From the manor in which esteemed industry veteran Don Was, the newly minted Chief Creative Officer of Blue Note Records, addressed the crowd of select industry types at New York City’s venerable Electric Lady Studios last week, it was evident that he was about to introduce a truly unique work of sonic art. “To do something new, something that’s never been heard before. That’s real hard to do,” Was remarked. “This is an album that really holds true to that aesthetic. It’s going to change the way people make records.” The album in question is piano virtuoso Robert Glasper’s upcoming fifth album Black Radio due out on Blue Note Records February 28, 2012 .

It’s only inevitable that a young jazz cat with a penchant for hip-hop and soul whose short list of friends and musical co-conspirators include the likes of Q-Tip, Ledesi, Mos Def, and Erykah Badu would someday make an album with a little help from his friends. “[Executive Producer] Eli [Wolf] always said we need to do an album with all the people I interact with,” says Glasper. “We just had to do it at the right time.” For Glasper, that day has finally come. The result is Black Radio: a robust, funky, intricate collection of collaborations whose closest cousin would likely be jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s 2003 release The RH Factor: Hard Groove. “This is more of a crossover record, so I was concentrating on songs. I wasn’t soloing all over the place,” Glasper admits.

With the help of The Experiment (bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Chris Dave, and flautist/ saxophonist/vocoderist Casey Benjamin) and featured guests, Glasper has molded Black Radio into a manifold masterpiece of sorts. Many of the collaborations on the album grew from the quartet’s mini jam session residency at New York City’s revered Blue Note venue in late February, which then crystallized in a marathon series of recording sessions over the course of four days in Los Angeles.

Glasper’s new opus is an admirable pastiche of original material and imaginative interpretations of tunes by David Bowie and Sade, a vocoder-laced version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and guest features from and impressive line up of soul stars (Lalah Hathaway, Erykah Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello), heavy spitters (Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco), and rookies (KING). Can’t wait till February? Here’s the track-by-track lowdown on this spectacular new album that should keep you till 2012:

1. Lift Off (featuring Shafiq Husayn)

“A lot of people just came to hang out. Shafiq was one of those people. He wrote some
shit, went to the both and put it down. This is kind of like an intro to the album.”

2. Afro Blue (featuring Erykah Badu)

“Erykah loves flutes, so I arranged this song with flutes in it. This song was recorded
during the time she was on the Rock The Bells tour. Luckily she was able to come in and
do the song.”

3. Cherish The Day (featuring Lalah Hathaway)

“I had never heard Lalah perform live. She had a gig the day before I was scheduled to
go in and produce an album on Gretchen Parlato, so I went to see her. I was floored. I
went backstage and asked her to sit in at one of my Blue Note jam sessions. Afterwards, I
asked her if she would sing on my album. This take was actually the first take. We didn’t
actually know the tape was rolling. It was done in one take when we were just rehearsing.”

4. Always Shine (featuring Lupe Fiasco & Bilal)

“Lupe randomly called me one day. After he heard my music on some in flight
programming, he found out that I played with Q-Tip and asked him for my number. From
then, we had been texting back and forth for about a year. He was one of the artists that
sat in at my Blue Note jam session. It was Wednesday. I was in Los Angeles at King’s
house writing a song. I told him to come through and he did. I gave him a CD of the song
so he could write his verses to it. When he came to the studio to record it, it was a whole
other song. He had to rewrite his verses, but it only took him like 30 minutes. Bilal was
there too, so I asked him to sing the hook. At the end, there’s an interlude with us at the
kitchen table playing forks and knives with Derrick on bass. Then my son Riley comes in
singing a little of the next song.”

5. Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.) (featuring Ledisi)

“I’ve known Ledisi for years. I used to be in her band. I asked her to be on the record
and she agreed. I had sent her a song, but she wasn’t really feeling it. I was on tour and
couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t get my creative juices flowing. So she eventually
came to the studio at like 2 am and we didn’t know what we were going to do. There was
a song on my album In My Element called “F.T.B.” She liked it and asked me to keep
playing it. After a few plays, she finished the lyrics.”

6. Move Love (featuring KING)

“I’ve known Paris [Strother] for years, but didn’t know she was in a group. Then all of a
sudden, I hear all this buzz about a group called KING and find out she’s in it. I was on
tour in Europe and flew back to the States just to record this album. Then I had to go back
to Amsterdam to finish the tour. I went to KING’s house and I had all these dirty clothes
from being on tour. KING had a washer. So I left them in the room with the music and
went to do my laundry.”

7. Ah Yeah (featuring Musiq Soulchild & Chrisette Michele)

“This one was co-produced by my good friend Brian Michael Cox. Musiq was in Atlanta,
so that’s where the vocals were recorded. After I sent him the track, a friend convinced
me to come down to check out a music festival that was going on. Chrisette Michele was
there. She told me that she was stranded in ATL because her flight to New York had been
cancelled. So I asked her if she wanted to come by the studio and sing on the song. That’s
how the song became a duet.”

8. The Consequences Of Jealousy (featuring Meshell Ndegeocello)

“This was actually the third song I sent Meshell. I sent her two songs before and luckily
she said yes to this one. You’ll hear some weird, random sounds in there. That’s Jahi
Sundance on the turntables.”

9. Why Do We Try (featuring Stokley Williams)

“This is a song Stokely recorded with his band [Mint Condition]. We just changed the vibe
up a little bit. Added a Fela [Kuti] vibe to it. Stokely’s also playing percussion on it.”

10. Black Radio (featuring Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def)

“We’ve been doing this song for about two years. Mos’ concept was centered on the fact
that the black box is the only thing that survives a plane crash. He was like, “Why don’t
they just make the whole plane out of that?” Good music always survives, even amongst
all the bullshit. With everybody trying to sound like one another, we’ll always go back to
people like Donny Hathaway. That’s why we call it ‘Black Radio.'”

11. Letter To Hermione (featuring Bilal)

“This is a David Bowie song. I’ve always loved this tune. Then one day, it came up on my
iTunes at random. But I couldn’t think of who could get on this. Then I thought of Bilal.
He’s a brilliant singer. He can interpret anything. This song was done in one take.”

12. Smells Like Teen Spirit (featuring Lalah Hathaway)

“A song I’ve loved since high school. We did a new arrangement, the dopest ever. Lalah
was hanging in the studio when we were doing it, so I asked her to jump on it.”

Words by Rico a.k.a. Superbizzee

Photography by Matthew Olive


11 Replies to "Robert Glasper Discusses Black Radio"
Duane Eubanks says:
December 21, 2011 at 2:50 am

I think the industry desperately needs a recording that appeals to music listeners of various genres. Perhaps this is it.

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  • DjM says:
    December 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    awesome post… i wish more jazz artists would introduce their songs like this and give the listener more of an impression of where they’re coming from and how they put it all together. Can’t wait for Black Radio!

      December 22, 2011 at 2:13 am

      Robert’s music should be the rule and not the exception. Quincy did it with his albums, one in particular, “Back on the Block”. At the end of the day, and I say this often, what the music IS will never be as important as what the music DOES. Besides if the heart and soul is the destination, it ain’t gonna know the difference anyway.

    Matthew says:
    December 23, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Am I the only one that was hoping Mos Def was covering the great Full Force track?

    Can’t wait for this album. Looks like the best album of 2012.

    howisya says:
    January 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    “From the manor”? LMAO

    B4RealSon says:
    January 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Hater says what?

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  • cmon_son says:
    February 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    This is going to be one of the best albums of the year. RGE is untouchable when it comes to blending hip hop, jazz, and RnB.

    Walter says:
    February 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    I think this album is perfectly wonderful, love the exploration. My only complant is Smells Like Teen…. Really? Alot of bands have been covering this for the last 10 years or so. David Bowie, Sade…Great. Thanks for some more beautiful music. P.S. Daddy Dave does it feel odd to be so supernatural on the skins?? You constantly blow my mind!

    Abhita says:
    February 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I heart everything Robert Glasper does! I really heart that Neve 8068 console in the 3rd picture from the top!;o)

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