Ferguson Decision Prompted Early Release of D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’

By Jamilah King Dec 17, 2014

D’Angelo surprised the world on Sunday night when he dropped his long-awaited third album without any warning. The album, "Black Messiah,"* has since earned the number-one spot in more than 20 countries. Now, a new story from Joe Coscarelli at the New York Times details just how much the police killings of unarmed black men inspired the often reclusive singer to say something with his music. From the Times:

After a grand jury didn’t indict a Ferguson, Mo., police officer last month in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, D’Angelo called his co-manager Kevin Liles. "He said: ‘Do you believe this? Do you believe it?’ " Mr. Liles said. "And then we just sat there in silence. That is when I knew he wanted to say something." (D’Angelo declined to be interviewed for this article.)

RCA had planned to release "Black Messiah" in early 2015, but its reclusive singer was done waiting. "The one way I do speak out is through music," D’Angelo told his tour manager, Alan Leeds. "I want to speak out."

The story also details how big of a role Afropunk, the creative group that hosts its annual music festival in Brooklyn, played in the album’s art and marketing.

Afropunk’s work on "Black Messiah" often went until 4 a.m., including time spent deciphering the dense, distorted vocals for a lyric booklet. That was still too late to make the CD, but it will be included in the forthcoming vinyl version.

"We were able to put six months’ worth of work into two weeks," said Jocelyn Cooper, Afropunk’s co-founder and D’Angelo’s music publisher, who signed him as an unknown teenager in 1993. D’Angelo is "a bit of a vampire," she added. "It’s easier to get ahold of him at 2 a.m."

It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important albums in years. Read the whole thing at the Times


*Post has been updated since publication to indicte that the album is named "Black Messiah" not "The Black Messiah."