December 18, 2014
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December 13, 2014
By Aidan D’Aoust
It seemed we were too hasty in declaring 2014 a wash. This Friday, while we compiled our year-end lists and anticipated 2015′s massive releases, D’Angelo had the nerve to announce an album. After a lengthy absence from the spotlight, fans will hear an accumulation of more than a decade’s worth of music from the man so frequently credited as transforming, popularizing and even saving his genre. Black Messiah will be the follow up to 2000′s critically acclaimed and retrospectively heralded Voodoo. Even when a potential release was mentioned this year, we remained doubtful. Our skepticism, forever justified in an utter lack of concrete evidence. Sure, new music was teased during the occasional live performance (including a memorable few with frequent collaborator ?ueslove), but even these appearances were separated by bouts of silence. Every vague tease only added to the fans’ growing uncertainty and utter frustration. Again and again, we reluctantly surrendered to the unlikelihood of new music.
No matter the result of next week’s release (and inevitable letdown for some) D’Angelo’s legacy is already cemented in his influence on modern music. As fate would have it, D’Angelo’s return coincides with the reemergence of the very sonics he so effortlessly pioneered (credit is also due to Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Lauryn Hill). Whether it be Neo-Soul or PBR&B, the sound has once again landed into critical favor and has found its way onto the charts. Fourteen years ago, Voodoo challenged a genre’s contemporary landscape with its organic instrumentation and unapologetic balladry. It was an LP that broke the mold in an era dominated by poppy, single-oriented music. As quick as it was unexpected, an artist shattered the popular representation of R&B with only two albums to his name. There is no question that a world without D’Angelo, means a world without Miguel, Jhene Aiko, or The Weeknd. A world without Voodoo is a world without Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and some of this decade’s most triumphant work.
What is so undeniably special about D’Angelo (and no doubt why this album was so desired in the first place) is that a microscopic discography resulted in such formative and genre-defining art. An impact such as this may in fact, be the exact cause behind the wait. Perhaps an artistic drought due to lack of inspiration, it may also be a result (conscious or otherwise) of one distancing themselves from their own legacy. For starters, proof of this separation exists in name. The phrasing of “D’Angelo And The Vanguard” adorns the Messiah jewel cases floating around online. Whatever the reason, a rebranding helps to carry the baggage of satisfying an impossible expectation. Factor this in with the sheer number of years that have passed, and Messiah is be hard-pressed to tarnish its bolder and more defining predecessors.
D’Angelo’s track record will, undoubtedly, make it difficult for us to expect anything but greatness. Black Messiah could end up being incredibly beneficial or completely damaging to his career. Risks like these make the release such an anomaly. If successful, it will reinvigorate a career that promised so much potential. If successful, it will stir more recognition for an artist that is so often forgotten, yet totally seminal. The danger of this release is that it will exist in an era saturated by the music it has greatly inspired. If Messiah is anything less than great, it will fail. When we lower our expectations and view this LP simply as “more D’Angelo music”, it will have a chance to be properly enjoyed. It is much safer to receive Messiah as a gift to the fans who have waited this long. That in mind, Messiah should not be viewed as an extension of the artist we came to know, but a revisiting of the music we have come to love. But no matter the eventual opinion and looming Metacritic score, we will still have new D’Angelo music. And that in of itself, is what makes this Black Messiah our story of the year.
You can purchase Black Messiah when the album is released worldwide on Decemeber 16th.
Listen to NPR’s terrific sit-down with D’Angelo earlier this year.