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The third installment in Robert Glasper’s jazz-meets-hip-hop series arrives a full 10 years after the first, and serves as a stark reminder of how much a culture can evolve over the course of a decade. When Black Radio was released in 2012, it stoked no small amount of controversy within more tradition-minded jazz circles.
Ten years on, Glasper sits comfortably in his place at the forefront of a movement. Like path-forging fusion efforts of the past, Black Radio helped define a sound that is now ubiquitous and diverse, rippling through the work of fellow genre-blurring artists like Kassa Overall and Karriem Riggins, and eclectic scenes from the West Coast Get Down to the fertile, Afrofuturist-minded UK jazz realm.
Of course, the wider culture has shifted, as well. Black Radio and its first sequel were created in the midst of the Obama administration and reflect the cautious hope and celebration of the era. A more urgent and grimly determined tone is laced through the music of Black Radio III, from Amir Sulaiman’s impassioned narration on the opening “In Tune” through the rebellious “Black Superhero” and a sanctified cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” with Hathaway and Common.
Glasper has always seen himself as taking a master of ceremonies role in these projects, which means that the stellar chops of his band take a backseat to crafting an inviting environment for their all-star guests. However, their skills are constantly reflected in the deep grooves and lush harmonies that surround and inspire the vocalists.
Most vitally, the bandleader’s harmonic skills on keyboard are also paralleled by his savvy pairing of collaborators with one another and with aptly suited material. This time out that’s most brilliantly exemplified on the aforementioned “Black Superhero,” where Killer Mike’s always powerful verbiage is elevated by a soaring neo-soul/gospel tune featuring an anthemic chorus by BJ the Chicago Kid; the inspired pairing of Q-Tip and Esperanza Spalding on the funky, shimmering “Why We Speak”; and the sultry twilight intimacy of “Better Than I Imagined” with H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello. — Shaun Brady