Album of the Week
They said the day would never come.
In January 2000, just a month under 15 years ago, critically-hailed neo soul singer, multi-instrumentalist and R&B producer D’Angelo dropped his sophomore album, Voodoo, following a tantalizing 5 year wait from his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar.
The record was hailed as an overnight masterpiece, with comparisons putting him on equal ground with Marvin Gaye and Prince, and a portion of that following also worshipping D’Angelo’s sexually irresistible looks to match the divinity of his voice. (See video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”.)
The album continues to show up on new lists of the best albums of that decade, and of all time. Likely speaking both to his supreme artistic gifts and the cult that followed in his wake, music critic Robert Christgau famously dubbed D’Angelo “R&B Jesus.”
Following one of the most successful and talked-about tours R&B has seen since, D’Angelo fell of the face of the earth in a very real way.
He gave no interviews, no live performances, and released no new material save for a handful of scattered demos and guest appearances on other artists’ songs. Some of the time was spent battling personal demons, creative stagnation, struggles with fame, and legal issues, but the full story of his decade-plus absence remains something of a mystery.
It was in 2009 that a long-awaited third album was officially announced to be the the works.
Then, mere days ago, a vague press release and teaser video suggested that the album was finished, titled Black Messiah, and it could be out any day. A public “listening session” was held in New York City, and Black Messiah was essentially released immediately after.
Just like that, it’s here.
While details have been kept largely concealed up to this point, a lyrics pamphlet was handed out at the listening session, which lists Q-Tip and Kendra Foster (Funkadelic) as having contributed lyrics, with musicianship by ?uestlove (The Roots), bassist Pino Palladino, and drummer James Gadson.
Below is that pamphlet’s introduction, written by D’Angelo himself. Given the surprisingly timely nature of his comments, it’s clear that although R&B Jesus has been out the spotlight, he’s been paying attention from the shadows.
“Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. For me, the title is about all of us. It’s about the world. It’s about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah.
“It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to makes change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them. Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are), but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”
Time will tell if Black Messiah can live up to the sky-high expectations that were drawn in the sand from day one.
Distanced from the neo soul movement that Voodoo helped define, it’s hard to tell if the musical landscape of 2014/2015 is still primed to properly receive Black Messiah like its predecessor. But it sounds pretty delicious upon first listen.
In any case, it’s a satisfying and unexpected treat, and one that should be savored with the knowledge that a follow-up may take another 15-years or more.
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