It’s been 14 years since we’ve heard any new album from D’Angelo, but Black Messiah brings the funk, the groove and the soul, hoping it’s just enough to be forgiven for such a long wait. D’Angelo, of “Voodoo” fame, breaks his musical silence with the potentially iconic Black Messiah, backed by his band, The Vanguard.
The album opens with a psychedelic guitar fading in and finds its way to an open groove that’s heavy in the bass, played by famed bass player Pino Palladino (The Who, John Mayer Trio, Erykah Badu). The song, entitled “Ain’t That Easy,” tells of his desire to salvage a relationship that has come to a crossroad. The initial feel gives you the idea that you’ll hear even more stories of love, but the next track, “1000 Deaths” goes in an entirely different direction altogether – struggle. A driving drum pattern takes hold of the song, played by James Gadson (Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, BB King), one of the most sought-after drummers of the last 50 years.
That song transitions into “The Charade,” a sort of social justice, anthemic song which is a new style of song for D’Angelo. The song addresses systemic oppression and the uprising of the oppressed. It includes the following lyrics: “All we wanted was a chance to talk / But instead we got outlined in chalk / Feet have bled the million miles we’ve walked / Revealing at the end of the day, the charade.”
Themes of love, relationships, and fighting against injustice ring clear throughout the album, with which he received a fair amount of assistance from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and Kendra Foster from The Parliament and The Funkadelic. It’s hard to understand what D’Angelo is saying at first listen, because mumbling is a part of his signature approach to song, meant to evoke the emotion behind the word. But upon closer review (and with help from the digital lyric booklet he made available online), it becomes clear what he is saying. Musically, The Vanguard gives you a few different feels. Songs like “The Charade” feel like funkified rock and roll. There are some Spanish guitar influence in the sultry love song, “Really Love.” You can get your fill of live, swingy R&B from “Another Life,” on which The Roots drummer ?uestlove provides the rhythm.
“Sugah Daddy” was released as a single…but only for about 24 hours before the entire album hit online retailers. While it didn’t have a chance to shine as a single, it finds it’s place among the other tracks of the album and contributes to the overall feel of the record. In a musical age where radio singles are king, D’angelo and The Vanguard decided to complete a flowing work of music that makes more sense together than apart.