Robert Glasper: Changing The Music Landscape Through Black Radio

Robert Glasper has been getting a lot of buzz for his recently released album, Black Radio.  He describes his album as “more of an urban, hip-hop, soul kind of vibe, but the spine of it all is still a jazz spine.”  An all-star line up of artists are featured including Lalah Hathaway, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, Chrisette Michelle, Lupe Fiasco, yasiin bey (formerly mos def), Meshelle Ndegeocello, Ledisi, Shafiq Husayn (Sa-Ra), Stokley Williams (Mint Condition), and new female trio KING.  

Black Radio is already being called "Album of The Year" by many music experts.  And at Glasper's concerts, one can find a contrast of fans from 20-something black females to  50-something white males which shows how his music extends across genres and bridges audiences.  His integration of various musical styles--including jazz--has helped him to establish a distinct sound.

The integration of jazz with other musical genres is not a new concept.  Hip hop includes samples of every genre of music possible from Nina Simone’s Misunderstood to Harry Belafonte’s The Banana Boat Song.  Many hip hop albums like Guru’s Jazzmataz fuse jazz within their work.  

Glasper, who also began playing gospel music in the black church, previously worked with most of the artists who were on this new album, many of whom have a background in jazz and infuse jazz within their work as well.  Glasper points out that studying jazz gives artists a certain mastery of their instruments .  The role of jazz in the neo-soul movement is unquestionable with Erykah Badu, Ledisi, and Bilal, for instance, all having jazz backgrounds.

Likewise, a few jazz artists have integrated other genres within their music.  Glasper believes he took Roy Hargrove’s album RH Factor to the next level.  To add, by including songs like the rock classic, Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, the album combines different cultures and styles.  Black Radio displays, as Anthony Mark Neal puts it, “the sounds of cosmopolitan blackness.” 

 The jazz heads, the hip hop heads, the neo soul heads, and just the “I like good music” heads can relate to this album.  The album debuted #1 on the jazz charts and #4 on the R&B/Soul charts behind Tyga, Rihanna, and Drake, which by itself speaks to the album’s unique crossover quality.  Additionally, within the context of people asking, “Where’s the love in R&B?”, Robert Glasper answers through Lalah Hathaway’s sultry, hypnotic contralto phrasing, Bilal’s scatting lullabies, and Chrisette Michelle and Musiq Soulchild’s intimate exchanges on love and commitment.  

Glasper and Esperanza Spalding who just released the similar jazz-pop album, Radio Music Society, have become the fresh-faced poster children for hip more relatable jazz-spined music.  Glasper pronounced jazz as a “sending our grandfather out to the playground” genre that has “become less black and more European” and needs to “catch up and be more relevant."  He said by changing the music, he is changing the audience.  He is attracting and connecting audiences of different races, ages and backgrounds who get exposed to genres they may not have naturally gone to before.  By creating what some call a “post-genre” of black music, he showcases and attracts others back to the expansive repertoire of black radio.

~ Christina Armstrong

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