In mid-December, when most music publications had already released their respective – and crushingly predictable – year end lists, there were whispers on social media and elsewhere of one more record being dropped on a whim, and from the heavens: Michael Eugene Archer, better known by his stage name, D’Angelo, had announced the release of his new record, something called Black Messiah. This rumor, of course, set his fans agog; the man had never released a bad album. Fuck, he had never released a lukewarm album even. On the other hand, however, he hadn’t released a new set of music in almost 15 years.
And when the record was released, our eagerness rested. The album was incredible. Not only musically, mind you, with a work that gushes magisterial confidence from the drop of the needle to the final crackle — a stunningly dense and funk-laden admixture equal parts Maggot Brain and What’s Going On — but that the record itself actually exists. That it was 2014 and a new D’Angelo LP was out; that the record sleeve and vinyl was something you could, no fooling here, hold in your hands. Because after the release of the utterly fantastic Voodoo in January 2000, in a world still bearing the hangover of Y2K fear mongering, D’Angelo retreated into velveteen darkness. He had resented the fact that he was more known for his strongman physique than his music. His live shows, thanks in part to his near-nude video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” devolved into a platform for people to gawk at him, and so had become something of a recluse.
Stories began to trickle out over the years: he had learned to play the guitar. He had been involved in a nearly fatal car accident. He had been arrested for soliciting a blowjob from an undercover police officer. He was an alcoholic, and in rehab in Los Angeles. These stories though were just that, though – stories, which grew increasingly unbelievable as time went. Like many artists before him, D’Angelo became embroiled in controversy, unable to shoulder the inevitable scrutiny that his fame had wrought.
He had been writing new music, though. In January 2013, Questlove – D’Angelo’s venerable drummer and, seemingly, his spokesperson – told Billboard that they were just “tightening the loose ends” on the new record and that “99% of it is done.” There was word of a 2015 release, perhaps, maybe. With D’Angelo, and his widely known Kubrickian perfectionism, one can never truly be sure.
All of the doubt of a new album changed to certainty, though, as a grand jury failed to indict the police officer accused of shooting eighteen-year-old Michael Brown dead in broad daylight. After the ruling, D called his tour manager, enraged. “The one way I do speak out is through music” he told, “I want to speak out.” In that sense, Black Messiah plays like Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, smartly contextualizing contemporary racial tensions in what cable news insists is a post-racial America. And if D’Angelo wanted for his voice to be heard, this history book of soul music registers his livid roar loud and clear. From the Purple Rain funk of The Prayer to his confrontation to systemic racism on The Charade, insisting “All we wanted was a chance to talk / ‘stead we got outlined in chalk, D’Angelo threads his many influences together, like not many others can, to create a work that can sit proudly beside them on any record shelf. This album is one that shouldn’t be written about and reviewed at all, but rather heard – played loudly through your headphones, stereo receiver, or wherever, because it speaks to the times we live in better than any piece of writing or news reportage ever can.
We hope you enjoyed this top 10 countdown. Now we will continue to post stand out songs from the Facebook group.
Below is a lengthy discussion that resulted from a member of The Freshest Clams admitting that they didn’t love the Black Messiah.