A DIVINE TRINITY: The Black Messiah
A DIVINE TRINITY
The Black Messiah
By Al Shaw Ki
“Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. For me, the title is about all of us. It’s about the world. It’s about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah.
It’s about a people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them. Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are), but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”
From the moment I clicked “play”, I instantly began to feel physically and mentally lighter. My bruised spirit was lifted as a heavy burden of anticipation was finally relieved and satiated. A smile broke over my face. Tensions that once creased my bones now relax in a peaceful transference. I CAN BREATHE was the sensation.
Prophetically timed, not only is it the release a long-awaited follow up to 2000’s Voodoo, and 1995’s debut Brown Sugar, this 3rd LP is like emergency relief in knowing that there is finally some music that speaks to the soul of the people and the ongoing justice movement without grotesque vanity. This is unadulterated “Black Love Music” at it’s finest and purest. More importantly, it is necessary now more than ever. And now, is just when D’Angelo demanded that his label RCA release the album immediately following the nationwide protests of the police-killing unarmed black men according to reports from the NY Times. This artistic interruption is pure evidence that the nation is in a state of unrest and upheaval.
If only, just to admire, touch, unwrap, and sniff the package deeply as if it were a surprise gift. Something that triggers that fine leather upholstery or a new car smell. Aromatic, and divine to my senses, I inhaled deeply again as I opened, read and listened, this time feeling rescued from perjury, purgatory, injustice and Jim Crow all at once. Even the grainy cover photograph depicting hands in the air gave me a fuzzy feeling of applied justice.
As we all exhale, the question that continues to baffle is… why does it always have to take so long? It’s as if these morsels of goodness are highly contraband and transported from Siberia via Liberian and Korean customs. Do the powers that govern intuitively know that we desperately depend on this soulful nutrition and sustenance to survive and repair our tattered, megalomaniac, plebian lives? Or, is it simply the divine fate of the universe and it’s discourse and recourse that sets and re-sets itself, appropriately at the precise time, place and ethos. Nature tends to answer the question. Everything is always right on time.
Executive producers Kevin Liles and Alan Leeds have always had success with vanguard music being right on time. Combined, these two industry powerhouses have assisted in the direction of many legendary careers including artist such as Prince, Jay Z, James Brown, Raphael Saadiq and The Roots.
Recorded exclusively “in the analog domain using tape and mostly vintage equipment” specified in the liner notes (yeah, remember liner notes?) adds to the albums pure, non-contrived and organic sound. D’Angelo literally takes us back to the future. Using his unique voice as a scatting instrument along with warm and full-bodied melodies smacked on a 2 inch tape, it’s not hard to go along the vintage ride. The record features contributions from Q-Tip, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, James Gadson, Chris Dave, horns by Roy Hargrove, guitar by Jesse Johnson, Spank Alford and Mark Hammond and Isaiah Sharkey as well as bassist Pino Palladino. The strings added a dramatic sense of urgency to the music, with seductive arrangements by Brent Fischer featuring a cast of woodwinds. Written predominately by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster, a vocalist and songwriter with jazz and funk chops who spent time touring and recording with George Clinton and Parliament / Funkadelic. The album has a textured footprint stretching from the previous Voodoo soundscape, almost in sequel form. Telegraphed with uplifting keys, organs, synths, deep bass lines, sitars, horns of strings and woodwinds, there is a fortified Gospel-delic vibration rooted in the music’s subtle salvation.
The Q-Tip co-written intro “Ain’t That Easy” sets the play in motion, with an Al Green nod to relationship break ups that begins the dark entropy of Side A with “1000 Deaths”. More notably, “The Charade”, “Sugah Daddy” (also co-written by Q-Tip) and “Really Love” compliment the record’s jazzy slide into a cool-tempo ragtime-bop also present in B Side tracks “Back To The Future (Parts I & II)”. The JB rhythm coded “Till It’s Done(TUTU) is a hero’s tale of persistence while “Betray My Heart” and “Another Life” bring it full circle with the classic D’Angelofonics doo-wop you would come to expect after 15 years. Ultimately, D hits the trifecta with this 3rd installation of interstellar soul travel that will hopefully brighten up the darkness in our hearts this winter and beyond. Enough already… Go listen to the Black Messiah.
“-So If you’re wondering about the shape I’m in, I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to…” – D’Angelo, “Back To The Future (Part 1)”