For an artist whose work has been largely defined by its sexual nature, D’Angelo wasn’t always so enamored with the idea of being a sex symbol. After the release of his 2000 album Voodoo, and in particular the just north-of-NSFW video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)“, the R&B singer’s nude torso became even bigger than the sensual, Prince-inspired funk he played. It got out of hand pretty quickly; trumpeter Roy Hargrove told Spin in 2008 that “We couldn’t get through one song before women would start to scream for him to take off something.” This became a sore spot for D’Angelo, who would spend the better part of a decade away from the stage.
The time and space seem to have been good for D’Angelo; Black Messiah, his first new album in nearly 15 years, is every bit the psychedelic funk masterpiece that fans surely hoped it would be, and lead single “Sugah Daddy” the properly sexy jam to herald such a notable return. In some ways, the sound of “Sugah Daddy” is such that those 15 years may well have not even passed — it’s cut from a similar cloth as his deep, sinewy grooves on Voodoo. He’s sampling another slice of the devil’s pie, both lyrically and musically, diving into some love-sex-money quicksand that will probably leave him with more trouble in the long run, even though it feels so good the deeper he’s in it.
But then again, “Sugah Daddy” feels surprisingly contemporary; D’Angelo’s music always skirted too-familiar trends, and this is no exception. It bumps and it tip-toes along jazzy piano licks, kick drum and handclaps, sounding more like Prince than even Prince has of late. And it’s absolutely dripping with sex appeal, even if the lyrics aren’t always entirely intelligible. It’s more about a feeling when you get down to it, and the feeling here is ecstatic.[from Black Messiah, out now; RCA]
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.