Black Radio 2 may not supersede the original, but is still quite the exceptional listen
Robert Glasper Experiment⎪ Black Radio 2⎪ Blue Note ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 29, 2013
After a successful first installment of Black Radio (the album received a Grammy for Best R&B Album earlier this year), the Robert Glasper Experiment returns with another successful, star-filled line up in Black Radio 2. The jazzy, urban vibe of the original set is retained on the follow-up, making it an incredibly pleasant, refined overall listen. Is Black Radio 2 better than the Black Radio? Eh, that would be an overstatement, but it is definitely a great effort regardless.
Black Radio 2 kicks off in the jazz, soulful spirit with “Baby Tonight (Black Radio 2 Theme / Mic Check 2)”. This isn’t completely dissimilar from Black Radio’s “Lift Off”. What is interesting about the “Mic Check 2” portion is how the guests vocalists are layered in jazz-sensible fashion. Still, I don’t know how often you hear the line “Hell yeah b**ches” associated with jazz (it’s there, I kid you not). I would say Miles Davis would turn over in his grave, but I highly doubt it… do some research on your own!
“I Stand Alone”, the first big ‘statement’ is superb, featuring Common and Patrick Stump. As to be expected, Common is as refined ever, introducing the cut by stating “Sometimes we feel alone / but alone ain’t always wrong.” He goes on with his prudence, claiming “Still I’m Legend like Will Smith / in the presence of the fake I am a real gift…” and “…Revolution in the execution of lyrics / spirit of Gil Scott, Marvin Gaye, modern day I pray…” Patrick Stump delivers the chorus, but vocally, his usually bright, popping vocals sound more limited here by vocal effects. MSNBC favorite Michael Eric Dyson closes the track with an interlude, matching Common and Glasper’s intellectualist vibe. As for Glasper, he sounds superb, but is willing to take the ‘backseat’ on this particular cut.
“What Are We Doing” shows off the beautiful vocal rasp of Brandy, who turns out to be a perfect fit for this funky number. What’s neat about the funkiness of his particular cut is that it is a bit of an ‘understated’ funk. Backing vocals definitely accentuate, further enriching an already rich sound. As good as Brandy sounds, it is the Jill Scott show on the phenomenal “Calls”, a single from Black Radio 2. Lovely, warm, and lush, Jill Scott’s alt-/jazz-soul approach perfectly matches the abstract sound the Experiment paints. The bridge in particular is where Scott shines the most, with its unique, contrasting harmonic progression. “Worries” featuring Dwele has a difficult act to follow, but the cut continues on with consistency. The highlight here is Robert Glasper freeing himself from the confines of comping with some thoughtful piano tinkles, sigh.
“Trust” brings in the ever distinct Marsha Ambrosius, vocal fluctuations and all (and no I am not suggesting she yodels). The lower register of the piano is utilized here, adding a more weighty, heavier sound compared to other cuts. The quirks about the harmonic progression allows Glasper more flexibility compared to some cuts. Again, backing vocals are the ‘cherry on top’, accentuating and supporting the overall song. “Yet To Find” is a stronger showing, featuring the clear, throwback vocals of retro-soul singer Anthony Hamilton. “Yet to Find” is among the best arranged selections, highlighted by touches of organ, a signature Glasper-esque harmonic scheme, and exceptional vocal layering. Honestly, it’s pretty difficult to go wrong when Anthony Hamilton is featured, right? That’s rhetorical peeps!
“You Own Me” brings on hip-hop soul vet Faith Evans, who takes a cooler vocal approach. Towards the end, the ever classy Evans ‘steps up her game’ growing grittier vocally. The groove is soulful, without frills. Glasper’s beloved EP anchors, but also some tasteful, appealing synths provide some contrast compared to previous cuts. If “You Own Me” had more of a coolness, “Let It Ride” is more ‘agitated’, quicker paced, and frankly more interesting. Featuring Norah Jones at her best, Jones’ distinctive lower register vocals and the harmonized form of those vocals truly impress. Talk about being ‘in-the-pocket’, well “Let It Ride” epitomizes it.
“Persevere” is foreshadowed with an interlude about “gangsta sh*t” that’s tacked on to “Let It Be”. Another hip-hop showing, Snoop Dogg’s smooth west coast rap and Lupe Fiasco’s dynamic, more pronounced midwest approach work together superbly. Luke James isn’t to be overshadowed; that falsetto is electrifying for sure. Oh and what about the man of the hour? Glasper gets his, shining as he slides between contrasting piano voicings at the end. Emeli Sandé continues to make a name for herself with her sound, if under-the-radar vocals on “Somebody Else”. “Jesus Children” closes, featuring Lalah Hathaway and Malcolm Jamal Warner. The Stevie Wonder cover is well done, but could never hope to outdo the original.
Ultimately, Black Radio 2 is a fine follow-up to Black Radio. The second installment is still special, though perhaps not quite as special as the original. For the R&B, jazz, and more ‘intellectual’ hip-hop fan, this album is definitely a must have.
“I Stand Alone”; “What Are We Doing”; “Calls”; “Yet to Find”; “Let It Be”; “Persevere”
Filed under: adult contemporary R&B
, Vocal/Easy Listening
Tagged: Anthony Hamilton
, Black Radio
, Black Radio 2
, crossover jazz
, electric piano
, Faith Evans
, hip hop
, jazz harmonic progressions
, Lalah Hathaway
, Luke James
, Lupe Fiasco
, Malcolm Jamal Warner
, Marsha Ambrosius
, Norah Jones
, Patrick Stump
, Robert Glasper
, Robert Glasper Experiment
, Snoop Dogg