D’Angelo, the guy who created Voodoo, released his first single in about 14 years before deciding to just release the whole Black Messiah album in its entirety. We’re not sure if there is any other introduction needed. The man changed the course of R&B at the turn of the century (sort of), and then vanished into thin air.
Of course, we had to weigh in. And today we’ve got freelance writer Ural Garrett, and myself, Features Editor Andre Grant.
So, Does The Old Man Still Got It?
Ural: The world has changed significantly since D’Angelo went on his 14-year hiatus. Music sales pretty much suck now-a-days, social media runs the flow of information and America has a president that’s half black. Then there are those several noticeable cases of domestic human rights issues from Ferguson to New York. Meanwhile, the man who formulated pure perfection in Voodoo battled personal and professional demons. After years worth of hints and cryptic ?uestLove tweets, music’s king of contemporary funk/soul returns seemingly out the blue through Black Messiah. His grand introduction? The groovy and brass filled creative enlightenment of “Sugah Daddy” featuring his band the Vanguard.
In an age where columbusing of black music plays a larger role in America’s race discussion, “Sugah Daddy” is the perfect restart button. It’s funky, silky as shit, fun and unlike most music commercially released today, has a heart. Then there’s that classic falsetto that perfectly draws the line between unfastened and restraint. If D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” was Hip-Hop’s reintroduction to pure soul, “Sugah Daddy” is the home cooked meal for the masses force-fed processed foods with artificial sweeteners. For the first time in decades, a black artist has done the impossible in mainstream; create music that’s unapologetically black.
Andre: Coming home seems to be a theme in 2014 (we’re looking at you J. Cole, Common, Dilated Peoples, and K.R.I.T.). It’s like someone put the bat signal out, and the purveyors of blackness have stopped their meanderings and decided to enter the fray again. You say that much has changed in 14 years, and I say that not much has. D’Angelo released his turn-of-the-century bar setter in 2000 only to see R&B move mostly in another direction entirely. It wasn’t the kickstarting of something then, but the last violent flicker before the funk and B candle went out. He was part of the original Soulquarian collective. Remember them? The rollicking festooned soul grandfathers and grandmothers to first Janelle Monae, Kelala, FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean and, strangely, Childish Gambino and now the great grandfathers and grandmothers to Jaden and Willow, XXYYXX, Kilo Kish, and The Weeknd. Their last big thing ended in the wild misnomer that was Common’sElectric Circus. Erykah Badu and the Roots have continued to fan that flame, but not before the post-post-funk revivalists Janelle Monae and J*Davey kicked the dust back up into the air. And here, as then, we are surrounded by the things Rap has been going on about for a while. The police, the system, the corruption, the unfairness. It isn’t then that much has changed, it is that things are beginning to circle.
So it’s fitting that D’Angelo’s third project Black Messiah would sound so “let me show you young things how this is done.” The entire album was recorded on two-inch tape. That’s no digital for your kids at home. And it sounds like it. “Sugah Daddy” is its piano, horns and soul section coming through your town like a ghostly parade. It makes you want to say things that feel cheap like texting your lady and telling her to put on her dancing shoes, y’all are going out on the town. In a way, only D’Angelo could have made something that sounds so much like a natural follow up to anything that was on Voodoo. And the resident space funkadelic band leader may just be dropping another how-to guide with no instruction manual. It’s intuitive; it’s something you have to feel to know. Imagine my surprise, then, when this old man 14 years on has reawakened in me something I long thought I had forgotten I needed.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based writer and photographer. For the past several years, he’s written for numerous publications ranging from HipHopDX to SoulTrain. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.