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Album Review: D’Angelo “Black Messiah”

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Ask your mother about D’Angelo, and she’ll probably let off a smirk you’ve never seen before. It’s a name that’s resonated with “grown folk” for decades now. One that helped usher in the sound that the industry would eventually coin as “Neo-Soul.” If you’ve had a look around lately, it’s a completely deserted genre. One that existed as a template for the artists that gave us effortless vibes we could sink into, but it was always on their terms. Never compromising their art for the sake of sales or reaching the masses. No one has exemplified this quite like D’Angelo. 15 years into his career, and here we are discussing just his third release. But we should be grateful, not only for Black Messiah, but that there are artists still out there that value the importance of quality.

Black Messiah has been a long time coming. When D’Angelo released Voodoo in 2000, he was just 25 years old, but was widely considered to be a mainstay at that point. Not to mention, he was thrown into the sex symbol category. It was a label he very openly expressed his disinterest in, but till this day, there still isn’t much you can say to your girl when that “How Does It Feel” video comes on. Now 40, more recluse, and many ups and downs later, here we are. Out of the dark cloud of what 2014 was, lands Black Messiah; the jazzy, soulful, funkadelic follow up we’d all lost hope for. The 12 track offering was recorded throughout his years of absence, but manages to be surprisingly relevant.

As with his previous work, there are love ballads here so eloquent and fresh unlike anything we’ve heard in years. “Really Love” for example, is subtle, but manages to be vibrant. He handles each lyric delicately, as if each word is the finishing touch to a home cooked meal.  Love is a focal point of the disc, but not all it’s limited to. “Till It’s Done” takes a look at societal issues, as does “Charade,” which also encourages listeners to be aware of the media and it’s damaging power. “All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we lay on, inundated by media, virtual mind fucks in streams.” D’Angelo has always been aware of how to pair his voice with jazzy rhythm. His voice sways through “Betray My Heart” as one with the horns, whereas “The Door” he doesn’t over do it at any moment. “Back to the Future (Part 1)” however, sums up the importance of the whole album in my opinion. He expresses a desire to “go back to the way it was.” Whether that’s in music or lifestyle you be the judge, but he doesn’t want you concerned with his physical appearance. “If you’re wondering what shape I’m in, I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to,” he sings.

Black Messiah is a masterpiece from a musician that just wants to share with the world, but not for a quick buck. It’s a reflection of the times we’ve been missing. It takes us back to the music. The fresh horns and instrumentation of “Sugah Daddy” alone, is enough to make newcomers reconsider. The arrival of this album also snatches away the entitlement we feel to know more about an artists whereabouts when they aren’t making music. Artists of Sade or Prince’s stature drop in every 10 years or so, with new music and vanish. Shit, we haven’t even seen D’Angelo for the roll out of this album at all. Leaving mystique and raising curiosity, as he’s entitled to. In the quick fix era, it’s hard to take time with a project, but the solution isn’t to over saturate the market. “Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that [one] leader” he explained in the album pamphlet. I’d like to believe he’s right, but clearly 2014 needed a relentless leader. Way to show em’ how it’s done.