August Greene



Rapper Common, drummer and beatmaker Karriem Riggins, and keyboardist Robert Glasper were well acquainted long before they debuted as August Greene in early 2018. The first two artists have been close associates since the late '90s. Two decades later, Glasper hosted Common on Black Radio 2 and reciprocated by contributing to a few songs on Common's Riggins-produced Black America Again. Among the latter album's tracks to feature all three figures was "Letter to the Free," written and recorded for Ava DuVernay's acclaimed slavery-to-mass incarceration documentary 13th. After that song took the 2016-2017 Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, the trio recorded this resolutely pro-black affair with bassist Burniss Travis and vocalist Samora Pinderhughes, both of whom also participated in the writing process, and a few guests. The set's predominantly reflective mood and nuanced composites of jazz, soul, and hip-hop make it sound like an extension of Glasper's Black Radio Recovered, Everything's Beautiful, and reinterpretation of Kendrick Lamar's "I'm Dying of Thirst" as much as the trio's meetings on Black America Again. A Brandy-fronted update of "Optimistic," Sounds of Blackness' invigorating 1991 hit, sounded inordinately relaxed when it was released ahead of the album. In context here, it's perfectly apt, set up with a lilting number that involves Brandy in a supporting role, adding a consoling sweetness that can be heard as a response to Pinderhughes' downcast, nearly tremulous expressions earlier in the album. Otherwise, Common is the frontperson. Couplets with lines connected only by proximity and rhymes, as well as some verbosity, weigh down a few tracks, but the rapper is undeniably inspired from front to back without ever raising his voice. He aims to uplift, whether he's encouraging perseverance or recalling the feeling of a ride through Detroit with Riggins and J Dilla, though there's also a lot of critical self-reflection as well. Riggins, Glasper, and Travis as a rhythm section are mostly restrained in service to the songs, but they do get to flex (and do so wonderfully) on "No Apologies," in which the keyboardist takes a nimble electric solo. The conclusion is an extended free-spirited jam that incorporates the trumpet of Roy Hargrove and the voice of Estelle. Additional appearances from flutist Elena Pinderhughes (Samora's sibling) and singer Bilal -- both of whom can also be heard on "Letter to the Free" -- puts a nice finishing touch on the album.

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