On a Monday morning, at 12 midnight, R&B crooner D’Angelo dropped the album Black Messiah with the Vanguards. It wasn’t quite the shock that Beyoncé’s surprise album a year ago produced namely because D’Angelo has been working on an album for quite some time–and that time has finally ended, and ended with an album to show for it. D’Angelo had been relatively clear that he was planning to make a comeback, no one really knew when that was going to be. I happened to wake back up at 1am after a late nap and saw my Twitter timeline going ablaze about it. I opened my iTunes account and sho’ nuff there was an album from D’Angelo. After a 14 year hiatus, he returns.
In lyric booklet passed out a premier listening party sponsored by ?uestlove last night on the day before the iTunes drop, D’Angelo wrote the following:
Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be 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 make change happen,” D’Angelo writes in a statement about the album “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 there these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.
I think it needs to be said that D’Angelo lays heavily into the R&B/soul music that characterized his generation–this isn’t the neb-soul album that Voodoo was nor reminiscent of that genre. This is something that folks will refer to as “real” music over the pop-R&B/hip hop music that dominates the playlists on urban radio programs. Yes, it is the music that can be played at a family event and grandmother isn’t going to flinch–she still may ask what he’s saying, but that’s just D’Angelo. Firmly planted in the soul music, it’s definitely not neb-soul and that’s fine, it’s exactly what it should be.
If you don’t have iTunes where you can download it, take a listen to my favorite track, just from the piano voicing, “Sugah Daddy.”
D’Angelo teaches us, at such a time as this, that many of us possess the resurrection power to come back from the various “deaths” that we experience in our lives. Honestly, after watching D’Angelo tease the world for 14 years, having a few sporadic appearances, no one really believe it to be true. After his run in with the law, his subsequent weight gain, and somewhat so-so live performances, many had all but given up hope. The hope for the return of grown folks music that told the story of life, beyond the lyrical drivel that characterizes the ratchet music. The hope of a black middle class that wants to “turn up” with Migos and Rae Sremmurd as well as be “grown and sexy” with Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton.
I guess we’re just waiting for Lauryn Hill next.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL