Okayplayer's Top 14 Albums Of 2014
Okayplayer's Top 14 Albums Of 2014

D'Angelo's 'Black Messiah' Is Finally Here & It's Everything We'd Hoped

D'Angelo's 'Black Messiah' Is Finally Here And It's Everything We'd Always Hoped For

[UPDATE:  It's here, folks. Now go geek out. Purchase on iTunes or stream below if you Spotify]:

>>>Purchase D'Angelo - Black Messiah (via iTunes)

Ho. Lee. Shit. I don't know if I ever imagined I'd be in the position to actually tell someone that the D'Angelo had finally delivered on everyone's except his own promise to redeem soul music wholly and forever with the follow-up to his turn-of-the-century masterpiece Voodoo. Well, good people of the Okay realm and abroad, it is with exultant joy and humility that I can say the day is here. And it's every bit as sweet as I always dreamed it would be.

It's not like we weren't forewarned or anything. If the last 14 years of our lives have proven anything, it's that every 7-8 months or so someone you know (mostly Questlove) will chime in with the "Oh, I heard that new D from my boy who's engineering the record. Shit is crazy!" whispers to set the jones in. But it wasn't just Questo's chirps and nudges that put the bug in us. Back in 2010, before the initial European tour, before the musical magnificence that was the Brothers In Arms tour, before Russell Elevado criminally teased us with 6-second clips from the studio, even before that spacey P-funked-out cover of Sound Garden's "Black Hole Sun" mysteriously surfaced, OKP alum DJ Brainchild sat with the man himself and heard the words straight from the source :

"I just want them to know that I’m coming. That’s all.  I’m in the kitchen and I’m cooking up something real nice."

And now we're  faced with what once seemed virtually unimaginable; a full-fledged answer to 14 years of prayers. Who would've thought that a man that once claimed to be so detached from the digital landscape could manage to out-Beyoncé Beyoncé? Familiar Soulquarians like Questlove, Q-Tip and newcomer Kendra Foster make appearances (especially in the album's writing credits). But what's to say for this new, prism? This masterful blend of classic and contemporary soul, funk and blues, forged by years of refinement.

Listen, I'm not even trying to put forth that this is the end all, be all album of our lives or that the rest of the industry should just pack up their shit and quit  But as a mid-twenties D'liever who took to Voodoo like an inmate to 5% Nation after high-school and got through his first years of college reading Questo's Voodoo Diaries over and over again, this shit is monumental.

Lucky for you and me and the rest of the damn world, our very own Editor-In-Chief Eddie "STATS" was amongst the "first to worship" at the ultra-exclusive listening party, which took place in NYC just a few hours ago. You can read his thorough track-by-track review of the album as it was being played for the very first time below. Just be sure that come midnight you've got your card out, 'cause Black Messiah waits for no man or woman. The 15-years-in-the making follow-up to Voodoo hits iTunes at 12:00AM EST with CD and 2xLP vinyl release coming next week. Get your first taste of D'Angelo's finally realized resurgence with a companion script below and check back at midnight for the link. May D be with you, good people. - Zo

>>>Buy Black Messiah on iTunes Now

Nelson George introduced the album by saying: "There's been a lot of narratives around D'Angelo's career but what hasn't been said is how smart and politically conscious this cat is...the lyrics are really going to be your guide to what you're hearing." Then he passed the mic to Questlove and asked him to speak on the recording, which Questo promised he would "very briefly," adding "because I *really want to play this record." To which George replied: "I know you do."

Still those few words are still worth recording here, however:

"All the answers are in the record. It's everything; it's beauty, it's ugly. It's lies, it's truth...it's everything."

>>>Click true for Eddie STATS' track by track preview:

1. "Ain't That Easy."

Comes in with an echoey ping-pong-crack snare, like a ball bouncing off the table and being exploded by a gunshot. The underlying funkadelic blues groove is a recognizable progression from Voodoo's anthemic "Chicken Grease," but has a harder, darker edge--both in the beat itself and the rock guitar lick--for D's falsetto to ricochet off. The frenetic six-string work (which according to Questo is all D) directly channels the spirit of the brilliant Eddie Hazel.

2. "1000 Deaths."

Commences with the sample we heard on the 'Black Messiah' teaser; a preacher describing a Christ "with hair like lamb's wool...a black revolutionary Messiah." The track is a Frankenstein's monster incorporating stuttery Dilla kick so tough that it is almost metalcore right on top of a constant Black Sabbath bass thrum.  It's all held together by bomb squad-ish black noize sonics; a tribute to engineer and long-time friend Russ Elevado, brilliantly using the dissonant elements create a whole greater than the individual tracks. The mix and the subtle use of sonics and noise in the system to tie everything together is rendered even more astonishing by the revelation that this album is all-analogue, record to 2-inch tape; no plug-ins, no digital anything.

3. "The Charade."

"The Charade" came to life with a spacey guitar intro -- the ghost of Eddie Hazel again, but this time lost in "Diamonds + Pearls" type dreamscape -- made even spacier by touches of backwards masking. But D's unmistakable falsetto resolves the psychedelia into a sad soulful groove, while the claps in the beat recalls a church service or a '60s boogaloo track.

4. "Sugah Daddy."

The first impression of this track (which premiered in recorded form in the wee hours of Sunday morning--listen here and read more description) is a Harlem Globetrotter-esque hand-jive beat ala "Sweet Georgia Brown," strutting (at time hilariously) as the funkiest shit you've ever heard with touches of Roy Hargrove's horn wizardry interjected throughout.

5. "Really Love."

String adagios with tape noise and barely audible voices (speaking Portuguese? No, Spanish) open "Really Love," the album's halftime lullaby. Spanish guitar comes in and we are officially in Desperado country, but the strings resolve into a pizzicato groove with that post-Dilla slow banging clap-on/clap-off beat. It's unclear how these parts will gel until D's voice says "When you call my name..."  and the emotion brings all the parts together with the walking bass line, kinda like J Dilla x The Roots' "Dynamite" in slow(er) motion, evoking a more wistful mood and capping off Side A with a bubbly improvisation.

At the break between 'Side A' and 'Side B', George announces that "contrary to some reports, 'Sugah Daddy' is not the single, 'Really Love' is the official single and it's being released to radio tomorrow [Monday] morning." Side B is truly the b-sides. Where the first half of the album is essentially all singles, the flip is made up of deeper and more abstract album cuts. In general on the second half of the album the pointed and powerful lyrics give way to more instrumental grooves, improvisations and workouts in the jam-band inflected style we've seen on Brothers In Arms and D's other live shows since 2012.

6. "Back In The Future (Part I)."

"Back In The Future" reestablishes that D's signature is falsetto croon and walking bass, continuing the cosmic feel that's permeated throughout the record thus far and features more lilting string arrangements. We fade on strings to make way for:

7. "Till It's Done (Tutu)."

Big Questlove drums and psych guitar with talking-through-a-fan warble. Or is it D imitating guitar with a Rhodes, as he's known to do? With Kendra Foster on dirge-like vocals, the song ends on a strangely open-ended phrase.

8. "Prayer."

A weird and haunted, but still somehow goofy synth-scape with drunken drums. Very Prince, ala Sign O The Times or "Annie Christian." The end of the track peaks with what is easily D's illest guitar freakout yet: something like Hazel's "Frantic Moment" meets "Let's Go Crazy."

9. "Betray My Heart."

Opens with the sound of a temple chime or gong and a tinny guitar groove, underpinned by clockwork rimshots and Hargrove's horns talking wah-wah to the Rhodes. Most of the song is a wordless conversation, ending on D's equally wordless croon.

10. "The Door."

 Slow-knocking beat and whistle at it's base. The guitar work is so Dixieland it's almost Leon Redbone, almost Doobie Brothers even, except funky as fuck.

11. "Back In The Future (Part 2)."

Part 2 fades up right where Part 1 left us, but quickly gives the drummer some (more), while D quietly catches the spirit in the background.

12 "Another Life."

Hi-hat sizzle announces the album's pleading closer before giving way to a huge piano vamp. Sitar licks bring the vibe of Smokey Robinson or Shondells; pure doo-wop. D's voice here recalls Ecstasy-era Junie Morrison, and it feels almost as if the full history of black music is contained within what some critics have described as a narrow range. The drums gets drunker while the changes on the piano fill get bigger and louder, taking us higher and higher...until it's over. - Eddie STATS

Black Messiah Tracklisting :

1. "Ain't That Easy"

2. "1000 Deaths"

3. "The Charade"

4. "Sugah Daddy"

5. "Really Love"

6. "Back In The Future (Part I)

7. "Till It's Done (Tutu)"

8. "Prayer"

9. "Betray My Heart"

10. "The Door"

11. "Back In The Future (Part 2)

12. "Another Life"