Every now and then an artist creates something that revolutionizes a genre.It questions all that you know about what qualifies as jazz. Robert Glasper accomplishes this with Black Radio, with Chris Dave on drums, Casey Benjamin on recorder, reeds, woodwinds, and vocoder, Derrick Hodge on Bass, and Robert Glasper on piano. This album is jazz album with appearances by rappers, auto tuned lyrics, and hip hop grooves found throughout. I’d like to believe no one would argue that this is jazz. However, I’m sure some jazz police people will argue that this isn’t jazz. They’re wrong. This is jazz growing and developing. This is jazz acknowledging and collaborating with hip hop. Rappers sample jazz and soul all the time. Rappers freestyle, jazz musicians solo, both styles of music were created by and are dominated by African Americans and the African American experience. They are not as far apart as they seem. This is probably why Glasper titles this album Black Radio because jazz and hip hop are black music.
As usual I will highlight a few standout tracks from this album, but honestly the entire album is a standout. I will begin with “Afro Blue”. This is a jazz standard that has been covered time and time again. However, this version utilizes hip hop grooves and has an appearance by Erykah Badu on vocals. For those unaware Erykah Badu is a R&B, Neo Soul singer and her voice fits perfectly with the tracks intention. In between vocal Robert Glasper embellishes on the piano keeping things fresh and interesting. The song fades out with Robert Glasper playing more melodic ideas on piano.
“Always Shine” featuring Lupe Fiasco and Bilal is another tune I’d like to discuss. It begins with a nice intro from Glasper as everything comes to a climax with Bilal singing. Immediately after Lupe Fiasco begins his verse. Again, Lupe Fiasco is a popular hip hop emcee from Chicago. Lupe Fiasco raps about a lot of social issues and is very political on his verse which is common as he is a socially conscious rapper. After his verses are done he has a sort of spoken word outro. Again Glasper ends the tune playing a nice outro.
I could go on and on about this album. Tracks like “Gonna Be Alright”, “Cherish The Day”, and “Ah Yeah” are excellent examples of fusing R&B, Hip Hop, and Jazz. Again, I can not stress enough listening to each track on Black Radio. The last song I will look at also happens to be the last song on the album. It’s one most of you have probably heard, but I’m sure never like this. It’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit. The tune begins with a vocal intro and just drums and piano. Slowly the instrumentation grows finally Casey Benjamin sings the tune in Auto Tune. This is interesting for a number of different reason. First off “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a grunge tune by Nirvana. So hearing it underneath this groove is unusual. Then you add auto tune and I’m sure some teenage Foo Fighter fan is slam dancing in his mother’s basement in protest to this creation. As the tune progresses you get accustomed to these unusual sounds. So at 3:53 things just explode. The energy is elevated, The vocalization gets further embellished, further auto tuned. Electronic sound begin to take over and reek havoc on the record while the core rhythm and Glasper’s playing still hold the foundation. As things subside we get and added female vocalist and we end with a nice calm ambiance.
This is a must have album. A modern classic and a shape of jazz to come. Glasper marries Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop in a way that has never been done before. His follow up Black Radio 2, picks up where this one left off so I recommend that album as well. I’ve seen The Robert Glasper experience live twice and both were memorable experiences. His last show in Chicago at the Double Door was one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had. Go see him when he comes to your town, you won’t regret it.