Typically before penning an album review, I listen to the work multiple times to fully immerse myself in it, to weigh the piece; to let the first taste dance on my tongue and then go back for seconds after all the flavors have mellowed and balanced. I research the artist, go back to their previous works to build a conversation that reflects the trajectory of where they began and delivers us succinctly to where they are, right now, with this new release. Less invested in praising or panning an album and more interested in experiencing the complete work from beginning to end, my goal is to present the reader with the facts, the details, and the trivia, and let them decide if it inspires them to listen for themselves.
But not this time.
This time, I am writing as I listen, because this is some urgent shit. THIS is the balm, the elixir. This is what we’ve been waiting for.
D’Angelo broke his proverbial silence in 2012 with a string of sold-out European shows accompanied by news from reputable sources that the new album was almost finished and would be on its way soon. Word spread like wildfire that “D’Angelo is back!,” as devotées flocked to YouTube to catch clips of performances and wax poetic about his imminent return to form. When D’Angelo took the stage at LA’s House of Blues that summer, it was my first time seeing him live since the Voodoo tour, and while I had no idea what to expect, I had no doubt it would be funky. D’Angelo worked the packed house into a sexy mess of a black sweat, dominating the room with such vibrant energy one almost forgot that he’d been gone from the scene for more than a decade. While his performance at that year’s BET Awards was met with mixed reviews, it was more than evident that the next era of D’Angelo was nigh. Or, nigh-ish.
Months later, at the Questlove-curated tribute to Prince at Carnegie Hall, D’Angelo once again showed up and showed out, electrifying the already super-hype audience with his spirited, boundless performance of Prince’s “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” It is so rare now to see an artist so fluidly morph from singer to musician to bandleader, but that night, D’Angelo reminded us why he stands alone, why he almost single-handedly carries the torch lit by the likes of Little Richard, James Brown, George Clinton, and Prince. No doubt, plenty of masterful male singer/songwriters have ascended through the ranks since the late 1990s-early 2000s, when the neo-soul movement took root and produced D’Angelo and his contemporaries. But no one quite held a candle to D’Angelo. And we missed him, because we had him, and then he was gone.
After 14 tortuous years, rife with unfulfilled promises, come hither teases, and UFF, D’Angelo dropped his breathlessly anticipated third studio album, Black Messiah, on December 14, 2014.
It began with the early morning gift of his new single, “Sugah Daddy,” followed by the barrage of tweets, shares, likes, clicks, and wondering online and aloud whether a new album was also on its way. There were more hints and clues sprinkled throughout the day, and then finally an official release date: Midnight. Am I the only one who put on my pajamas, got in bed with my laptop, and waited to click “purchase?” It’s like Santa Cupid Shuffled down my iTunes with fistfuls of glitter, delivering a pre-Christmas miracle in the form of sonic goodness. All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth and the new D’Angelo.
So now, to listen, and listen, and listen. No comparisons, no reminiscing about the first time we heard that joint about the sugar or contemplated that untitled question. No gratuitous conversations about lips and abs and all the things that have nothing to do with what it’s all about: The music. Just listen, and get into it, and let it get into you. Listen.