Ben Kane returns this week with the final installment of his Time Traveller series, turning the lens to Black Messiah’s most politically-charged cut, “The Charade.” Perhaps some of you recall the week following D’Angelo‘s big reveal, when he and The Vanguard closed Saturday Night Live with a powerful live take of their purple protest anthem. This week Kane delves into the bicoastal effort that reared this particularly poignant Black Messiah song, returning from his work out west to Occupy Wall Street protests, joining them in marching for the rights of the 99%, until D put up the bat signal and Kane headed full-sprint for the studio.
It was there and then that “The Charade” was initially alchemized, finished years later as Trayvon Martin‘s murder became the flame that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement. You can read up below.
By 2011, the D’Angelo journey took me back to New York. After some time spent in 2010 at Electric Lady, recording D’s feature on “Glass Mountain Trust” for Mark Ronson’s album as well as a few other pieces, we moved to MSR studios in Times Square to “complete the album.” This was the phrase management and the label seemed to use every time we returned to the studio. “You’re going to finish the album by the beginning of next month,” I would be told, but I knew we had no real power over the time warp. This run would bring in the rest of the team, including both my brother from another, mixer/producer Russ Elevado, and manager/creative mind, Dominique Trenier. With this fuller team assembled, D’ hit the ground running again. That early time at MSR marked the beginning of a period that would yield the foundations for “Another Life,” “‘Till It’s Done (Tutu),” and “The Charade.”
In September of 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement started and quickly took over New York’s Zuccotti Park in a wave of beautiful non-violent resistance. I soon found myself working with D’ until the early morning at MSR studios, catching a few hours of rest and then taking the subway down to the park, where we struggled together to find a way out of a society that was working only for the few. On one of Occupy’s month anniversaries, I marched with protesters from Zucotti up to Times Square where our non-violent action was met with extreme police resistance. The police response grew and metal barricades — used to arrest protesters en masse — began to surround us. Just then, I received a text from D’ along the lines of: “Peace. I’ll be there in 30. Set up the song.” With little time to spare, I snaked my way through the crowd, jumped over an unguarded barricade and ran two blocks to the studio to get ready.
When D’ arrived, followed by Kendra Foster, I already had the livestream of the protest up on our studio computer. Me and D’ watched in awe as police horses stampeded thousands of protesters, and police wielded batons and swung fists. This was all happening barely a block away from our soundproof perch. D’ retreated into the live room with Kendra to work on a song they were in the midst of writing. The next day I noticed some new lyrics scribbled across a notebook on top of the rhodes: “Perpetrators beware say a prayer if you dare for the believers…”—the lyrical skeleton for “The Charade.” The song would be fleshed out years later as Trayvon Martin’s murder, along with many other high-profile instances of police violence, spurred on a new wave of important protests. In my mind, “The Charade” will always link these struggles, which we are still fighting.
Buy D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album on vinyl here.