By Pat Gunther
D’Angelo’s first album in nearly 15 years, titled Black Messiah, packs a punch that most thought was no longer present in the veteran R&B songwriter’s catalogue. Since 2000’s critically revered Voodoo, D’Angelo has been hard at work crafting his third studio album, which up until about September of 2014, many thought would never actually come. Spanning 12 tracks over the course of 66 minutes, though, Black Messiah provides listeners with that signature, sexy funk D’Angelo has mastered while adding intricate nuances that help Black Messiah compete with the best R&B albums in recent memory.
The album combines a number of influences D’Angelo has studied over the past 14 years, evident in the Funkadelic inspired deep-fried soul cuts and frantic fist-to-the-face guitar licks that would fit perfectly in any punk track, on the album’s second song “1000 Deaths.” Standout tracks such as “Sugah Daddy” and “The Charade” harken back to the sultry music D’Angelo perfected in the early 2000’s, but with astute awareness of modern conflicts in America.
Appropriately, D’Angelo’s album offers up something for everyone fed up with the throngs of institutional bullshit ranging from systematic racism and oppression to less-depressing nostalgic feelings of love and loss. Above all, the combination of poignancy and luscious instrumentation creates a disoriented world that D’Angelo masterfully navigates through over the course of 12 different, yet enjoyable, painstakingly crafted tracks.
A Labor of Love
The most impressive aspect of the album, however, becomes apparent when you realize exactly where D’Angelo has been since he released his smash-hit Voodoo 14 years ago. After falling out of the musical spotlight, D’Angelo has spent time learning how to play the guitar, all while continually writing and tweaking each labor of love present on his brand-new magnum opus. While other mainstream artists like Pharrell and Kanye do most of their work while in the limelight, D has taken the better part of his musical shelf life to work quietly in the shadows to create the best R&B album of the entire year.
Substance & Style
Black Messiah is both substance and style, all while keeping the listener enveloped in the slimy funk-mud that drips across each and every track on the record. Songs such as “Till Its Done (Tutu)” and both “Back To The Future” parts 1 and 2 could’ve easily fit on Voodoo, while “Prayer” utilizes crisp, wiry guitar chords under D’Angelo’s distorted vocals to help the listener find strength in spirituality. Despite the fact that it took R&B Jesus almost 15 years to grace the world with another record, Black Messiah is a testament to D’s unrelenting hard work and ability to still inspire others through song; As noted in the album’s liner notes, “Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”
Favorite Tracks: “1000 Deaths”, “The Charade”, “Sugah Daddy”, “Betray My Heart”, “Prayer”
Least Favorite Track: “Really Love”