D’Angelo and the Vanguard • Black Messiah • RCA • US Release Date: December 15, 2014
Arguably, an artist ‘out of the game’ for 14 long years has made the album to beat, right at the tail end of 2014. A comeback from one of neo-soul’s visionaries has long been rumored but to continual disappointments. Finally, D’Angelo has shocked the world by releasing his third studio album, the superb Black Messiah. Honestly, after hearing Black Messiah, many R&B artists should consider retooling their game. Black Messiah truly resides in a league of its own, affecting the listener more and more with each successive listen.
Let me do one quick side note before I explain why I’m so high on Black Messiah. Previously, I’d crowned my two favorite R&B albums of the year as Pharrell Williams’ G I R L and Mary J. Blige’s The London Sessions – both stellar albums. I’m still onboard the fan train and agree they are among the year’s best, BUT, I’ve now got to award D’Angelo with the honors of best R&B album of 2014. Hey, same sort of thing happened when Beyoncé shocked the world in 2013.
One of the key reasons why Black Messiah is the triumphant effort it is, is because D’Angelo stays true to himself. Sure, neo-soul has been dead for a minute (unfortunately), but this unapologetically, soulful LP would lead you to believe that the movement has been going strong since the last time D’Angelo and his contemporaries embraced the style. That’s not the case. Neo-soul was six-feet under prior to Black Messiah. Is this the album to resurrect something that shouldn’t have ended? More traditional R&B listeners can only hope!
Another reason for Black Messiah’s triumph is its rollout. For an artist on an extended hiatus that seems unlikely to end, what’s more shocking than dropping a new album that no one expected in the first place? D’Angelo has been rumoring a comeback for years since Voodoo, none of which materialized. Rather than getting fans’ hopes up with broken promises, why not let actions ultimately speak louder than words? Personally, on Monday, December 15, I had all intentions of going to Best Buy to purchase Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint and maybe Charli XCX’s Sucker. My wallet became skinnier upon hearing D’Angelo was back – and there was no hesitation!
The final reason why Black Messiah is triumphant – there is no album from 2014 that sounds like this one – NONE! Specifically in the R&B field, even a fine retro-soul effort such as Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ Give The People What They Want doesn’t have that many similarities to Black Messiah. There is a transcendence beyond, definitely made clear on the ‘out there’ but brilliant “1000 Deaths,” maybe the most confounding yet unique moment from Black Messiah. Then throw in the blend of jazz and gospel-tinged soul of cuts like “Sugah Daddy” and Black Messiah is nothing short of breathtaking. D’Angelo once more shows why he is “one of a kind”
Ultimately, D’Angelo’s triumphant Black Messiah reenergizes R&B. Maybe even bigger than that, it proves that even when it seems impossible, an artist can resurrect his or her career if the timing is right. 14 years is a quite a long wait, but just look at the buzz D’s comeback has received – R&B listeners have been starving for this sort of album for a long time. From top to bottom, Black Messiah is a contemporary masterpiece – a tour de force that makes one say, “So this is the real R&B.”
Favorites: “Ain’t That Easy,” “1000 Deaths,” “Sugah Daddy,” “Back to The Future (Part I), “Till It’s Done (Tutu),” “Another Life”