Yesterday evening, RG and I went to a listening party for The Robert Glasper Experiment’s recently released album, Black Radio 2. Y’all might not be aware of what exactly a “listening party” is. I wasn’t when I bought my ticket, but apparently this is what it’s called when you get a bunch of bougie black folks in a room with a couple of DJs to listen to songs from an album and other music in that genre and then do a meet-n-greet/Q&A with the band.
So, for those of y’all who don’t know, The Robert Glasper Experiment is a collection of modern jazz musicians who came together to put awesome jazz beats on a track and get a whole slew of fucking amazing guest stars to do the vocals to put out these albums. This album features Common, Patrick Stump, Brandy, Jill Scott, Dwele, Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton, Faith Evans, Norah Jones, Snoop Dogg, Lupe Fiasco, Luke James, Emeli Sande, Lalah Hathaway, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Eric Roberson, Bilal, Jazmine Sullivan, Macy Gray, and Jean Grae. If neo-soul is your jam, this is an incredible project to check out.
Okay, so now that that backstory is out of the way, during the Q&A, one of the moderators asked the band how they think that their individual experiences growing up in a heavily hip-hop influenced culture changed the way they think of themselves as jazz musicians. As part of a larger and more nuanced response, Robert Glasper said (I’m paraphrasing here):
“Black music is a big-ass house with all these different rooms. It’s like, what room do you wanna be in right now? Think about your house. You don’t just sit in the kitchen. When you need to pee, you get up and go to the bathroom. You don’t need to sit and think about it. That’s sort of like what we’re doing, moving around from room to room when we want.”
And that shit kind of blew me away even more than, like, listening to him talk about jammin with Dilla in his basement while they worked on Bilal’s first album, or the fact that Bilal was his best friend in college, or the fact that Erykah used to come by his crib to run material by him, or that he taught Common to play the piano. All of that interconnected musical greatness being discussed casually was awesome, but it didn’t hit me like the idea of this big-ass house with all these different rooms that is “Black music.”
Because he’s right. Jazz is black music. Hip-hop is black music. Soul, and neo-soul, which is basically just soul music reimagined through a hip-hop lens, is black music. Funk is black music. White folks can try to claim it as hard as they want, but rock is black music. (*side-eyes Elvis*) Blues is black music. All of that shit is ours. That’s how an album can have everyone from Snoop Dogg to Bilal to a member of Fall Out Boy and be called “Black Radio,” because all of that shit belongs to us. All of it is right and true and home.
And I feel like that’s generalizable to Black identity as a whole, to any identity as a whole, really. “Blackness” is made up of a million things. So is “queerness.” So is “womanhood.” In my house as a young queer highly educated Black woman, I have a room that is bougie as fuck. We have wine tastings and tea time and wear fancy dresses in that room. I have a room that is ratchet as all hell–that’s where we go to wear any Halloween costume I’ve owned in the past 4 years, to listen to Lil Wayne and get bent over on the dance floor. There is a room of scholarly exploration, full of books and papers and with walls covered in post-it note ideas. There’s the high femme room that has all my clothes and jewelry and makeup. There’s probably a sex dungeon in there somewhere. There has to be a room for revolution, that just has political posters and shit like “CHANGE” and “DO” and “BE” in giant letters on the walls. There is a room for geeky nerdery. There is a room exclusively for music. But I am also a sunroom full of plants and cats and comfy reading chairs. I am also a kitchen for creating delicious things. I am a big-ass house with all these different rooms that sound like contradictions but are just pieces of a larger whole. Being fully myself isn’t about transcending any of those categories–it’s about cohesion. It’s about seeing how the rooms come together to make the big-ass house.
On an unrelated note, Casey Benjamin, the saxophonist/synthesizer for the Experiment, is the type of person I envision myself being with when I’m like 40.