Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Rap, Jazz, R&B, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Soul, Adult Contemporary R&B, Alternative Rap, Contemporary Jazz, Jazz-Pop, Alternative R&B
Producer/pianist Robert Glasper's follow-up to Black Radio starts with robotic Daft Punkesque vocals over subtle, jazzy piano, and ends with the record's various guests mic-checking. Its symbolic of the whole record: restrained genre-blurring with an A-list cast of collaborators. Black Radio 2 falls a note short of its Grammy-winning predecessor, but just shy of spectacular is still damn good.
Robert Glasper's experiment continues, and his follow-up to the Grammy-Winning Black Radio has taken a decidedly R&B turn. Glasper's Black Radio 2 largely features original songs, and if you haven't already figured out that Glasper is spearheading jazz's evolution, the over one-minute interlude spoken by Michael Eric Dyson on Common's triumphant "I Stand Alone" will enlighten you. At its least experimental, straight R&B tracks featuring Faith Evans, Marsha Ambrosius, and Anthony Hamilton offer little to advance his sound, but at Black Radio 2's best, Brandy, Jill Scott, Norah Jones and Emeli Sandé capture that transcendental, expansive feel of its predecessor.
Last year, Robert Glasper won the “Best R&B Album” Grammy for Black Radio, a recording that blended his roots as a jazz pianist with his history as a producer and bandleader for various hip-hop artists. It was a plain vindication for a brilliant musician who was trying to create a fresh approach to black pop music, and the award made Black Radio 2 all but inevitable. But this is where Glasper has been headed for a while anyway.
On Black Radio 2, the Robert Glasper Experiment attempts the near impossible: create a sequel that delivers fully on the promise of its groundbreaking, Grammy-winning predecessor. Glasper's group -- bassist Derrick Hodge, Casey Benjamin on vocoder and synth, and drummer Mark Colenburg -- again enlists a stellar cast of vocalists. Instead of relying on covers, this set is almost entirely comprised of originals.
How do you follow up the breakthrough album that expands a genre’s boundaries and scoops a Grammy in the process? More of the same was the perhaps inevitable decision by jazz pianist turned soul man Robert Glasper. After heading in an increasingly R&B-driven direction since 2009’s Double Booked (which featured a whole side given over to soulinfused jazz with Bilal’s vocals at the helm), Black Radio felt like a natural progression; a crack jazz band with a genuine feel for soul and hip-hop backed by handpicked artists from those genres with an affinity for swing. But what began as a series of bold experimentations dressed in a warm fuzzy melding of genres feels half-baked second time around.
The follow-up to Robert Glasper’s Grammy-winning breakthrough builds on its predecessor by reframing the sound of contemporary urban music. Glasper reconnects hip-hop with its humanity, eliminates its self-mythologizing cliches, and injects the warmth and individuality back into R&B. As on volume one, the jazz pianist collaborates with a variety of vocalists and MCs by utilizing their strengths in imaginative ways or placing them in different environments to coax out new shades of their talents.
Robert Glasper is clearly familiar with Hollywood's rule for sequels. Following in the footsteps of 2012's genre-mashing "Black Radio," which blended jazz and hip-hop into a distinct, Grammy-winning mix (in the R&B category), Glasper aims for bigger and better in his follow-up. There are fewer covers, Casey Benjamin's vocoder is mostly sidelined and Glasper's twisty piano filigrees — a magnetic underpinning of the first album — are scarce.
Robert Glasper, long-time jazz pianist and dedicated hip-hop fan, last year bagged himself a Grammy after releasing the critically acclaimed Black Radio. As a record, it was broad, beautiful and showcased the best blend of when the R&B and jazz worlds mix, combining collaborations from a carefully selected list of dedicated pop-artists. This year Glasper is back with an ambitious part two.