D’Angelo’s Black Messiah Hits Stores Tonight. Here Are Details and a Review.
The wait is over. After nearly 15 years since the release of his Voodoo album, D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s Black Messiah LP will hit stores at midnight (12/15). We were fortunate enough to attend an intimate listening session held at the Dream Hotel in New York’s Meatpacking District. The event, which was hosted by Red Bull and AfroPunk, featured D’s longtime collaborator Questlove setting the mood early on the turntables and eventually playing the album. Esteemed journalist Nelson George introduced the album and served as the evening’s MC.
The pamphlet handed out to each guest contained lyrics, music and writing credits, as well as an explanation of the title and D’Angelo’s purpose for the album, which read as follows:
“Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. 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.
Its 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 make 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.”
From the outset of the project, which features 12 songs (tracklist below), it was clear that this was not going to be a reprise of Brown Sugar or Voodoo. As much as Voodoo was an evolution from D’Angelo’s debut album, Black Messiah‘s opening salvo was nothing short of a shock to the system; a hard reset. “Ain’t That Easy” and “1000 Deaths” were as dense and dissonant as they come. Each featured the kind of fuzzy distortion and blistering guitar found on some of the most intense music of two of D’s biggest influences–Sly Stone and Prince. After the initial sonic blitz, the album settles into a bit more immediately accessible territory with “The Charade” which fuses Mr. Archer again with raucous Prince and even a touch of The Beatles. “Sugah Daddy,” premiered earlier today, is followed up by “Really Love,” the album’s first single. That song opens with lush Spanish guitars which lure the listener into an exquisite ballad that immediately takes hold.
After “Really Love,” which Questlove said was “Side A” of the album, there was a short break where we were allowed to process what we had just heard. Quest stressed that the album was strictly analog, recorded to 2″ tape, and contained absolutely no digital effects. He noted how difficult it was to achieve some of the sonic grandness of the album with absolutely no plug-ins. He also said that, during his 14 years between Voodoo and Black Messiah, D’Angelo had worked extensively on his guitar playing, and much of the (formidable) playing on Side A was by D’Angelo’s own hand, rather than him directing others.
Side B of the album opened much less jarringly than the first side. Both “Back in the Future” (parts 1 and 2) feature funky drums and guitar reminiscent of Voodoo cuts like “Left and Right.” “Till It’s Done” is one of the album’s immediate highlights with its stark contrast of joyous tones and harmonies with lyrics like “Carbon pollution is heating up the air. Do we really know? Do we even care? Acid rain dripping on our trees and in our hair. Are you there?” “Betray My Heart” also showcases D’s now formidable guitar chops, with a virtuosic riff against the percussive slaps of wood blocks. “The Door” harkens back to the bluesy sound of Robert Johnson and features a whistling chorus that is an instant ear worm. Lastly, “Another Life” closes the album out with a show-stopping slow jam.
Black Messiah is as complex and as challenging as music gets in the 2010s. By no means would we pretend to have even begun digesting the nuances of the album, lyrically or musically, in one listen. Just as Voodoo continues to gracefully age more than a decade later, listeners likely still will be discovering new aspects about Black Messiah in the 2030s. So, if we have to wait even longer for its follow up, we have plenty of D’s soul food to digest until then.
Here are the detailed tracklist and credits:
1. Ain’t That Easy (Music by D’Angelo; Lyrics by D’Angelo, Q-Tip and Kendra Foster)
2. 1000 Deaths (Music by D’Angelo; Lyrics by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster)
3. The Charade (Music by D’Angelo and Questlove; Lyrics by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster)
4. Sugah Daddy (Music by D’Angelo, Pino Palladino and James Gadson; Lyrics by D’Angelo, Q-Tip and Kendra Foster)
5. Really Love (Music by D’Angelo, Lyrics by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster)
6. Back In The Future (Part I) (Music and Lyrics by D’Angelo)
7. Till It’s Done (Tutu) (Music by D’Angelo, Questlove and Pino Palladino; Lyrics by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster)
8. Prayer (Music and Lyrics by D’Angelo)
9. Betray My Heart (Music and Lyrics by D’Angelo)
10. The Door (Music by D’Angelo; Lyrics by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster)
11. Back In The Future (Part II) (Music and Lyrics by D’Angelo)
12. Another Life (Music by D’Angelo and Questlove; Lyrics by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster)