Is this a good record? Am I falling for the internet hype? Is my love for this record a mere by-product of internet hype. Before the record dropped and even before i heard it I had declared it a modern day classic. Calling it a classic or an album that captures the zeitgeist of our times is probably me being a premature evaluator. But in all honesty. The music of D’angelo has and continues to mean a lot because, brown sugar and Voodoo were both albums that opened my ears to a lot of other types of black music. Black Messiah in many ways doesn’t go much further than voodoo. It instead is a continuation of Dangelos ongoing re-exploration of black musics hey day.
The greatness of this record begins with an understanding of how its mixed or how its engeneered. The fact that this album was recorded straight to tape and then the emphasis on strange overdubs takes you back to the murky almost indecipherable vocals of elegant classics like “Theres a riot going on” or P-Funks “America eats its young”. Black Messiah works to evoke a time period while evoking an aesthetic thats modern or a writing style that speaks to the immediate. The album opens with a song called ‘Aint that easy” a song that tips its hats off to everything from “Takes a nation of millions to any of the Meters records. The album is steeped in very tight grooves and avoids music built on melodic compositions that speak to easy listening. Its music thats steeped in sexual tension while also reaching out for the sanctified heights of old gospel and heavily dubbed psyched out Jimi Hendrix stuff. On Brown sugar D’angelo taps Bob Power whose engineering on ‘Brown Sugar” is the product of him having worked on Low end theory an album which influences the first chapter of the so called neo-soul movement.
In many ways Brown sugar opens the doors by perfecting the sound of previous cats like Tony Tone Toni and cats like groove theory and deepening the bass in a way paying homage to late era blue note records stuff by ‘Horace Silver or ‘Ron Carter. Brown sugar created a template that was built on rhythm like most hip hop records but was grounded in a spiritualism and a respect for the past that paid homage to the vocals of gods like Marvin, Al green and unsung heroines like Sylvia Striplin. Move forward to voodoo and you have an unprecedented vibe an album built on very tight off kilter grooves influenced by James Yanceys beat tapes which had been influencing the sound of everyone from Miss Janet Jackson to De la soul. By the time of Voodoos release we found that the soulquarians had taken a more vamp heavy psychedelic sound that could be evidenced in the sounds of two common records ( ‘like water for chocolate and ‘Electric circus”)
Or even more evident if you listen to Erykah Badu do her best Jimi vibe on the russell elevado engineered classic “Penitentiary Philosophy”
Once Voodoo hit in 1999, we are hit with a record that alludes to everyone from Gangstarr, to shuggie otis. Voodoo sold less than brown sugar and probably only sold well because D’angelo made a controversial statement with his first single how does it feel.
When I started hearing rumors about Black Messiah, I started to hear rumors about who would play, write and engineer the record. It was all my heroes, Questlove, Pino Palladino, Russell Elevado, Charlie Hunter, James Poyser, Q-tip and J-Dilla. This record is deep funk at its deepest but also loosely driven by lyrics that discuss personal struggles like love and drug addiction while also referencing our current societal conditions. Its a record thats guitar heavy and makes me think of Eddie Hazels guitar riffing on many funkadelic acid-funk joints. The engineering matters because its super layered in places his overdubbing sounds like ghosts wailing in the background punctuated by occasional points were his vocals puncture the wall of over dub and reveal lyrics like:
” All I wanted to do was a chance to talk/’stead we only outlined in chalk/feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked/revealing at the end of the day, the charade.”
This line manages to manage the paradoxes at the heart of black life and the life of most people in the world struggling to express themselves. But instead society chooses to push people into the ground in a sense killing us and outlining us in chalk.
When I first heard Sugah Daddy I couldn’t help but dance. The song is structured around a beautiful New Orleans drum groove that makes me think Ziggabo Modeliste. His singing is damn near indecipherable and acts more in a call and response way. His vocals weave in and out of the beat and function more to push forward the rhythm of the song. His vocal range cannot be touched by any modern day giants he goes from bass heavy deep vocals to prince-style screeching falsetto. The song is formulated to sound like a drug induced ode to everything from sex to church.
On really love he mellows out opening the song with some flamenco style solo guitar accompanied by the musings of a lady speaking spanish. The song is an ode to love that only D’angelo can do. Its a song of such brave uniqueness that cats like Marvin and Stevie could have fit right into. The genius of D is that he writes and sings in a way that never makes direct references; much like an MC his music has to be unravelled and this makes him timeless. Often times what sounds like a love song is are actually a protest song and what sounds like protest song is a love song. This is not a record made to exist in this time and place, its a statement that says that black music can and always has had the power to articulate the paradoxes of the human condition
I grew up on a ridiculously huge amount of 90’s R&B. I recall listening to albums like R. Kellys T.P2.com and Brandys Full moon fondly as a young man. Today R&b is in a weird place can’t really tell the rappers from the singers (yes i am talking to you Drake and TY dolla). But i came upon this the other day and realized we got hope.
I grew up and was born in a period of post-colonial ferment. In the 80’s it began to be pretty apparent that the socialist/colonialist experiment had or was failing. We watched the Berlin wall fall and watched as So called third world countries began to strain under the pressure of the end of socialist/communist experiments. As a reaction to that a lot of countries begin to borrow and sell over their state and civic assets begin to sell their assets to private companies. So when I saw a trailer to a movie by Goran Hugo Olsoon who previously impressed me with black Power Mixtape, i was floored when I saw the trailer to concerning violence which had Lauryn hill narrating.
Below I watched an interview with the film maker.
Fanon’s writing is vivid and poetic and manages to deliver a message thats prophetic and anguish inducing at the same time.
More trailers to check out
I would advise if you are interested in this subject matter or are a history buff fuck with this.
Hip Hop is an art form built on cinematic narratives and these narrative have always held an allure.In my case despite being a naive often conceited backpacker who hated materialism and misogyny in Hip Hop. I could not deny the allure of certain anthemic joints. Think of mega hits like “Mo Money more problems” or more recently smashes like “Niggas in paris. Songs built on often bloated and often vain egos selling us a live fast die young script of the american dream. A narrative thats at the heart of everything from “Scarface” to “American Gangster”. So think of the summer of 2010 as me and two of my road dogs are in a car driving to Burger king all wearing college laid back attire ( Varsity hoodies, sweat pants and sneakers). All of us look like we have not slept for days either because we were playing FIFA all night or were coming of off hangovers from nights of summer party excess. Imagine the first time we heard Rick Ross say “I think I am big beech!! Larry Hoover!!! Whipping work!! Hallelujah!!. We lost our wigs, our minds and all meaning of composure, this song heralded the beginning of our summer.
In these seconds the song in effect takes you to a world were the gangster is celebrated as a kind of folk hero. A true pursuer of the american dream. In this song Ross calls you to participate in his idealized world of Robin Hood-esque criminal heroes, whose hard work and sheer brilliance takes them from corner drug pushers to king pins. Now lets not forget the sheer force of ‘Lex Lugers’ muscular deep brooding bass driven beat. This song screams street anthem, and invites you to the church that worships kingpins named “Big Meech” and “Larry Hoover”.
The song itself is impossible to danced too, its a song that forces your face to grimace. While you fold and energetically raise your arms let your body menacingly rock back and forth. In these gestures you communicate the kind of restrained power that would make Don Corleone, the strong silent type proud. All the while you recite the menacing chorus back to Ross like a congregation in a church, captivated by the ministers captivating sermon.
I have often complained about Ross inability to push a truly heart felt full length album. He has not pushed a classic because you can tell his set the bar at Illmatic meets reasonable doubt type heights. When an artist sets their sights on classic status it tends to drown out there individual brilliance. But Ross is the king of anthems and still remains an artist whose sound often makes my summers events worth having.