“People think of jazz musicians…they pigeonhole us as JUST jazz musicians.”
Robert Glasper will most likely never reach mainstream black radio. Think about that.
Imagine if Stankonia was a real country, located somewhere in the Eastern Bloc, and their citizens didn’t consider “Kim & Cookie” to be the greatest interlude of all-time. This is the sort of irony we’re dealing with right now.
Glasper only has himself to blame. We’re a simple folk and we need labels. We need him to be jazz. We need him to be hip-hop. We need him to be something tangible, something easily consumed. The sonic posturing of Robert Glasper has reached a level of synthesis, best understood as simply, “music;” and conceptually, we just can’t accept that.
To a certain extent, I understand. We’re talking about a career that has entangled the virtuosity of Monk with the percussive aggression of Jamal. Bound with rhythms more conducive to an old Tribe record, this isn’t Poinciana and it’s not exactly Midnight Marauders. But it’s most certainly Black Radio. For over sixty minutes, we are required to embrace a rare instance of progressive thought. This is an album birthed from the very same tradition it references in its title—black music. There needn’t be any labels because Glasper doesn’t seem to be any specific type of artist.
When this outfit performs “Afro Blue,” they choose a jazz standard and display it through the lens of contemporary soul. Coltrane’s instrument is removed for that of Erykah Badu, and instantly present day sensibilities are birthed from antiquity.
Engaging all of sound, there are elements of jazz strewn about the momentarily whimsical introduction to “Always Shine.” But, as that pulsating beat drops, we are privy to the rebirth of Wasalu, a modern day Lazarus of rhyme.
“And to my hero Heron, Gil Scott
In a discourse with Baldwin
On a jet plane with no fear for fallin’
But wishin’ it never lands
Reminiscent of the dream time
Presently en route to the rhymes of the machine time”
From “Move Love” to “Ah Yeah,” we listen to the progression of sound through a genre that has yet to be named. This is what decades of black expression sound like.
And how could I not once again mention the oddly functional reinterpretation of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” At this point, it goes beyond being better or worse than his contemporaries. Glasper is simply playing an entirely different game.
I know that many of you are looking for a more substantial review of the album’s technical elements, but I’d much rather you make your own opinion on the matter. I wouldn’t feel right robbing you of the opportunity to experience wholly original music for the very first time. It’s an incomparable moment provided by the Robert Glasper brain trust. Regardless, if you’re at all familiar with Glasper’s previous work, then that should be the least of your concerns. You should know that nothing but good can come from a project featuring yasiin bey, Bilal, and Me’Shell N’Degeocello. These things you know, for sure. But what I was not ready for; what you may not be expecting, is the profound evocations resonating from this project. Black Radio is a learning experience. It’s where we were and where we’re going to be.
This is Black Radio.