Inside D'Angelo's 'Black Messiah' Listening Party: A Look at Its Lyrics & Political Message

Kate Glicksberg

D'Angelo performs at the Brooklyn Bowl.

D'Angelo invited a select audience in New York to hear his long-awaited full-length album Black Messiah Sunday, revealing there that the album would be released finally at midnight that night. 

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Album collaborator Questlove was there playing the album on turntables, along with author and former Billboard reporter Nelson George acting as master of ceremonies. In attendance were several dozen journalists, label executives who included RCA Records CEO Peter Edge, management including co-manager Alan Leeds, and director Spike Lee. 

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The album's political nature was made clear at the listening session, as explained by D'Angelo in a lyrics booklet that was distributed. On the cover of that was the album title with an image of protestors' arms extended, and on the back it stated boldly, "All we wanted was a chance to talk 'stead we only got outlined in chalk" -- a lyric from the song "The Charade."

D'Angelo's introduction explains the album title and its content. It reads, in part, "For me, the title is about all of us. It's about the world. It's about an idea we can all aspire to. We Should all aspire to be a Black Messiah.... Its about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It's not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them."

The introduction continued to explain that not every song is politically charged but many are. Looking at the lyrics this seems very much to be the case. 

On "The Charade," which has music written by D'Angelo and Questlove and lyrics by D'Angelo and Kendra Foster, he starts the song singing, "Crawling through a systematic maze to demise / Pain in our eyes / Strain of drownin', wading through the lies." 

And on "1000 Deaths" he sings in the chorus, "I won't nut up when we up thick in the crunch / Because a coward dies a thousand times / But a soldier only dies just once / Once, once."