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Two Fearless New Jazz Records Declare War on Urban Radio

From The Atlantic:

Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper release albums incorporating pop and R&B with lyrics about taking over the airwaves.

Black radio sucks.

That’s a sentiment you often hear in conversations about the quality of contemporary black American radio, particularly with regards to its music programming. Many argue that the medium—officially called urban radio—has significantly fallen short since its ’70s FM heyday, when DJs expressed their personalities not only in their on-air banter but also in their song selections. The rise of syndication has led to a countrywide sameness, making many stations sound interchangeable. Syndication has also silenced many local DJ voices, who in the past have boosted local artists and spoken to issues unique to their individual communities.

“Black music has suffered a systematic demise and Black radio is a major compliance,” wrote Paul Porter of Industry Ears in an October 2011 essay, “Why is Black Radio So Damn Bad?” “The youth in America, get a steady diet of bitch, hoe and bling. The once undisputed music leader now follows the lead of the powerful recording industry.” In a similar 2011 article, “Farewell Black Radio” for the Washington Post, Natalie Hopkinson wrote that she had banned her kids from listening to two popular Washington, D.C.-based hip-hop radio stations because she was “tired of explaining the latest raunchy hip-hop and R&B lyrics.”

Two liked-minded new jazz discs artfully use some of the negative criticism of black radio as creative fuel. Pianist and composer Robert Glasper’s Black Radio (out today) and bassist, singer, and composer Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society (out March 20) both pitch themselves as sonic elixirs to remedy the situation, or at the very least, to provide examples of what contemporary black radio could sound like. The discs overlap not only in themes both also in character as they show Glasper and Spalding infusing their individual jazz sensibilities with an amalgam of hip-hop, R&B, and pop. Both come heavy with rotating cast of guest performers, and the songs play out as if the two artists were radio DJs just sharing some of their favorite songs.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Atlantic