D'Angelo's Black Messiah, The DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes Info From Questlove, Russell Elevado, Ben Kane + More
On Sunday night the surprise release of Black Messiah reversed the equation for D'Angelo disciples. For the past 15 years, being a D'Angelo fan meant engaging, not with music, but with data points about the lack of music or about its supposedly imminent appearance. With a sudden surplus of (amazing, life-re-examining) MUSIC, unleashed with almost none of the promotional info that conventionally accompanies an LP release, music heads could be forgiven for reacting to Black Messiah as if it was the product of some 24-hour immaculate musical conception.
Some 72 hours on from that release, however, concrete info about the album's personnel, production and ultimate release is filtering out, mostly in the form of tidbits revealed here and there by members of Team D'Angelo (D himself has not commented publicly since the release and true to mysterious form, did not attend his own listening session). That team comprises our own Questlove (who played on all but two of the album's final cuts); Alan Leeds, D's legendary tour manager (also listed as an executive producer on the album); Jocelyn Cooper (co-founder of Afropunk, inked D's first deal back in '93 and handles all of his publishing to this day); Kevin Liles (longtime manager and former Def Jam exec); the band credited on the LP cover as The Vanguard (more on them below); and last, but not even close to least, the two-man wrecking crew comprised of Russell Elevado and Ben Kane (the album's chief sound engineers.)
Of all those (okay)players, it's been Elevado, Kane and (naturally) Questo who've really stepped into the void of info that was left in the wake of D's resurgence, filling us in with some of the most intimate details of the album's recording, its release and what to expect from this point on (in Questlove's case, detailed in a late-night soul-purge right here on the Okayplayer boards). So we've taken it upon ourselves to compile some of the most compelling tidbits from, into one little cheat sheet for all of the D'sciples, a project we think of as Black Messiah: The DVD Extras.
Below you'll find a collection of Questlove's most relevant commentaries from the boards, as well as Elevado and Kane's own musings on the album they devoted the last 15 years of their lives to. You'll be introduced to the loose roster of tight musicians that goes by The Vanguard, when the album began tracking, some of the politics that played into the release, as well as personal accounts from both engineers. Now, listen. This will by no means answer all your questions. But if you refuse to be left in the dark about how this musical mammoth lumbered into the public eye, then this will at very least cross a few of your most burning questions off the list. And fear not, the ceremony won't be coming to an end anytime soon (as Quest hinted at in his message board AMA) and we'll be sure to update our little cheat sheet as new details surface.
If you're looking for an even more intimate breakdown of the album, go ahead and follow Ben Kane on twitter as he takes you into the madness track-by track as part of his 12 days of D'Angelo campaign. We're at Day 4 now, so it's time play catch-up, kids. Also, if you've somehow yet to catch the spirit (though I don't see why you'd still be reading otherwise) go and cop the internet-killing digital copy on iTunes stat and preorder the 2-LP vinyl before they're all out. You can also jump back to hear some of the musical inspiration for the record straight from D himself.
D'Angelo - Black Messiah, The DVD Extras:
- Black Messiah IS James River, so don't expect a James River white label anytime soon:
This album is James River. He changed the title cause he was miffed y'all knew the title. - Questlove
- The Vanguard comprises:
D ('Angelo), Pino (Palladino), Jesse (Johnson), Sharkey (forgetting Jill's guy on keys) Might be (Jon) Blackwell, or maybe Chris Dave comes back Kendra Foster (forget the other two cats who sing background.) Me and Roy are the only non active members. - Questlove
- But Q-Tip played a much bigger role than the writing credit on "Sugah Daddy" might first suggest:
Welp, of the 14 years, there were 4 years that we didn't speak. So i'll say Tip was D's co-pilot more than anything. I mean these songs are powerful, but JESUS the 4 Tip songs that had me losing sleep? THOSE JOINTS?!?!?! jeeeeeeeze. Tip was there for the lyric structure, not just for beats. Tip might be onto something as a songwriter. - Questlove
- Tracking for BM/James River began while Voodoo tour was still under way
He started tracking in 2000 during voodoo. So the ONE thing we can establish with Dangelo is his utter disregard of time. Be it release dates, be it prompt for shows, be it quantized meter or be it musical references; its his sound. - Questlove
- There were 70 rough tracks laid for Black Messiah/James River
70 tracks in total. 23 could be OMFG territory with some "sprucing up" I assure you that you gonna get way more music in the next year. I won't be touring, but I'll still build the show with him. - Questlove
- "Ain't That Easy" has both D and Sharkey on guitar.
"Ain't" was fleshed out with D's own amazing guitar work. Soon accompanied by more D licks and Sharkey on an additional killin guitar. It is the first time you'll hear the vocals of Kendra Foster, Ahrel Lumzy and Jermaine Holmes on the gang sections. Let me not forget the drums of the one and only James Gadson! Legendary! (look him up) You'll be hearing him on a couple other tracks.- Ben Kane
>>>Click Thru for More Black Messiah 'DVD Extras'
- That's Pino Paladino's on bass and Jesse Johnson on the guitar solo at the end
Needless to say, Pino Palladino killing the bass and Jesse Johnson with that guitar solo at the very end. Almost forgot.- Ben Kane
- "1000 Deaths" was allegedly inspired by D's experience at a Fishbone concert:
Was once told D was inspired to write the music to this directly after being blown away by a joint at a Fishbone concert.- Ben Kane
- Samples VHS recording of Dr. Khalid Muhammad and The Murder of Fred Hampton
Let's get into the samples at the top. The "black revolutionary messiah" sample is from a VHS recording of Dr. Khalid Muhammad. The next sample comes from this film: The Murder Of Fred Hampton. - Ben Kane
- On "1000 Deaths" Everything is D, except drums:
Just bout everything on this track played by D'Angelo, but Questlove's killin' drums which we recorded within the last 3 years at MSR. Especially those filthy bass riffs. All D! He can slay the bass.- Ben Kane
- "The Charade" features D on keys and guitar, with Questo on drums and Pino on bass and electric sitar. Additional guitars by Jesse and Sharkey.
First I'll discuss the music: D goes in hard on guitar and keys on this one with Questlove brilliant on drums. Great collaboration. PINO deserves a medal for his bass work here! He's got these amazing chords on bass over the hooks. So melodic throughout. One more about PINO. His bass really brings this song together. It's the glue, it drives the song and it adds so much harmonic info. Pino also on electric sitar on this joint. With add'l guitars from Sharkey and Jesse Johnson filling out the guitar section - Ben Kane
- Gadson played only the kick and his lap for that hand clappy sound in the beat on "Sugah Daddy" while Q-Tip helped with lyrics
James Gadson (one of the funkiest humans) is playing the KICK and tapping his LAP on this song. Funky as hell even on the lap. That same night, D, Pino Gadson and Malcolm F Kee all gathered round a mic to lay the claps. Soon after Q-Tip came through to collab with on the lyrics. Also add'l ones added later w/ Kendra Foster. - Ben Kane
- The album was recorded for 96k WAV consumption (and is available to purchase in that format.)
Thanks to Philip Cardle who told me Black Messiah is available to own in hi res 96k audio - Russell Elevado
- "Betray My Heart" is the oldest of the BM songs:
"Betray" I think is the oldest done super late like "water get no enemy" period so I'm like 2000? Definitely before the "Break You Off" fiasco. So maybe 2000-2001 it was started. Re-tracked? Jeez I think 2003-4 (whatever year we shot Block Party. Kanye was out then so 2004?) - Questlove
- "Til Its Done" was the last track recorded for the album in 2010
Haven't heard or remembered "Til Its Done" since the day we made it. I don't even remember the year. i *think* 2010 when Sheila E first guested on Late Night. There were like 9 nights that we tracked like 30 ruff sketches. "Til Its Done" is a jawn that I'm struggling to remember thoroughly, but man, that chord structure. - Questlove
- Yes, "Really Love" is a finished version of the song Questo leaked to aussie radio:
Yeah I mean pretty much I leaked a ruff. my drums are different (actually an earlier take)" - Questlove
-Brent Fischer (son of the legendary Claire Fischer) wrote the string arrangement for "Really Love"
Brent Fischer needs to be given serious accolades for his brilliant string arrangement on this one. Transformed the song yet again. - Ben Kane
-The late great Spanky Alford can be found on "Back To The Future" and "Betray My Heart"
"Betray" - this has Questlove on drums and Pino Palladino on bass with Spanky on guitar and D'Angelo on the Rhodes. - Ben Kane
B2TF1: further guitar work is provided by the late (and extraordinarily great!) SPANKY ALFORD! -Ben Kane
- Questlove also thinks D mumbles/obscures his voice
Ugh. I know right? Which is why "til its done" shocked me being non overly layered. i dunno man. Might just be a super insecurity thing. I mean his voice is a natural resource and the best instrument on the album. I have 0 weight in the "stop hiding behind all that shit!" department. Always next album though. -Questlove
- Black Messiah was meant to be finished for the Grammys, but D delayed for 4 weeks, until Sony put their foot down
The iron hand of RCA has been "now or IRON FIST!!!!" For like a year. the true goal was oct for grammies. but d begged (again) for an extension and got (thank god) extra 4 weeks to spruce up the mixes. Pulling a Beyonce" is a very real thing for SONY now a days. You caught by surprise and you gotta have it PRONTO....initially it was gonna be a new years thing. but they were like "eff it" release it now." - Questlove
- Kevin Liles And Alan Leeds remember it differently, suggesting the timing was D's response to the Ferguson protests:
RCA had planned to release “Black Messiah” in early 2015, but its reclusive singer was done waiting. “The one way I do speak out is through music,” D’Angelo told his tour manager, Alan Leeds. “I want to speak out.” - Alan Leeds, in interview w/ the NYT
After a grand jury didn’t indict a Ferguson, Mo., police officer last month in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, D’Angelo called his co-manager Kevin Liles. “He said: ‘Do you believe this? Do you believe it?’ ” Mr. Liles said. “And then we just sat there in silence. That is when I knew he wanted to say something.” - Kevin Liles, in interview w/ the NYT
- To Be Continued with Black Messiah [Director's Cut]....?
D is already talking expanded edition so..... - Questlove