And The Word Was…D’Angelo’s Black Messiah: The B-Side (Part 2 of 2)

First written December 18, 2014 by Marcus Simmons

THE B-SIDE

“Back To The Future (Part I)” is a short gem that keeps the party going, but returns to a more serious tone. The singer describes the current state of his life and surroundings. Life is moving too fast, and simultaneously feels too slow. A lot has changed, but then again, it seems like nothing has changed. The singer simply longs for an easier time. At several points, one can hear what sounds like another political address in the background, giving the track’s flavor of unrest both personal and collective meaning. This leg of D’Angelo’s journey is just as funky as any other track on the album, even if the story feels unresolved by the end — but given the purpose of the album, it works.

“Til’ It’s Done (Tutu)” extends this theme of longing as the singer seeks to figure out where we all went wrong. In the spirit of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On project, he speaks of the tragedy and death that seems to occur unanswered at times, the destruction of the earth, and the “clock ticking backwards on things we’ve already built.” D’Angelo’s words capture the confusion and violence of today’s cultural landscape — replete with political corruption, militarized policing, conflict, and an uninterrupted parade of black and brown bodies every 28 hours. All shot through with broken promises and crushed by hate and indifference. As he states though, the “Question ain’t do we have the resources to rebuild. Do we have the will?” Who will see to the work of rebuilding our broken communities until the job is done?

“The Prayer” answers some of these questions in a sense and is a musical take on the most popular prayer text from the Bible, The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13). D’Angelo urges listeners to hold on and pray through difficult times, reiterating that our redemption and ability to make it to the promised lands for which we search rest in our ability to have faith. Faith that although the devil’s in this world are always at our feet, we will rise — someday. In the meantime, it is our duty to pray for peace. D’Angelo is giving us a little soul care in the form of his “soul prayer.” Placed with his earlier messages, this song reminds us that in all of our fighting, protesting, loving, and living — we must anchor ourselves. For many of the battles we fight will take place within our own spirits.

“Betray My Heart” is an up-tempo groove depicting love in action. Its a break in the album’s heavier content. Whether taken as a description of the love between two friends, lovers, or humans and a higher power — this track is functional in any setting. You might play it during a spades game, a fish-fry, rent party, or at the club. Either way, you can’t help getting caught up in the smooth base lines, jazz horns, and clap-clap of the snare. This is one of those tracks to pull you in and make you late getting to wherever you were supposed to be 45 minutes ago. Have fun with this one. Let it do what it’s supposed to do.

“The Door” is a breath of fresh air. Whistled choruses, D’Angelo’s signature vocal harmonies, and bluesy guitar solos will have you easily lost in this track as well. In fact, the song is so smooth that the lyrics, in which the singer warns his partner that their relationship has gone south, might not even register at first.

I told you once but twice

You wasn’t very nice

In your hands you held my life

I told you once but twice, my love

Don’t lock yourself out that door, no, no, no

Don’t lock yourself out that door

Clearly, we’re headed somewhere other than the bliss of “Really Love.”

Either way, D’Angelo gives us another hit.

“Back To The Future (Part II)” picks up where it’s counter-part leaves off — wanting to get back to a care-free time when life was more than a mere buzz. As a brief interlude to the last track, it brings consistency to the overall project.

“Another Life,” the finale track, is absolutely magical. The dreamy love ballad describes the artist’s love for a girl whom he feels he met in a dream. It might be mere wishful thinking in the end, but it’s hard not to believe.

I just wanna take you with me

To secret rooms in the mansions of my mind

Shower you with all that you need

Take my hand, I swear I’ll take my time

From the piano to the hum of the horns and guitars, to the relaxed percussion — it is the quintessential feel-good track. D’Angelo’s soaring falsetto is layered against his own lower register for additional effect. Seriously, this song feels like an afro-futurist family reunion hosted by Earth, Wind & Fire. It really is a dream.

D’Angelo’s new album has probably snagged the title for best R&B album of 2014. I’m actually having a hard time remembering who else released a project this year. Yes, the album is that good. Within hours of its release, it dominated topic trends (thanks to Black Twitter) and even topped the popular albums list for a bit. I appreciate D’Angelo’s thoughtful labor of love. The album is unapologetically black and unashamedly honest about our collective experience. Affirmation of our full humanity — our power, faith, love, cool, beauty and history is featured in all its truth and glory. Black Messiah came like a thief in the night (literally), reminding us that whatever we need doesn’t always come when we want it, but that it often comes right on time.

Collected Young Minds thanks Marcus Simmons for this review and his other work with us: Proud on Purpose.

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Collected Young Minds gave young minds a space to share their thoughts, engage with a community of peers, and gave voice to their views without censorship or prerequisites. This is a collection of essays written between 2013 and 2019 from various authors.

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Nicole Young

Nicole Young

Nicole is a writer, educator, and procrasti-baker, living in Philly. She‘s also a proud graduate of the University of South Carolina and VA native.

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