REVIEW: D’Angelo – “Black Messiah”

Seemingly out of nowhere, D’Angelo reemerged last week Friday, culminating in this week’s release of “Black Messiah”, his first authentic album in 14 years. To be completely honest, I know D’Angelo best as “that singer who had a creepy video of him singing naked back in 2000”. In truth, D’Angelo is much more than that.

There’s been an extended history of issues behind this release, with some material that is as much as four years old already, maybe even older. In that time, he’s disappeared from the limelight, come back, albeit briefly, and disappeared again. RCA also took over rights to D’Angelo’s music, following their disbanding of J, Arista, and Jive Records. Around 2010, there was talk of an album called “James River” which would feature a who’s who of modern urban music, including Cee Lo Green, Questlove, and a host of other stars of hip hop and R&B. Some of that material more than likely surfaced as part of “Black Messiah” which was ready in the early part of this year. So the album, which had been anticipated for over a decade, sat even longer. However, @ItsTheReal knew what was up when they told Fake Shore Drive on Friday:

And that’s just what happened. Nonetheless, D’Angelo’s back.

The album begins with “Ain’t That Easy”, a surprisingly funky return to center stage for D’Angelo. “1000 Deaths”, which had been developed in 2010, keeps that vibe going, with over the top guitar solos and a groove reminiscent of the classic Parliament and Funkadelic albums of the 60s and 70s. In fact, most of the front half of this album keeps things very upbeat, and fun. Things don’t mellow out until “Really Love”, and even that is brief.

Knowing the backstory of this collection of songs, tracks like “Back to the Future (Part 1)” show the true feelings of D’Angelo, as he works to make a full fledged comeback. Undoubtedly, the influences of Questlove and Cee Lo Green make their way into these tracks, as there’s a very jam-like element to some of the songs. It almost seems unstructured, but rather maintained, and that’s where D’Angelo shines.

Tracks like “Prayer” are certified head-nodders, and it’s clear D’Angelo hasn’t missed a step in the 14 years between albums. Even with all that time gone, and all the time in development, nothing really sounds dated. Partially credit that to only selecting the best of what I’m sure was a lot more than the twelve songs that appear on “Black Messiah”, but also credit that to a timeless sound developed by The Vanguard.

Most importantly “Black Messiah” doesn’t sound like a timeline of the last 14 years in neo-soul music. Even given all of the time off, and the change that occurred within that time, this album still sounds cohesive, and it’s a strong look for D’Angelo. Hopefully now, for arguably the first time in his career, he can keep a steady push going, building from this album to a more consistent stream of touring and putting out records.