This Weekend: Hear the Ghost of J Dilla in Robert Glasper’s Performance at the Moore


Courtesy the Moore Theatre

Robert Glasper is a talented pianist who, if my ear is correct, blends the inventiveness of Thelonious Monk and the sensitive richness of early Herbie Hancock. A lot is going on in his work.


In 2012, he became famous for reviving the aesthetic program and political mode of the Soulquarians at Blue Note Records, which is one of the key institutions of America’s classical music, jazz. And at the center of Glasper’s revival of the Soulquarians—a movement that included Questlove (who was recently nominated for an Oscar), Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey), Erykah Badu (the singer who gave the world the word “woke”), and D’Angelo—was Detroit producer and musical genius J Dilla (also known as Jay Dee). And the rapper responsible for introducing Dilla to the world, A Tribe Called Quest‘s Q-Tip, was also a co-founder of the late-1980s/early-1990s movement Native Tongues (the afro-centric/hiphop-hippy foundation for the Soulquarians) and a part of a series of albums by Glasper called Black Radio.

Sorry to be so dense, but there is that much history and depth in Glasper’s Black Radio series, the anticipated third album of which will release this Friday on February 25. (Black Radio II was released in 2013, a year after Black Radio.)

You will not appreciate Glasper’s musical mind if you exclude J Dilla, who was not a musician in the traditional sense. He made beats with a sampler, and so developed a musical form that was not based on technical mastery but on the mastery of information recorded on LPs and 45s and sequenced by and manipulated on an MPC2000. J Dilla was a genius of what hiphop headz call crate-digging. He could hear something on an obscure track that other ears completely missed or found uninteresting and chop it into a cloud of gorgeously syncopated sounds. Listen to one of his masterpieces, “Drop” by The Pharcyde.

Glasper’s piano is haunted by the ghost of Dilla, who died in February of 2006. And so is the drumming of Questlove. This fact is appreciated if you listen to Glasper’s cover of Little Dragon‘s Twice, which is on Black Radio and features Solange Knowles. (Again, I could spend a whole and very dense post on this track alone. An episode of Grey’s Anatomy made Little Dragon’s “Twice” famous. Solange Knowles explores and contributes to Yukimi Nagano’s Kwaidan-like voicing. There’s Questlove’s Dilla high-hat crackling taping, and so on and so on.)

Glasper has released two tracks from Black Radio 3. One of which, “Why We Speak,” features singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding and, as I mentioned at the top, Q-Tip, a rapper who’s been there from the beginning of a 30-year hiphop movement whose present form of consciousness is Black Radio.

The Moore Theatre will host ROBERT GLASPER a black radio production this Sunday, February 27 at 8 PM.

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