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Published on February 3rd, 2015 | by dannyvesper

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A Brief History of R&B and Why D’Angelo’s Black Messiah Matters

Black Messiah 2015When I read the news that D’Angelo would soon be dropping his “long, long-awaited” album I was in shock, literally. My brother had died the night before. The fact that I had been anxiously awaiting this album for years didn’t matter. I was dazed, drained, and devastated. How could I possibly care about D’Angelo?

This was the state of mind that I began streaming Black Messiah on Spotify, a couple days later, on the night it dropped. I listened to it in the dark, sitting on my parents couch, watching lights blink on their Christmas tree until they were just one big blur of neon color. I listened to it again, and again, until the sun came up. Then I listened to it one more time.

I don’t remember a lot from December 2014. I lost a few weeks there. As is expected when you go through a death in the family. But the important things stick out in my mind. This album really helped me take my mind off shit. For instance, I remember dancing to D’Angelo’s, “Back To The Future,“ with my girlfriend on Christmas morning like we didn’t give a fuck. That song has a groove that doesn’t make sense on paper. It’s the sort of thing you might not even realize is great to dance to unless you try. The bass just pedals one note. It has a little hop to it, too. The kind of hop you’d expect from old jump blues musicians like Cats and The Fiddle or Louis Jordan.  But every once in a while, it just slides…like Vroom!

And before you know it, it’s “back to the way it was.”

 

Like all of D’Angelo’s best work, this song pulls it’s inspiration from a lot of other sources. The most notable here, might be Nas’, “Represent.”  The two songs share a key, a very similar in orchestration and arrangement, and even though they have two completely different grooves–on account of the bass line–their beats are so similar that it’s difficult to tell them apart. 

 

This isn’t the only song on Black Messiah that has striking similarities with other classics. For example, compare the mighty riffage on, “1000 Deaths” to that of Funkadelic’s “Hit It & Quit It.”  Or notice how, “Really Love,” is a pea from the same pod as Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  Then there’s the gorgeous closer, “Another Life,” that has more than it’s share of parallels with both The Delfonics’, “Over and Over,” and Luther Vandross’, “Never Too Much.”

I’m not sure if D’Angelo is doing this on purpose. It’s far more likely that this stuff is just a part of his DNA. In any case, it never comes off as thievery–Black Messiah transcends it’s influences. Perhaps the best example of what I’m talking about is, “Sugah Daddy.” The song already feels like a classic to me.  Compare it, first of all, to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” another song that also pays homage to early swing jazz. Also notable are the vocals which evoke Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller. It has a piano that could have been played by Thelonious Monk, a drum beat that’s a dead ringer for A Tribe Called Quest’s “Oh My God,” and body percussion that sounds a little familiar as well.  Yet somehow it belongs in it’s own category. It’s a style of music that’s never existed before–neither jazz, hip-hop nor R&B–but somehow all of them, too.

 

Promo PicIt’s worth remembering that this album is a little over a month old now.  In other words, this is also old news. You’ve hopefully already heard Black Messiah, and also wrapped your head around it. As B.G.M.’s Michael White said in December, “To give (Black Messiah) a full review (now) a mere couple days since it’s release would be crass, considering it took nearly fifteen years for this to arrive.”

I couldn’t agree more.  This album required some unpacking.  Today, I’m not going to go any deeper into why this album is great. This is a singular record, easily the best of 2014, and as good as any soul record ever made.  I’m not going dive into the social relevance of this album either–even though it’s quite important. Instead, I have another point to make.

The accepted wisdom was that hip-hop and R&B sucked in 2014.  I’m not sure where that idea came from–perhaps people were suffering from Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar withdrawals.  The fact is, 2014 was a great year in hip-hop and R&B.  Not just because of D’Angelo, either. A lot of great black music came out. In fact, it’s always been this way. Black music has always been the best America has had to offer.  So with that in mind, I’ve decided to pay respect to this record in another way–by providing you with links to some of the greatest albums ever made by black artists.

The following is a list of only my favorite hip-hop and R&B albums over the past 45 years.  As far as I’m concerned every one of these is essential to any serious music collection.  Looking over this list one thing strikes me: there has never been a time when the creative output of black musicians hasn’t been on the forefront of popular music. Sure, New Jack Swing might not be your thing (I love it), but it made way for the golden age of hip-hop, so you’ve gotta love Guy and Bobby Brown for that at least.

So without any further delay.  Here is a shit ton of amazing music by black musicians. I think D’Angelo would approve. (Note: most of these links are to Spotify pages.)

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1970s

1970: Last Poets: s/t Curtis Mayfield: CurtisAretha Franklin: Spirit In The DarkCharles Wright: Express YourselfDelfonics: s/t 

1971: Sly and the Family Stone: There’s A Riot Goin’ OnMarvin Gaye: What’s Going OnIsaac Hayes: Black MosesEarth, Wind & Fire: s/t The Stylistics: s/tFunkadelic: Maggot BrainLast Poets: This Is MadnessGil Scott-Heron: Pieces Of Man

1972: Al Green: Let’s Stay Together, I’m Still In Love With YouBill Withers: Still BillAretha Franklin: Young, Gifted and BlackCurtis Mayfield: SuperflyStevie Wonder: Talking BookO’Jays: Back StabbersPharaohs: AwakeningThe Stylistics: Round 2The Dramatics: Whatcha See Is Whatcha GetMiles Davis: On The Corner

1973: Herbie Hancock: Head HuntersAl Green: Call MeStevie Wonder: InnervisionsKool & The Gang: Wild and PeacefulHarold Melvin and The Blue Notes: Black and BlueThe Isley Brothers: 3 + 3The Dramatics: Dramatically YoursMarvin Gaye: Let’s Get It OnBetty Davis: s/t, Terry Callier: What Color is Love

1974: Ann Peebles: I Can’t Stand The RainBetty Davis: They Say I’m DifferentKaygee’s: Keep on Bumpin’ and MasterplanTerry Callier: I Just Can’t Help MyselfGil Scott-Heron: Winter In America

1975: Commodores: Caught In The ActEarth, Wind & Fire: That’s The Way Of The WorldHarold Melvin and The Blue Notes: To Be TrueBarry White: Greatest HitsSmokey Robinson: A Quiet StormParliament: Mothership ConnectionThe Isley Brothers: The Heat Is OnAllen Toussaint: Southern NightsDonna Summer: Love To Love You Baby

1976: Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key of LifeCommodores: Hot On The TracksEarth, Wind & Fire: SpiritAretha Franklin: SparkleParliament: Clones of Dr. Funkenstein

1977: Evelyn “Champagne” King: Smooth TalkTeddy Pendergrass: s/tGil Scott-Heron: BridgesCameo: Cardiac ArrestAl Green: The Belle Album

1978: Eddie Kendricks: Vintage 78Rick James: Come And Get ItMarvin Gaye: Here My DearFunkadelic: One Nation Under a GrooveTeddy Pendergrass: Life Is A Song Worth Singing

1979: Michael Jackson: Off The WallTeddy Pendergrass: TeddyChic: RisquéRufus & Chaka: MasterjamDonna Summer: Bad GirlsThe Gap Band: II

 

1980s

1980: Prince: Dirty MindZapp: IDiana Ross: DianaShalamar: Three For LoveStevie Wonder: Hotter Than JulyThe Gap Band: IIIGeorge Benson: Give Me The Night

1981: Chic: Take It Off  (Note: This is perhaps the most underrated album here)Luther Vandross: Never Too MuchGrace Jones: NightclubbingKool & The Gang: Something Special

Rick James: Street Songs

1982: The Time: What Time Is It?Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The MessageAndre Cymone: Livin’ In The New WavePrince: 1999Michael Jackson: ThrillerShalamar: Friends

The Gap Band: IVPatrice Rushen: Straight From The Heart

1983: Mtume: Juicy Fruit Lionel Richie: Can’t Slow DownMidnight Star: No Parking On The Dance FloorShalamar: The LookDebarge: In A Special WayS.O.S. Band: On The Rise

1984: Prince: Purple RainRoger: The Saga ContinuesSade: Diamond LifeNew Edition: s/tChaka Khan: I Feel For YouRun DMC: s/t 

1985: Whitney Houston: s/tThe Deele: Material ThangzMantronix: The AlbumCherrelle: High PrioritySade: PromiseLuther Vandross: The Night I Fell In LoveL.L. Cool J: Radio

1986: Janet Jackson: ControlPrince: ParadeClub Nouveau: Life, Love and PainStetasonic: On FireAnita Baker: Rapture

1987: Prince: Sign ‘O’ The TimesKeith Sweat: Make It Last ForeverJody Watley: s/tMichael Jackson: BadBoogie Down Productions: Criminal Minded

1988: Public Enemy: It Takes A Nation of MillionsEric B. and Rakim: Follow The LeaderN.W.A.: Straight Outta ComptonBobby Brown: Don’t Be CruelGuy: s/tBiz Markie: Goin’ Off

1989: Low Profile: We’re In This TogetherJanet Jackson: Rhythm NationTechnotronic: Pump Up The JamDe La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising

 

1990s

1990: Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth: Funky TechnicianPublic Enemy: Fear of a Black PlanetDigital Underground: Sex PacketsJohnny Gill: s/tLL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out

Ice Cube: Amerikkka’s Most WantedEPMD: Business As Usual

1991: Tribe: Low End TheoryJodeci: Forever My LadyCypress Hill: s/tBlack Sheep: A Wolf In Sheep’s ClothingDJ Quik: Quik is the NameMain Source: Breaking AtomsIce Cube: Death Certificate

 1992: Dr. Dre: The ChronicSade: Love DeluxeEn Vogue: Funky DivasCompton’s Most Wanted: Music To Drive ByMary J. Blige: Whats The 411Gang Starr: Daily OperationPete Rock and CL Smooth: Mecca And The Soul BrotherDiamond: Stunts, Blunts and Hip-HopRedman: Whut? The Album.

1993: Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang Clan: 36 Chambers Tribe: Midnight MaraudersR. Kelly: 12 Play Souls of Mischief: 93 Til InfinitySnoop Dogg: DoggystyleJodeci: Diary Of A Mad BandJanet Jackson: JanetBabyface: For The Cool In YouToni, Tony, Tone: Sons of SoulSalt-N-Pepa: Very NecessaryBlack Moon: Enta Da StageDel The Funky Homosapien: No Need For Alarm

1994: Nas: IllmaticWarren G: Reguate The G Funk EraBiggie: Ready To DieMary J. Blige: My LifeOutkast: SouthernplayaisticadillacmusicTLC: CrazySexyCoolDigable Planets: Blowout Comb

1995: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: E. Eternal 1999Three-6 Mafia: Mystic StylezRaekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban LinxJodeci: The Show, The Afterparty, The HotelD’Angelo: Brown SugarOl’ Dirty Bastard: Return To The 36 ChambersMob Deep: The InfamousGenius/GZA: Liquid SwordsFaith Evans: Faith, Groove Theory: s/tR. Kelly: s/t, Xscape: Off The HookTricky: MaxinquayeTupac: Me Against The WorldGoodie Mob: Soul Food

1996: Maxwell: Urban Hang SuiteOutkast: ATLiensTupac: All Eyez On MeJay-Z: Reasonable DoubtFugees: The ScoreAaliyah: One In A MillionUGK: Ridin’ DirtyLil’ Kim: Hard CoreGhostface: IronmanBackstreet: Another LevelTupac: Makaveli, The Don Killuminati: 7 Day TheoryDJ Shadow: EndroducingDe La: Stakes Is High, Redman: Muddy Waters 

1997: Missy Elliott: Supa Dupa FlyBiggie: Life After DeathMaster P: Ghetto DCamp Lo: Uptown Saturday NightErykah Badu: BaduizumBusta Rhymes: When Disaster StrikesUsher: My WayTwista: Adrenaline Rush

 1998: Outkast: AqueminiLauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn HillJay-Z: Hard Knock Life Vol. 2Juvenile: 400 DegreezDMX: It’s Dark and Hell Is HotR. Kelly: R.Dru Hill: Enter The DruBlack Star: Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black StarDJ Quik: Rhythm-al-ism

 1999: Destiny’s Child: Writing’s On The WallKelis: KalidescopePrince Paul: Prince Among ThievesDr. Dre: 2001MF Doom: Operation DoomsdayThe Roots: Things Fall ApartMos Def: Black On Both Sides

 

2000s

2000: D’Angelo: VoodooSade: Lovers RockSlum Village: Fantastic Vol. 2Toni Braxton: The HeatGhostface Killah: Supreme ClienteleErykah Badu: Mama’s GunOutkast: Stankonia

Talib Kweli: Train of Thought

2001: Jay-Z: BlueprintMissy Elliott: Missy E. So AddictiveAaliyah: s/tUsher: 8701

2002: Musiq Soulchild: Juslisen Clipse: Lord Willin’50 Cent: 50 Cent Is The Future (Mixtape) *, Cam’ron: Home With MeTalib Kweli: QualityRaphael Saadiq: Instant VintageThe Roots: PhrenologyLil Jon & The East Side Boyz: Kings Of Crunk

2003: 50 Cent: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’Erykah Badu: Wordwide UndergroundR. Kelly: Chocolate FactoryJay-Z: The Black AlbumKelis: TastyOutkast: Speakerboxx/The Love BelowT.I.: Trap MuzikFreeway: Philadelphia Freeway

2004: Usher: ConfessionsMadvillain: MadvillainyKanye West: College DropoutTeedra Moses: Complex Simplicity

2005: Kanye West: Late RegistrationMary J. Blige: The BreakthroughRe-Up Gang: We Got It For Cheap Vol. 2 (Mixtape), Young Jeezy: Trap or Die (Mixtape), Lil Wayne: Tha Carter IIYoung Jeezy: Let’s Get It: Thug MotivationCommon: Be

2006: Clipse: Hell Hath No FuryJ Dilla: DonutsLil Wayne: Dedication 2 (Mixtape) *, Beyonce: B’DayT.I.: KingGhostface Killah: Fishscale

2007: The Dream: Love/HateLil Wayne: Da Drought 3 (Mixtape) *, Kanye West: GraduationAmerie: Because I Love ItLedesi: Lost and FoundM.I.A.: Kala

2008: Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part OneLil Wayne: Tha Carter IIIBeyonce: I Am Sasha FierceKanye: 808 & Heartbreak

2009: The Dream: Love Vs. MoneyDrake: So Far Gone (Mixtape), Gucci Mane: The State Vs. Radric DavisNicki Minaj: Beam Me Up Scotty (Mixtape),  

 

2010s

2010: Big Boi: Sir Luscious Left FootCurren$y: Pilot Talk I and II, Earl Sweatshirt: Earl (Mixtape) *, Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyThe Dream: Love KingMiguel: All I Want Is YouDrake: Thank Me LaterBig K.R.I.T.: K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (Mixtape), Kendrick Lamar: Overly Dedicated

2011: Kendrick Lamar: Section 80A$AP Rocky: Live.Love.A$AP (Mixtape), Drake: Take CareDanny Brown: XXX (Mixtape) *, The Weeknd: House of Balloons (Mixtape), Kanye and Jay-Z: Watch The ThroneMeek Mill: Dream Chasers (Mixtape),

2012: Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d cityFrank Ocean: Channel Orange Jeremih: Late Nights (Mixtape), Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream2 Chainz: Based On A T.R.U. StoryRick Ross: Rich Forever (Mixtape), Killer Mike: R.A.P. MusicJoey Bada$$: 1999 (Mixtape)

2013: Beyonce: s/tKelela: Cut For MeJai Paul: DemosDanny Brown: OldKanye West: YeezusDrake: Nothing Was The SameEarl Sweatshirt: DorisA$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$APA$AP Ferg: Trap LordVic Mensa: Innannetape (Mixtape)

2014: D’Angelo: Black MessiahYG: My Krazy LifeBirdman/Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan: Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1Ty Dolla $ign: Beach House EPFreddie Gibbs x Madlib: PinataIsaiah Rashad: Cilvia DemoCakes Da Killa: Hunger PangsNicki Minaj: The PinkprintTravis Scott: Days Before Rodeo (Mixtape) *

dannyvesper
is a freelance writer and hipster emeritus. His work has appeared in various impressive publications including the one you’re enjoying now and he has his own music blog where he reviews music both old and new: oldnewborrowedblew.blogspot.com

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