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Arts & Culture

Album of the Month: Robert Glasper - Black Radio III

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Pulling together the threads of different strands of music can often reveal they’re closer than you think. Pianist and composer Robert Glasper has built his entire career around this philosophy, making music rooted in jazz but pulling influences from hip-hop, R&B, soul, gospel – the Black American music landscape at large. His 2012 album Black Radio was his first fully-formed work where all these ideas converged, seating his electric jazz group The Robert Glasper Experiment alongside dynamic voices like Yasiin Bey, Erykah Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello, Lupe Fiasco, and more. We’ve now come to his third entry in what’s become a series, Black Radio III, where that fusion of ideas and talents remains just as strong ten years out.

Just as they do on the radio waves, hip-hop and R&B artists mingle freely across the record, the former delivering the verses that bookend the latter’s hooks, all against the backdrop of Glasper’s rotating ensemble of players from across jazz and instrumental worlds. Veteran MCs make appearances on many of the tracks, including A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip placed next to jazz bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding on “Why We Speak,” De La Soul’s Posdnuos with Musiq Soulchild on “Everybody Love,” and Common giving a guest verse to a Lalah Hathaway-led cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Glasper has never been shy of reinterpreting classic pop and rock songs, and here he slows the original’s sparkly shuffle down to a smooth, smoky slow groove. Elsewhere on the album, rap takes center stage on tracks like “Black Superhero,” pulling different regions in hip-hop together with BJ the Chicago Kid, Big K.R.I.T., and Killer Mike all ruminating on the need for powerful Black voices across the nation. The song’s ending interlude from Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah speaks to the power of Black women, and that sentiment is reflected in the strong, distinctive voices of women that feature throughout the album, from Jennifer Hudson on “Out of My Hands,” India.Arie on “Forever,” and H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello together on “Better Than I Imagined.” The album has wonderful features across the board, but I think the contributions of the women especially are the highlight.

The name of this series of albums, “black radio,” could not be more indicative of the cultural umbrella it represents. Even in their most concentrated forms, all the styles of music represented here share common DNA, in their rhythms, their rhymes, their innovations, and their roots. Black American music is a rich tapestry constantly in progress, each corner always expanding but still sourced from one center. Robert Glasper and his increasingly large stable of collaborators and friends make music designed to unite listeners of all kinds, and with that in mind, I’ll be waiting patiently and hopefully for another entry in the catalog.

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