D’Angelo is emerging from behind-the-scenes once again to share his thoughts on the current landscape of music, political protest, social change, and his excellent album Black Messiah.
In June, D’Angelo met with co-founder of the Black Panther Party Bobby Seale to visit places that were important to the Black Panthers in Oakland and in Berkeley. The New York Times was able to follow them, as well as interview D’Angelo and Seale at a dinner later that night. While they covered a lot of topics, one of the more interesting ones was when D’Angelo opened up about him tapping into his political side for Black Messiah.
“I’ve always kind of tried to do something that was a little different than just simple ‘I love you, baby’-type songs. Like ‘Brown Sugar,’ it was a metaphor, or a double entendre, if you will. A lot of people thought I was talking about a girl when I was actually talking about something else. I was trying to tackle some issues on ‘Devil’s Pie,’” he says. “But on this album in particular, before the songs were even written, I knew that the name of it was going to be Black Messiah. There are also songs that didn’t make the record but that I’m getting ready to release in the fall. I got a song called ‘Go and Tell Bro.’”
D’Angelo and Seale’s conversation continued with praising the efforts of young black men taking to the streets and voicing their opinion. In the wake of recent hate crimes against black men, D’Angelo believes change must be done. When asked if music plays a role in social change, he says that there is a need for artosts to say something about it more than ever. He then shouted out Kendrick Lamar, while expressed his concern for the youth to take more action on their own.
“Now more than ever is the need to sing about it and to write songs about it. And no one’s doing it. There’s only a chosen couple of people. I think it just takes one little snowflake to start a snowball to go down the hill. My contribution and say, Kendrick Lamar’s and some chosen others’ start the snowball. That’s all I can hope for,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m comfortable being quote-unquote a leader. But I do realize and understand that my role as a musician, and in the medium that I am, that people are listening to me. Kids are listening to me. We have power to influence minds and influence lives. So I respect that power. I really do. I’m not putting myself on a pedestal or anything like that. I think that’s dangerous. When you start playing with that, and you’re not careful, you can get yourself into trouble.”
D’Angelo continued, “Coming up, the music of my era was very conscious. I grew up on Public Enemy, and it was popular culture to be aware. People were wearing Malcolm X T-shirts and Malcolm X hats. It was a very cool thing to know who Malcolm X was. It was all in the lyrics. It was trendy to be conscious and aware. Now the trend ... it’s just [expletive]. But to tell you the truth, there are a lot of people who feel the same way that I feel and that are making great music, conscious music. But for some reason or another it seems like the gatekeepers are not allowing that stuff to filter through to the mainstream. Kendrick Lamar, he’s an example of someone who is young and actually trying to say something. Who else? You got Young Jeezy and Young Thug. You know what I’m saying? It’s stupid. It’s ridiculous.”
Seale added his own opinion that was directed to the Black Lives Matter issue: “I’m pushing for the youth in these groups to get more political and more electoral; you’ve got to take over some of these seats. And you’ve got to get more [Marilyn] Mosbys elected to some of these political offices. And you got to put some measures on the ballot.”
For more of the interview, head over here to read it in full.