Keyboardist Robert Glasper (and his three bandmates who make up the Robert Glasper Experiment) might be the only act remaining who can garner pop attention while offering a sound that has at least a pinky toe in jazz. With 2012’s Black Radio, the Experiment managed to successfully integrate the worlds of jazz and R&B like no one has been able to do in maybe two decades. Featuring a who’s who of soul and hip-hop luminaries, Black Radio deservedly won the Grammy for Best R&B Album.
So, with Glasper & his Experiment experiencing a critical breakthrough (and something of a commercial one,) why wouldn’t they repeat the formula with Black Radio 2? To a large extent, that’s the case here. Once again, a dream list of artists is on board to assist, although there are a few wrinkles to ensure that things aren’t exactly what they were before. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are barely any repeat artists from Part One. Only songstress Lalah Hathaway and rapper Lupe Fiasco make return engagements. Whereas the first Black Radio album was a bit covers-heavy, this second volume has a bit more original content. Finally, some of the collaborators also fall a little bit outside the lines of the “neo-soul” realm. So, while the likes of Jill Scott and Common make appearances, so does Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. And Norah Jones. Ands Snoop Dogg. Ultimately, thankfully-and unsurprisingly-Black Radio 2 is as inspired and solid as its predecessor.
Glasper’s keyboard remains at the forefront at all times, and his good taste in collaborators allows for a pretty seamless work. The flow of Black Radio 2 is just about perfect. Of course, there are a couple of tracks I’m particularly fond of. The gospel-based “Yet To Find” has a typically riveting vocal from Anthony Hamilton. Now, I’m not much of a fan of religious music, but if Anthony Hamilton was to ever release a gospel album, it would make itself right at home in my collection. There’s also the sultry “Let It Ride,” a perfect fit for the seductive vocals of Norah Jones, and “I Stand Alone,” which contains Common’s most inspired verses in years. The deluxe version contains a couple more solid tracks, including “I Don’t Even Care,” which joins the unlikely duo of Jean Grae and Macy Gray for one of the album’s more boom bap-centric cuts.
Black Radio 2‘s emotional centerpiece, interestingly, is its only cover*. “Jesus Children” is an adaptation of “Jesus Children Of America,” the classic track from Stevie Wonder’s legendary Innervisions. Where Stevie’s original worked its way to righteous rage, Glasper’s version has a more hopeful, optimistic outlook. Lalah Hathaway provides haunting vocals, and the song is capped off by a moving spoken-word passage performed by Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
Is it possible for lightning to strike twice? Absolutely! Is it possible that The Robert Glasper Experiment has followed up their breakthrough with an album just as good. Folks, prepare to get wowed again.
*The deluxe version contains a vocoder-heavy remake of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.”