It had been nearly 15 years since the iconic album Voodoo came out. Everyone knew a new album was in the works and had been for a long time. D’Angelo started touring again 2 years ago and played new material here and there. But the release of a new album was only expected for next year by hopeful fans. A song appeared on Soundcloud last Saturday.
Suddenly, on sunday, a really private industry listening party was organised by Red Bull Music Academy (they’re everywhere!) and by the end of the day, Black Messiah was available on iTunes. CD copies were available in stores as soon as monday. And it’s everything we were hoping for! Another Soul lesson by one of the masters, singing on infectious grooves with a fat bottom end expertly delivered by the likes of Questlove, Pino Paladino and Chris Dave. None of the traditional month-long promotional rollout had been done prior to the release. Only a mysterious 15 seconds teaser was posted on Youtube last Friday, reminiscent of Columbia’s announcement of Daft Punk’s last album. Only they had done it a month or two before release in order to create buzz and an important demand.
So is this a Beyoncé-inspired surprise release strategy by RCA Records? (The superstar had released her self-titled visual album with no promotion at all last December). Absolutely not . In a insightful article, the New York Times told the story behind the release and confirmed many people’s idea that the album was dropped early in response to the current protests happening across the US. The piece explains how a month ago, D’Angelo, shocked and troubled by the decision of a Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict the cop responsible for unarmed Mike Brown’s fatal shooting, called his manager Kevin Liles : “Do you believe this? Do you believe it?” At this point, the singer and his record label decided to rush the release of the album. Black Messiah is not a fully political album, but it does contain a certain social commentary. It was then natural for the singer to decide to release it in this context of social tensions and protests.
D’Angelo himself explains it best in a statement provided to the listening party’s guests: “Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. (…) It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decided to make change happen.”