When D'Angelo's Black Messiah dropped last week I was terrified to listen to it.
It felt like my dad died in a car accident fourteen years ago, and then called me on a Tuesday night like, "Nah, I'm good. Want to go get a burrito?" It was good news, I should have been instantly overjoyed, but more than anything I felt nervous. After all, what if after the burrito my dad was like, "I wish that guacamole was better. Anyway, I'm going to go disappear from your life again. Later."? Would all that renewed heartbreak even be worth it for a burrito with my long-lost dad, especially if the guac was just ok?
Yes, yes it would be worth it. But I needed a moment to adjust to a new reality. And I know it sounds like I'm being overly dramatic, but without exaggeration D'Angelo changed my life. I don't have the official stats, but I'm fairly certain I've listened to Voodoo more than any other album ever. As soon as I heard Voodoo I knew it was the bridge between the soul my dad raised me on and my generation, what it would sound like if Marvin Gaye had guest verses from Meth and Red. That album was permanently embedded in my Walkman when I graduated high school and journeyed out to California, and it was certainly playing when I met my wife for the first time. D'Angelo taught me how to love, how to have whatever semblance of game I have, how to fuck. There's an exact ex-girlfriend I think of every time I hear "One Mo'Gin" - I once put "Untitled" on repeat and had the kind of sex I can still remember years later.
I wasn't really disappointed that D'Angleo hadn't given me (and I guess the world, but whatever, mostly me) another album after Voodoo, not anymore. I had come to accept D'Angelo only dropping two albums as a simple fact, like gravity. The arrests, the personal problems, the reclusiveness, the stories of him erasing entire albums and starting over from scratch, the false starts, this wasn't your typical perfectionist artist delaying an album, this was something deeper, darker. He had already given me so much, I mostly just wanted him to be a happy and alive, even if being happy meant never putting out another album. And if that also meant I had to completely remove the prospect of hearing more music from him from my mind, then so be it.
So yes, while last week was undoubtedly my window to cash in on the pageviews and write my think piece or "1 Listen Review" or whatever, I just couldn't do it. More than any album that could ever potentially drop, even Detox or another Outkast album, I needed some time to reconfigure my concept of reality and wrestle with Black Messiah. But, blessedly, I've found there's been no wrestling required. This album is exactly, perfectly, actually as good as I was too afraid to hope it would be. It's progressive and also a return to D'Angelo's roots. It's important, crucially important right now, but it also feels completely comfortable, almost impossibly without baggage for someone who's been shouldering both the weight of his own personal demons and the judging eye of the public for years now.
Really though, while "D'Angelo's Comeback Album!" might make for a great headline, all that really matters is the music, and the music on Black Messiah is quietly powerful, which is the most powerful form of power. What's that feeling I get listening to "Betray My Heart?" It's like....that feeling of finally, after more mistakes than you can count, knowing your place in the world, the calm that comes with rising above regret and living in the moment. And then that makes "Charade" the coming of that moment, the first true realization, and "Prayer" the song you sing when your faith begins to waver. Voodoo connected so powerfully because it was so intensely human, so completely organic, and I still get that same vibe listening to Black Messiah. D'Angelo hasn't lost his connection to a higher power. Or maybe that higher power is within us and it's only the great musicians who have truly figured that out.
Black Messiah can never be another Voodoo for me because my life isn't Voodoo anymore. I can't go back in time and meet my wife while "Another Life" plays, I can never be 18 again, traveling across the country with my life wide open, singing about leaving my mojo in my favorite suit. But I can play Black Messiah for my daughter, and maybe fourteen years from now I'll hear "Back to the Future (Pt. 1)" and remember that Christmas when she was so innocent and so happy to get her new bike and D'Angelo was playing in the background and Black Messiah will be so deeply intertwined in my life it will feel like a part of me, like an artery. Ligaments. Bone marrow.
I don't care if this is the last D'Angelo album we ever hear. I'm so grateful for the music I already do have. If tomorrow he decided that buying a cabin in Montana and spending his days whittling, I'll wish him the best. And if in another fourteen years he calls and says he wants to hang out again, I'll be nervous, but I'll go join him. How could I not?
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]