Black Radio 2: The Robert Glasper Experiment Returns
"It caught me by surprise." That’s Robert Glasper, renowned pianist and fixture on the New York City jazz scene, speaking to the mainstream success of last year’s Black Radio, a game-changing collaborative album recorded with his trio, the Robert Glasper Experiment, and a host of big-wig hip-hop and R&B artists, from Common to Lupe Fiasco and Erykah Badu. The album, recorded live over four days, was something of an experiment: What would happen when traditional jazz was melded with hip-hop and R&B vibes? Such surprise and astoundment came, Glasper says, when the one-off project suddenly attracted acclaim both from prickly jazz purists and, more notably, a younger, more mainstream fan base.
"I’m not Usher Raymond or anything," the 35-year-old, who thanks to Black Radio has made fans and collaborators of music industry A-listers including Kanye West, Beyoncé and The Roots’ Questlove, tells Milk Made on a recent morning with a laugh. "But people who would [normally] be going to a Chris Brown concert are now coming to see our show."
So Glasper was inclined then to make Black Radio 2, to be released this Tuesday via Blue Note Records. The success of the project’s first installment is reflected in its sequel’s eye-popping list of collaborators: everyone from Snoop Dogg and Norah Jones to Emeli Sandé and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump came onboard. Whereas he reached out to potential collaborators the first go-round, this time Glasper was the one being approached by musicians, largely via Twitter, "I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore Twitter person but I am much more savvy [now]," he says.
Though Glasper admits he was most excited to land guest-spots from Brandy and Faith Evans, both artists whom he grew up listening to, “so when I got [them] it was like, ‘Wow. This is taking me back!”’
Despite being "more produced" than its predecessor, what’s most magical about Black Radio 2 is the seamless nature of its blatant genre-blend: on the hip-hop spiced "Persevere," Snoop raps of the lurid grime of county jails as Glasper shuffles by all slinky, echoing the rapper’s mystic misery with lurking minor-key piano chords; earlier, with Anthony Hamilton carrying the vocal load, the pianist dutifully blurs the line between gospel, R&B and his native jazz on the affirming and endearing "Yet To Find."
A devout hip-hop head whose been collaborating with hip-hop and R&B artists since moving to New York City from his native Houston, Texas in 1997 — check his tribute to underground hip-hop hero J Dilla on "J Dillalude" off 2007’s In My Element — Glasper said he felt it important to first prove his technical chops on piano before releasing hip-hop-associated music; he didn’t want to dilute his reputation in the jazz community. "(Otherwise) people would be quick to label me as a hip-hop pianist and move on," he offers. "And then I’ll be fighting for disrespect of the instrument."
But if successful like its predecessor, might Glasper envision releasing a third installment of Black Radio, thereby making it, well, a thing? "I’ll see how the vibe goes," he says with a hint of hesitation. "I didn’t foresee me doing a Black Radio 2. But it just made sense.
"I don’t want to be like Rocky and do, like, nine," he says with a chuckle. "It’s caught on pretty well though. I think I can let it grow some more."