The timing of the release of Black Messiah was deliberate. Joe Coscarelli of the New York Times writes that "D'Angelo and RCA (D'Angelo's recording company), partly inspired by the nationwide protests over the police killings of unarmed black men, had moved up the release of “Black Messiah"' from a date in 2015 to 15 December 2014.
“The one way I do speak out is through music,” D’Angelo is said to have told his tour manager, Alan Leeds. “I want to speak out.”
Speak, D'Angelo does. His, is a confident voice laid on sumptuous beats speaking with nuance about the black experience from love, to loss, to racism and back to love. The album is relevant and resonant, perhaps comparable only to 2014's other excellent release: To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar.
There is a lot of vintage D'Angelo in the album, the tracks: "Really Love", "The Door" and "Prayer" are unmistakably D'Angelo. There are glorious jazzy moments in album such as in "Betray my heart".
In the track a "1000 Deaths" a fervent Khalid Abdul Muhammad opens proceedings, talking about: "Jesus the Black Revolutionary Messiah." Fred Hampton follows with "Black people need some peace, white people need some peace…. we've got to struggle with them to make them understand what peace means." D'Angelo himself follows in the mind of the messiah facing his moment of reckoning. I also found "Prayer" to be another stand-out gem, with a never ending rolling groove reminiscent of Fela punctuated by a lazy kick. It's a song that is sensual and tantalisingly points to the song's possibilities in a live set. There is a playfulness in "Sugar Daddy" and also in "Back to the future".
In "The Charade" D'Angelo states,
"All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk"
Overall this is a revival of soul. Black music redefined. It's a bold statement of the future of black music, which is firmly located at the present with it's relevant and urgent lyrics while drawing from the rich history of black music, least of all from D'Angelo's own critically acclaimed repertoire.
In my opinion D'Angelo and Maxwell both led the Neo Soul revolution of the early nineties. Both men led the movement, but differently. Maxwell was and is suave and sophisticated while D'Angelo was cool and edgy. D'Angelo was the cat that all of us wanted to be, unashamedly strong, black man ever with a hint of danger about him. A black man akin to the one Kendrick Lamar describes in "The blacker the berry" :
"I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself...Black and successful, this black man meant to be special"
D'Angelo, is our Marvin as Maxwell is our Donny. With "Black Messiah" D'Angelo has further cemented his legacy as an all time great. It's an outstanding album that deserves no less than 99/100.
@cultureactiv - Contributor
all images: courtesy of blackmessiah.co