The Ruler’s Back: The Triumphant Return of D’Angelo

Abe Beame is contemplating a 14 year break if only he can return with something like D'Angelo's new single "Sugah Daddy"
By    December 16, 2014

Art by Beaver on the Beats

Abe Beame’s next child will be named ‘Untitled’

For all the things we have to be grateful to Kanye for, the surprise album release may be my favorite. The joy of going to sleep in a world that has two perfect D’Angelo albums to listen to, and waking up in a world where there are three is exponentially compounded by the element of shock and awe. It’s nearly certain we won’t have as many memes and hashtags as last year’s surprise Christmas present from Beyonce inspired, but I’ll take a masterpiece worth its fourteen-year wait.

Of course, it’s way, way too early to weigh in on the timelessness of Black Messiah. It’s a beautifully inscrutable and fuzzy piece of music, buried beneath layers of vocals with noise rock level distortion and willfully obscure line deliveries that will take months, if not years, to totally unpack. I’m pleased to say on initial listens, without having a real understanding of what any particular song is about, I love the album. Neither here nor there, let’s talk about “Sugah Daddy”.

You would think with ?uestlove at the helm of a project, the meticulous music-nerd king would have a field day second guessing and fiddling with knobs given a decade plus to fart around with this project. An educated hip hop fan would be forgiven for expecting the neo-soul equivalent of a Steely Dan record with D’Angelo’s project finally dropping. Instead, we get something that feels stubbornly casual, a record that is at once detailed in its orchestration and charmingly spontaneous. It’s a song anyone who has bore witness to a Roots jam session should recognize. ?uest and co. riff as Kind of Blue session players, blues divas and mixtape rappers show up and shuffle to the mic to contribute a horn stab, an impassioned moan or a few bars as the moment compels them. It all contributes to a fonky cosmic slop, and it very much provides the mood and tone of “Sugah Daddy”. Call it a sudden moment fourteen years in the making.

D’Angelo provides a sound that belongs to no one else but D’Angelo. It isn’t the acid drenched psychedelic of Voodoo or the bullet-proof leather, Blue Note jazz stylings of Brown Sugar, and it isn’t a combination of those two ideas and it isn’t devoid of either one. It effortlessly directly and indirectly references (Deep breath): Ray Charles, George Clinton, Quincy Jones, Erykah Badu, Duke Ellington, Terrence Blanchard, Timbaland, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Prince, En Vogue, Chuck Berry and Teddy Riley amongst dozens that I’ve probably never heard of because I will never match ?uesto’s dedication. You can catch these references and appreciate the nods, or never have heard of any of it and love the sustained tone poem that is “Sugah Daddy” and Black Messiah. Either way, God is good. We can hope that this will be the inception of a period of wild prolificacy from our most consistent modern pop artist, or we can simply take refuge in the idea that we know what the rest of Winter will sound like. Happy holidays.


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