Deep Dive: The Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio


Happy Robert Glasper week, Twin Cities. This weekend, Robert Glasper sets up camp at The Dakota for a run of shows starting on Friday night. Today, on The Afternoon Cruise, we are taking a Deep Dive into one of my favorite records from Glasper’s catalog, 2012’s Black Radio.

If you’re making world class music, some portion of the “music police” are going to think it’s absolute garbage. By that measure, Robert Glasper is making world class music. There is a whole portion of the jazz world that doesn’t want to see evolution in the art. There’s also a whole part of the jazz world that wants jazz musicians to operate in a vacuum, hoping that these young artists who grew up on Sade, Wu-Tang Clan, Nirvana, Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus park all of those influences at the door when they pick repertoire. Robert Glasper has rightfully eschewed that way of thinking, instead gathering his influences and his rolodex from his connections to the hip-hop world and working these sounds into a legacy of virtuosity, creativity, and ambition. The journey for Glasper starts well before Black Radio, his fifth release, but it’s where I caught on to Robert Glasper’s offerings, and it’s always held a special place in my heart.

The record gathers some of the biggest names in forward-thinking music around a nucleus of Robert Glasper’s electric quartet featuring Casey Benjamin, Derrick Hodge and Chris Dave. The guests read like a who’s who of amazing vocalists, including Bilal, Ledisi, Lupe Fiasco and Musiq Soulchild. Being that I’m typing this in Minnesota right now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the strong Twin Cities representation from Stokley and Amber Strother. What I love about this record is that it is both unapologetically live without being blindly committed to this idea of every single note being played, sung and mixed on the same day in the same studio. Chris Dave’s masterful drums alongside Derrick Hodge’s athletic bass work can never once be confused with a canned track, but it is clear that the vocabulary of the band is strongly informed by the work of programmers, DJs and more. To me Glasper and his generation of players represents that first group of musicians to say “we’re so enmeshed in the language of grid based production that it would be a waste of time to imitate it, we’d rather engage with it”. This distinction is absolutely essential to the music reaching its full potential. I don’t want to hear an ensemble of top-flight musicians pretend to be machines, I want to hear these players pull out every influence they’ve come across to cook up a musical stew that only they can. Mission accomplished.

Throughout this Grammy Award-winning record (it won for “Best R&B Album” at the 2013 Grammys) Robert Glasper does what needs doing on the piano and keyboards. Although Glasper’s writing and musical fingerprints are all over the record, it isn’t a piano-centric record. Glasper has the good sense to let his rhythm section do the heavy lifting while he floats in for moments of whimsy, virtuosity and emotion. But, when the song calls for something transcendent from the piano Glasper delivers mightily. My favorite part of his work on the release is the Bilal fronted and Bowie penned tune “Letter to Hermione”. The song closes with an extended solo from Glasper and every note pulls out more from the underlying composition.

I hope you’ll tune in to today’s Afternoon Cruise to dive into this awesome release.

Thanks for checking this deep dive out and if you have music suggestions, contact me at

More Posts for Shows: The Afternoon Cruise, This Just In

Related Posts