D’Angelo And The Vanguard: Black Messiah

So, after a 14 year hiatus that has been well-documented, speculated on, dissected, frowned upon, etc, D’Angelo, with his band, The Vanguard, drops a new album without much ceremony.

The Wait

And close to two years after Questlove said, in a Billboard interview“Right now, we’re just tightening up the loose ends. But I still stand by, 99% of it is done….I would not be far off by saying this is probably my generation’s version of Sly (and the Family Stone’s) ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On.’ It’s potent. It’s funky. It’s an extremely hard pill to swallow. He’s one of those artists that have, of course, taken 13 years to follow up a record. It’s going to take you about 10 years to digest this record. Totally brilliant. Just the way this society works with music… being able to judge if something is a classic after the first listen, you can do that after thirty seconds on this. And the fact that we started this record in 2004, and it still sounds like it came out five years from now, it is a testament to the timelessness of it.”

In 2012, when the people at Funk It posted a full audio download of a show D’Angelo and the Vanguard did at Le Zenith in Paris in January, many of us thought the moment was finally upon us, but it wasn’t, as evident when Questlove uttered the words above a year after that show.



But it is finally here.

There’s a natural desire to not only listen to Black Messiah within the context of Brown Sugar and Voodoo but also in relation to the foundation that artists like Ohio Players, Sly and the Family Stone, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield and Prince have laid. But, there’s something more that I struggle to put my finger on. It is a progression from what he has done yet it is familiar. On tracks like Sugah Daddy, Really Love and Back To The Future (Pt 1) there is a vintage D’Angelo feel musically, and sensually, yet its also different.

With the release of Black Messiah, an album that we’ve waited on for so long, it’s easy to either jump on the ‘hype wagon’ or dismiss it for the sake of being contradictory (which I have a tendency of doing). This is one of the moments when the hype is justified. We need this album particularly when taking into consideration what the R&B/Soul landscape looks like.

Credit: Greg Harris

Credit: Greg Harris

 What He Says

In the press release from Sony, they include the following from the liner notes: “‘Black Messiah’ is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. For me the title is about all of us. It’s about the world. It’s about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah. It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and everyplace where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them. Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are) but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”


Listening to the album, repeatedly, the words that came to me are:

 …who is the black messiah, the voice upon whose wings we shall all fly, beyond the pain, the hurt, the tragedy of history…

…who shall inspire us, to stand when we should stand, to fight when we should fight, to love with abandon, simply…

…does the future lie in the past, can we go back to a time made pretty by nostalgia…

The album was recorded over at least a decade yet it’s a body of work that feels very much of our time, with the drama and tragedy that seems to be exploding around us daily, globally, collectively and individually. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time and I, for one, am grateful for it.

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