With this week’s shock release of Black Messiah, soul singer and multi-instrumentalist D'Angelo, the man music critic Robert Christgau once earnestly dubbed "R&B Jesus," returns with his first album of new material in 14 years. It was not, as many have suggested, 14 years of silence. The last D'Angelo album, 2000’s Voodoo, was a near perfect communion of buttery soul, Crisco-fried funk, and hip-hop thump, but the video for its calling card ,"Untitled (How Does It Feel?)", a lingering, sensual glance over the singer’s face and chest, turned him into an unwitting sex symbol. Live shows soon descended into catcalling, and D, convinced his music had become an accessory to his looks, slipped slowly out of sight. Dispatches grew scarce and worrisome. There were arrests. There was a car accident. For a while, D'Angelo appeared to follow talented but troubled forbears Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone into the dark.
Even in darkness there was still music. D'Angelo guested on albums by J Dilla, Q-Tip, Snoop Dogg, and more. He taught himself to play guitar. There were perennial promises of a new album. D'Angelo returned to the stage in 2012 peppering sets of old favorites with carefully chosen covers and unreleased new material. Black Messiah isn’t a sneak attack; it’s a slow-simmering gumbo finally boiled over.