The Robert Glasper Hypothesis

by Brian Howe on March 30, 2012

Black Radio

The name “Robert Glasper Experiment” is more than a rhetorical flourish. This is a band that actually has a hypothesis, which says that a pianist and producer who laces jazz with hip-hop, pop, and R&B can successfully turn that formula upside down, enhancing the scope of what we think of as “black radio” in the process. Since the February release of Black Radio, the hypothesis is looking good: the collaboration-heavy pop record helmed by Glasper and his electric band debuted at #15 on the Billboard pop charts.

In a recent essay on his blog, Duke Professor Mark Anthony Neal coined the term “cosmopolitan blackness” to describe the sensibility of Black Radio, providing a concise and critical history of the medium as a prelude to a glowing opinion of Glasper’s achievement. “The genius of Glasper’s new recording,” Neal writes, “is its willingness to expand the range of what we consider Black music and what Black radio might consider as appropriate for Black or so-called “Urban” audiences,” citing the close proximity of a vocoder-led cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” as evidence.

Meanwhile, Glasper himself recently spoke with Eric Tullis at the Independent Weekly, and offered some frank appraisals of the deficiencies of jazz radio, jazz education, and, well, jazz—“I don’t collaborate with jazz artists,” Glasper said. “I’m on a different vibe now.” Glasper also discusses working with famous collaborators like Bilal and being inspired by North Carolina’s star hip-hop producer, 9th Wonder.

This surge in local interest in the Robert Glasper Experiment comes in advance of their two-night Duke Performances stand at the Casbah. At the time of this writing, tonight’s show is sold out, but there are still tickets available for tomorrow night. If you can’t make either, you can always aim to catch the Art of Cool Project’s post-show jam sessions, or Glasper’s free and public conversation with Mark Antony Neal at the John Hope Franklin Center on March 30.

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A Wasteland Companion

PS: We recently streamed a song and video from M. Ward’s upcoming album, A Wasteland Companion, in anticipation of his Duke Performances appearance in May. Now A Wasteland Companion is streaming in its entirety at NPR, where it is described as a “grown-up record” that balances “weary realism” with “uncomplicated joy.” Get it here while it lasts.

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