D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ Returns Magic to Music
I considered many titles for this post. I thought “D’Angelo Saves Music” or “D’Angelo Shows Beyoncé How It’s Done” would be fitting. But after listening to his new release Black Messiah, one thing resonated with me: the musicality. Not just the instrumentation or his voice, but the overall musicality. The classic soul elements. The honesty. The experimentation. All of it together makes for a musical experience unlike any you’ve likely had since the release of his last album. In short, he’s delivered on the hype and anticipation.
That’s not to say everything was perfect. His voice, as amazing and distinctive as it is, ain’t what it used to be. There’s more rasp and less smooth than I remember. Some of the arrangements feel awkward. And the only single-worthy track present is “Really Love.” But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the pursuit of perfection is what has been hobbling the music industry. Because for all of the album’s flaws, Black Messiah has a magic you just don’t hear in music anymore.
That magic is what you find in the live performance of a real musician. No canned vocals or backing tracks. Just real voices and instruments. Yes, most of what D’Angelo says is indecipherable. It will take a lot of listens to understand even half of what he is saying. But it says something when somebody is able to blend with instruments so well that you don’t even mind not being able to understand the lyrics. “1000 Deaths” has insane hyper energy. “Sugah Daddy” is a classic that could have easily fit on his 1995 debut Brown Sugar. The aforementioned “Really Love” employs an acoustic guitar that pairs perfect with D’Angelo’s voice. And on “Back to the Future (Part I)”, D’Angelo gets candid about his past, present, and future. All of it is magic.
This is the magic Beyoncé was attempting to capture with the Beyoncé album she dropped out of nowhere last year. Maybe that move inspired D’Angelo to do the same. And maybe in some indirect way we have her to thank for this album. But the truth is, for all her efforts, that magic stayed right outside of Beyoncé’s reach. D’Angelo has been a music trailblazer since the beginning. It’s why this album doesn’t feel forced or packaged in any way. Thoughts of “maximizing revenue streams” or “video treatments” were clearly absent from this process. It was, just as it has always been, all about the music.
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