The music of singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer D’angelo is like fine wine – it only gets better with time. With two Grammy wins and two classic albums – Brown Sugar and Voodoo – under his belt by the year 2001, he set the bar pretty high for himself. This, combined with the unease of his growing popularity as a sex symbol, led him to take an extended break from recording.
He would not return from this hiatus until 2014, this time backed by a dedicated band called the Vanguard. Black Messiah represents a slight departure from Brown Sugar and Voodoo’s R&B and Neo-soul sensibilities: while those elements are still present, D’angelo also incorporated elements of funk, rock, and psychedelia to create a genre-defying experience.
Black Messiah has the listener’s head bobbing from the start with “Ain’t That Easy”, one of my personal favorites. It builds a Questlove-inspired groove with slightly swung drums and a distorted guitar, leaving room for the transcendent harmonies that D’Angelo is so well known for. The chorus marks the entrance of another guitar track as well as a bass, and it is here that the song’s groove is fully realized.
I cannot talk about Black Messiah without praising “Really Love”, the track that won him a Grammy for Best R&B Song in 2016. It opens with a string section, slowly growing in volume and urgency, joined by a lone spanish guitar. The point at which the rest of the band comes in to create a laid-back, intimate groove is the point at which, as a listener, my soul leaves my body.
D’Angelo’s uncompromising approach to his craft resulted in a modern classic that is refreshingly unconcerned with the conventions of genre and style. It is both comfortably loose and surgically precise, playfully jovial and deadly serious, disarmingly intimate and profoundly universal. In short, Black Messiah is a masterpiece. I recommend this album to fans of Prince, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill.
Favorite tracks: Ain’t That Easy, Sugah Daddy, Really Love, Till It’s Done (Tutu), Betray My Heart, The Door
– DJ Mango