The last time we heard of D’Angelo was in 2000 — at least the last time we heard an official musical project from him. He’s gone on tour, done a few Red Bull Music Academy lectures since then, but for the most part he’s been in hiding. As revealed in GQ’s Amy Wallace’s D’Angelo profile in 2012, Questlove recalls D telling him that once his Voodoo tour was over he was going to, “go to the woods, grow a beard, drink hooch and get fat.” And he’s done so, plus a few trips to rehab centers in between. Fast-forward to 2014, and a bombshell drops, when after 15 years, D’Angelo finally released his third studio album, “Black Messiah,” on Sunday. The resulting firestorm of approval and critical reception still hasn’t died down since. True to Michael Eugene Archer, “Black Messiah” breathes sonic brilliance, raw emotions and those coveted D’Angelo falsetto harmonies. But more importantly, “Black Messiah” breathes relevance, and could not have arrived at a more opportune time when the world needed D’Angelo the most — when I needed D’Angelo the most.
This album reminded me of my age — not for the lack thereof, but for that it exists. I didn’t understand “Voodoo” until I got out of high school; and even then “Voodoo” for me was just a time capsule back to soul music when it still had soul. I sought it out to fill a void that wasn’t satisfied by what I was discovering back then, at least sonically. But beyond the music I was hearing, the complexities melded in between the guitars and the drums and the keys were at another level. I knew there was something more to “Voodoo” than what I was hearing; I just couldn’t wrap my head around the textures because all I was taking in was its face value — I was listening to it, but I couldn’t hear it.
And that’s what I meant when “Black Messiah” reminded me of my age. This time around, I understood the harmony and grit, the soft and the hard, melodies and drums; deep complexities that all seamlessly wove in and out of each other, that I probably wouldn’t have understood or have been able to conceptualize if this album was released maybe five years earlier, around the time I started college and pending adulthood.
It’s easy to look at that time and even into your mid-20’s through the scope of your failures — the job you didn’t get, the relationship that didn’t work out, the loneliness and the financial struggles. And really, the only way to alleviate all that is to build upon all of those failures through time.
It’s that additional years of experience under my belt that put this album in a different perspective than I would have if I was still 21. I felt like this time around, age and experience helped me envelope the sounds and concepts ripe throughout: the up-swing of the pieces of life finally coming together, letting go of the failures in your 20’s, embracing the darkness and loneliness and letting it blossom into something beautiful, something real and palpable. It’s the full circle of becoming an adult — a man, a woman — that goes beyond growing up into your responsibilities and claiming the big victories that come with it; it’s counting the small steps into that growth and process as victories too.
D’Angelo re-emerged at a point in time where all the components of the last 24 years are starting to come together and make sense to me. This album released itself and seemed to make things come full circle: the new perceptions I have as an independent young adult, and my role as such in a new century — in a point where tensions are at a peak and questions of cultural integrity and authenticity are being thrown around — somehow resonated within this album. Whether it’s his approach with unadulterated honesty about sex, politics, culture and even himself as an artist that made sense to me, it’s like D knew something we didn’t; it’s like he knew we were drowning and he arrived just in time to throw out the buoy, a full circle of some perspective we all needed to acquire in the last 15 years.
You can stream the full album here.