Whoa, new D’Angelo! Fourteen years later! Out of nowhere! Turns out the dude’s still as cool as a well-made cocktail, and Black Messiah certainly feels like the return of a deity: that R&B’s slowjam prince can emerge from the darkness with an album—more than a decade in the making—that’s so confidently singular and playful, even at its darkest, is a feat worth celebrating.
Black Messiah feels like it could’ve been made in total musical isolation: it feels disconnected with any of modern R&B’s sonic preoccupations. Its production values have more in tune with the late-’90s than 2014, but it still feels adventurous—as if Outkast had released The Love Below in the golden age of R&B.
The single, “Sugah Daddy” lets a wandering piano line, handclap percussion and horn stabs carry the weight as much as D’Angelo’s voice; “Back to the Future” (Part I)” is a lament for better days in ways equally slick and left wanting. “1000 Deaths”—one of the first Messiah tracks to leak, partly completed, years ago—is a claustrophobic, stuttering feverish track that still manages to ride a groove through all of its static. It’s enough to makes you wish fewer artists chased populist styles and more embraced their inner guidance with this much control and poise. It’s a Chinese Democracy that actually delivers.