this record includes an impressive group of vocalists. Lupe Fiasco and Lalah Hathaway return, joined by newbies Brandy, Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott and Norah Jones, just to name a few. Singing and rapping over the top of Glasper (keys), Derrick Hodge (bass), Mark Colenburg (drums) and Casey Benjamin (vocoder/sax) are vocalists earnestly reflecting on primitive themes and real issues. Unlike the endless supply of self-indulgent, disposable contemporary urban music which often focuses on hedonism and vulgarity, Black Radio 2 brings its listeners back down to earth with the importance of autonomy, love, enlightenment, friendship, acceptance and resilience.
Immediately introducing all that refreshing rawness is the opening track, “Baby Tonight.” Divided into two introductory parts, the Experiment welcome its listeners to the “Robert Glasper show.” The first part is dominated by a delicate key composition, subtle percussion and a vocoder manipulating “Baby tonight/On your radio/Black Radio.” The second part is a wonderful idiosyncratic introduction orchestrated by the guest vocalists. They each greet their audience and the best part is when you hear “We never get to do shit like this.” This is exactly what defines Black Radio: its originality and audaciousness. It’s brilliant.
The second track, “I Stand Alone” is led by Common and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and condones autonomy and the power of one. It could also be a stab at mediocrity in contemporary music, validating the importance of one to stand alone and do something completely different. Like Miles Davis and other fusion pioneers before him, Robert Glasper is that one; a leader of musical experimentation. But it is the latter half of the track that is really interesting, featuring an anonymous voice-over highlighting the demise of black individuality, “Where has all of that gone?” The omniscient poet reflects on the “mind-numbing sameness” that pollutes contemporary music.
“What Are We Doing” is a funky track, with Brandy reflecting on a futile relationship and its inevitable breakdown. “Calls” is a personal favourite, introduced by a melodic key arrangement and Jill Scott’s organic vocals. Scott sings to her lover, “You always answer my calls/When I call/You come.” Both Scott and Glasper perform with such lightness, using their different instruments to suggest fragility and create space.
“Persevere” features Snoop Dogg and Lupe Fiasco rapping about resilience and the importance of perseverance in a world that is almost impossible to comprehend. “Somebody else” sees Emeli Sande fantasising about escapism and identity.
The final track “Jesus Children” is simultaneously heartbreaking and reassuring. Dedicated to the memory of the 20 children that were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting last year, Lalah Hathaway and poet Malcolm-Jamal Warner reflect on the afterlife of the deceased. Hathaway’s vocals are incredibly emotive and sombre when she sings “Hello children/Jesus loves you.” MJW closes the moving track by commemorating the children and their place with God, “20 children standing there/beaming bright and angel light as they take flight.”
Black Radio 2 fails to fall short of its predecessor. It is a remarkable second interpretation of black radio and genre. It builds its own pedestal in the former and laughs in the face of the latter. Absolutely brilliant stuff.
Review Score: 9.6 out of 10