Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 2

We’re down to the final two. This was the most difficult decision of the countdown. These are two of my favorite albums of my lifetime, but one had to finish second. This is it. A recap of numbers 19-3 before we begin:

#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu

#18: Lemonade – Beyonce

#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala

#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak

#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

#11: The Electric Lady – Janelle Monáe

#10: But You Caint Use My Phone – Erykah Badu

#9: No Beginning No End – José James

#8: Currents – Tame Impala

#7: Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe

#6: “Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino

#5: The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

#4: Because The Internet – Childish Gambino

#3: Yes Lawd! – NxWorries

#2: Black Messiah – D’Angelo and The Vanguard

It’s difficult for me to call anything D’Angelo does second best. In fact, I won’t call this album second best. I think it was the best album of the decade. However, as time passed, there was another record I found myself going back to more often. As I’ve said here many times before, the best thing isn’t necessarily always my favorite. I can’t call Black Messiah my #1 album of the decade if I listened to it less frequently than another one.

There’s another reason why I wanted to make a D’Angelo album #1. I have my next blog project planned and it would flow better if I went directly from writing about Black Messiah into what’s coming next without another post in the way. But, if I’m being truly honest with myself and my readers, then I have to put Black Messiah where it belongs. By the slimmest of margins it’s my second favorite album of the decade.

So, about that next project. I’ve been kicking this idea around for at least a year but never wanted to commit. Then D’Angelo came out of his cave and appeared on Verzuz. He also announced his phenomenal Sonos HD radio station, Feverish Fantazmagoria. This announcement alone led me to my first Sonos product and a subscription to their HD Radio service. Totally worth it. I walk around my house with my Sonos Roam now tuned to Feverish Fantazmagoria. My favorite artist is also now my favorite DJ. It’s a peek into the mind of a musical genius. Where else can you get deep cuts from Bob Dylan, The Time, Joni Mitchell, Pharcyde, Rolling Stones, and Kendrick Lamar all in one station? The only question is, how do I now fill my house with more Sonos products so I don’t need to carry this speaker anywhere? How about an endorsement deal? I’ll put Sonos ads all over this site in exchange for some more audio equipment. Seems like a win-win.

Back to my point: D’Angelo’s public appearances seem to hint that there’s more music coming. I’ve been wrong about this many times before, but I’m checking my D’Angelo Google alerts every day lately hoping for something.

Around the same time D’Angelo started making himself visible again I was approached by a writer new to the Green Bay Area named John McCracken. He asked me to document my experience writing about Prince every day for six months for this site. I contributed a post for his new website. If you get a chance – especially if you’re from Northeast Wisconsin – I strongly encourage you to check out his site and subscribe. He does excellent investigative work unlike any I’ve seen here. His pieces are always thought provoking and the kind of journalism he’s providing is necessary. There’s also fun content like where to get the best chili in Green Bay, and quite frankly, I’m pissed I didn’t think of that idea first.

While I was writing about my Prince experience an itch resurfaced that will remain until I scratch it. I want to write something similar to the Daily Prince, but about D’Angelo. Not that I needed a sign or any further inspiration, but I received one anyway when I read a quote from legendary author Beverly Cleary who passed away recently just shy of her 95th birthday. She said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.” While I was writing about Prince I was fully aware that I’m only about the 70,000th person to attempt a Prince blog. I wasn’t contributing anything that didn’t already exist. But a song-by-song breakdown of D’Angelo’s music? I don’t see that anywhere. If there’s an artist alive deserving of such a tribute, it’s D’Angelo. Underrated. Underappreciated. Adored by his loyal fan base, but largely ignored and unknown outside of it. This D’Angelo blog should be easier to write simply because he has a much smaller discography than Prince. However, it will be made more difficult in that there aren’t a million other sources of information out there for me to research. There is no single source of D’Angelo facts out there like princevault.com for me to use for fact checking.

I will finish my rambling now and save my remaining D’Angelo thoughts for my upcoming Daily D’Angelo blog. That doesn’t mean I won’t be handing out awards for Black Messiah first. Here goes…

Favorite Song

Black Messiah is the rare album where damn near every song is a contender for this award. “Prayer” is the song that has emerged as my favorite. It’s a gorgeous piece of music that needs headphones to be fully appreciated. It’s also spiritually moving to the point where I’ve had occasions when “Prayer” has caught me in the right (or wrong) mood and moved me to tears. If you ever get the opportunity to watch the documentary Devil’s Pie: D’Angelo you should check it out. The movie opens with D performing “Prayer” live and it’s incredible. What I wouldn’t give to experience that performance in person.

Favorite Lyric

Crawling through a systematic maze
And it pains to demise
Pain in our eyes
Strain of drownin’, wading into your lies
Degradation so loud that you can’t hear the sound of our cries
All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we will lay on
Inundated by media, virtual mind fucks in streams

All we wanted was a chance to talk
‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade

Perpetrators beware say a prayer if you dare for the believers
With a faith at the size of a seed enough to be redeemed
Relegated to savages bound by the way of the deceivers
So anchors be sure that you’re sure we ain’t no amateurs

All we wanted was a chance to talk
‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade

Forget about these being simply the best lyrics on this album. These lyrics from “The Charade” are the best of the century. Simultaneously poetic and devastating. This is songwriting at a level that I cannot understand. D’Angelo is brilliant.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

I’m going to resort to hyperbole again on this one. When I say “Really Love” is the best slow song of the decade, I mean it, and I challenge anyone to top it. The melody, lyrics, D’s falsetto, and soaring strings are all top notch. The secret that elevates “Really Love” to the upper echelon is the work of Vanguard guitarist Isaiah Sharkey. D told a great story recently on Sonos Radio Hour about Sharkey and their shared love of D’s longtime guitarist Chalmers “Spanky” Alford who passed away in 2008. I won’t spoil it. Just listen to the show. Sharkey is an absolute magician with a guitar and his work on “Really Love” is outstanding.

Ring Walk Song

This is a no-brainer. “1000 Deaths” is a chaotic sonic masterpiece. The song opens with a fiery speech from former Nation of Islam and Black Panther member, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, referring to Jesus as a “black revolutionary messiah.” D’Angelo picks up the baton from Muhammad and paints a bleak picture of a soldier at war and how a coward dies a thousand times. All of this over electric guitar, rumble bass, and a thumping bass drum courtesy of Questlove. Another brilliant piece of music. Remind me why I didn’t make this my #1 album…

Favorite Happy Song

I was going to point to the insanely funky groove in the final 90 seconds of “Back To The Future (Part II)” but the lyrics that go along with it are actually kind of depressing. It’s impossible not to nod your head and dance to that groove. However, as he continues to repeat “I used to get real high, now I just get a buzz” you realize that you’re getting old and the song definitely is not happy. Instead I turn to the toe tapping groove of “Sugah Daddy” for a happy song. Check out this performance at the BET Awards that had Beyonce and Solange (among others) on their feet. Just don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics. It’s quite possibly the cringiest (is that a word?) song I’ve heard since Prince dropped “Sister” in 1980. There’s no incest involved in “Sugah Daddy” but D’Angelo does say “pussy fart” at one point and then you realize what the sound effect is supposed to be at the end of the song. Yikes.

Song I’d Play If I Was DJing

Unfortunately, if I have a complaint about this album it’s that there isn’t a radio hit that you can point to. There’s certainly nothing that you can play that would draw people to a dance floor. Maybe “Sugah Daddy” is the closest thing. You would more likely be looking to attract couples to the floor for a slow dance like “Really Love” or perhaps “Another Life.” “Another Life” is a throwback, soulful slow jam that takes you back to the 1960s and 70s, but I’m not sure it fits in at a party or club. I just wanted to mention it because it’s a beautiful track and a lovely way to close out the album.

6th Man Award

The Vanguard is a supremely talented band and singling any one of them out would likely be a mistake. That said, I’m going to do that exact thing anyway. No good funk band can exist without a badass bassist, and Pino Palladino has been a mainstay on bass in D’Angelo’s bands for over 20 years. He was a Soultronic during the 2000 Voodoo tour and he was still right there alongside D for the 2015 Black Messiah tour. I’ve long considered him to be the finest bassist I’ve ever heard. He plays riffs I didn’t know were possible. Check out this outtake from the legendary Voodoo recording sessions. Let it play for the entire seven minutes and marvel at Pino’s work. Next time you’re watching a D’Angelo performance check out the 6’8″ Welsh dude crushing it on bass and show him his proper respect.

I’ll have plenty more to say about D’Angelo in the coming months, but that’s all for now. I hope Black Messiah isn’t the last we hear from him. With that, I can’t believe we’ve finally made it here. One more to go. If you’ve been reading up until now I don’t think my pick for #1 is a secret, but I’m not going to reveal it here. You’ll have to wait for that. Back soon with my #1 album of the 2010s.

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