D’Angelo’s Black Messiah: Critically acclaimed, commercially viable and consciously BLACK

By Thato Magano (@ThatoMagano)

“But the real thing about this album is how timely it is. Many reviews have been written about D’Angelo’s attempts to create something new and how all those projects were either scrapped or shelved because he felt he didn’t have anything to say AND was forced into releasing Black Messiah even thought he felt it wasn’t as perfect as he would have wanted the album to be. The commentary on the black condition is unmistakable in each chord and verse of this album, even in romantic love songs like ‘Aint That Easy’.”

When on some arb day in December my twitter feed let me know of a D’Angelo album on the loose, I found myself downloading it fast cuz, mahn, a twelve year wait, nah dude, I just had to satiate the longing left since Voodoo (and you don’t want to know how many times the album has been on repeat since). The thing about this music – like really good wine – it gets better the more time it’s given to assault your senses and allow for each listen to reveal notes you weren’t aware of, for lyrics to combust with meaning that gives new context and perspective and a review of it at the time of release would not have served the man and his music well.

Now I could go into the history of D’Angelo’s music and all but I’m not going to because BLACK child, I know you be knowing some of that old school black love music cuz in a world of pseudo pop and bubblegum R&B, the likes of D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill and recently Frank Ocean have remained the Vanguards to which we go to drink from the vessels of musical purity as has been ordained by the creative Gods of music. Or atleast you should be knowing.

My favourite song on Black Messiah ‘1000 Deaths’ begins with a sermon intro about a revolutionary nappy haired messiah Jesus who resisted temptation from the devil when he offered an alliance in a new world order if only he bowed down to him. But before this gospel, there is a riff of the guitar in the first few bars of the song before D’Angelo utters a word and then UH! the heavy thud of the bass that suddenly strikes in the middle of all of it, letting you know you’re in for some real ‘Fuck The System’ shit.

Because he’s chosen to be that kind of artist – channelling Prince for his generation with myriad harmonies and just plain good old soul infused into every chord as he strikes the guitar – you can’t make out a lot of what he’s saying. A lot of the lyric is muffled (I still refer to my Google’d lyrics at times for accuracy). Despite, this, like mahn, in the last minute of this song – with chants and pronounced screams that are accompanied by a mad riff on the guitar, like that riff on Purple Rain reincarnate – if you aren’t convinced of the soul that resides in the man, I don’t know what will convince you.

But the real thing about this album is how timely it is. Many reviews have been written about D’Angelo’s attempts to create something new and how all those projects were either scrapped or shelved because he felt he didn’t have anything to say AND was forced into releasing Black Messiah even thought he felt it wasn’t as perfect as he would have wanted the album to be. The commentary on the black condition is unmistakable in each chord and verse of this album, even in romantic love songs like ‘Ain’t That Easy’.

Which makes me wonder why he felt it imperfect because if you listen to every single one of the twelve songs on Black Messiah, you will be hard pressed to find a song that didn’t have just the right balance of lyric, rhythm and harmony, bass and, just for kicks, the mad guitar riffs that I’ve come to learn most of were played by D’Angelo himself.

To another personal favourite ‘The Charade’ with a freakin’ great beat in the background, in the chorus he asserts:

– All we wanted was a chance to talk /

‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk /

Feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked/

Revealing at the end of the day/

The charade /

Perpetrators beware say a prayer if you dare for the believers …..

On hearing these lines, I understood why it took so long for him to make create something new post the hype of Voodoo. It’s a burden to be an artist in general, but an even heavier burden to be a black artist who is aware of their consciousness. With these lines, D’Angelo is speaking for #BlackLivesMatter, for Marikana, for any victim who has ever had injustice visited upon them because they were BLACK – as evidenced by his praised performance on the variety show Saturday Night Live (SNL) a few weeks ago.

And these are only the first three songs on the album. The entirety of it is a treat, and dare I say, healing for the soul. I’ve never been one to unnecessarily cuss in my writing but FUCK, D’Angelo has done something here – critically acclaimed, commercially viable and bravely BLACK – what more do you need from your heroes BLACK child?

With each listen, I feel as though I was part of the Vanguard because every chord takes me with, each verse speaks truth to the conditions of our lives and it’s a fucking great album with ounces of soul seeping from D’Angelo’s muffles – deserving of classic status without having to prove itself first on your musical palate for a few decades.

With the success of Black Messiah, we now wait for Ms. Hill to also bless the masses with her artistic brilliance that doesn’t compromise or pander to the demands of the system because with The Vanguard and their creation, Black Messiah, D’Angelo has proven that it can be done.

And also, these decades long wait are just not on (Fuck the system for making it so)!

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