Album Review: D’Angelo "Black Messiah"
The ever elusive D’Angelo (real name Michael Archer) never felt the need to drop an album halfheartedly. This is likely why we had to wait a full five years between his inaugural Brown Sugar (1995) and his sophomore effort, Voodoo (2000). Fans have been anxiously waiting for the next drop from the Virginia born crooner. The hope provided by the rare, but well-received, song leaks, was often tempered with doubt caused by D’Angelo’s public and private issues.
Many people, including myself, thought that we would never hear another project from Archer. There was rumor of an album being completed and due to be released soon but with no solid release date. However, on December 12th we learned that the almost mythological artist would drop his much anticipated Black Messiah project on December 15th. D’Angelo explained his decision to release the album as a response to the growing social unrest caused by the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The internet was ablaze as fans speculated about what the content of the album must be like if D’Angelo felt so inclined to release it early and unannounced. I must admit that going in to it I had heard mostly good reviews about it but I felt hesitant about it.
The obvious questions hung over my head like a cartoon thought bubble. Does he still have it? Will it sound like his older, more classic material? Will I be better off not listening to it? Well the answer to these questions are. Yes. Yes and no. no.
I loved two of the three more political songs on the album, “1000 Deaths” and “The Charade”. These tracks are a manifesto which proclaims the innermost doubts, grievances, and concerns with the United States’ current political and social atmosphere. “1000 Deaths” is the more militant of the two. It is very blatant in stating that this man (D’Angelo) is ready and willing to give his life for the cause of justice while making it clear that “A coward dies a thousand times, but a soldier only dies just once.” The more musical fundamentals of “1000 Deaths” is quite prevalent as we are reminded of D’Angelo’s talent in making his vocals an instrument itself and molding it with his guitar as the lyrics seemingly melt into the grunge guitar. “The Charade” follows immediately, feeling more like an extension of “1000 Deaths” or the B-side to the revolution. “The Charade” is the emotional anti-thesis to “1000 Deaths” as where “1000 Deaths” is angry and direct and clearly states a militant approach, “The Charade” shows a vulnerability and helplessness against a seemingly unjust system.
My absolute favorite, and what I believe to be the stand out track, on Black Messiah would be “Really Love”. Like the previous 4 tracks, I had heard “Really Love” before in some shape or form whether it be through a leak or through concert footage. However, I can honestly say I have never heard it like this. The track is a masterpiece of an orchestra of strings. It starts out with a symphony of double bass, violin, guitar, and cellos underlain with a woman sexily taunting us in Spanish. She leads us directly into vibrant flamenco guitar and strings that set a very…adult… mood. Within 60 seconds I am already reaching for the dimmer, lighting candles, and telling my imaginary kids that it is time to go to bed. Then 90 seconds into it I am bobbing my head. There is a very well established groove even before the drums kick in. By now I am wildly impressed at D’Angelo’s ability to arrange a song and evoke emotion, something that many of today’s R&B singers are not able to do, especially not on this level.
Black Messiah is a rock, funk, jazz, and soul trek which at its core is a debriefing of one of the most talented musical minds of my generation. Those near 15 years without a release were not spent in vain as D’Angelo lets us know what he has been wanting to say since Voodoo. The project certainly does not disappoint and it provides the same smoothness we are used to from D’Angelo but with an updated flair. Serene keys, slappin' guitar, and groovy bass lines throughout. Whether you are in search of something political, something funky, or something sexy, you will find what you are looking for on Black Messiah.