It’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here. After dozens of false alarms and very real police sirens, late last night, D’Angelo released new music to the masses. Black Messiah is futuristic funk and sweat mixed with current worry, dropped from the heavens, à la last year’s Beyoncé, as a surprise to all. It’s been a long 14 years leading up to this point, after his second album — 2000’s universally acclaimed Voodoo — redefined soul music for the modern era. His biggest hit, “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” was also his biggest hurdle: Its music video had him naked with hardened abs and glistening skin. It placed him firmly in the space of heartthrobs like Usher; concerts were drowned out by catcalls. D’Angelo resented the attention, canceling concerts and retreating into himself, taking drugs and alcohol into his cave. News dripped out intermittently. A new album always seemed to be almost ready. But now it’s actually finally here. This is a timeline of what D’Angelo has been up to and not up to since Voodoo.
February 5, 2002
MTV reports: “[Raphael] Saadiq and D’Angelo will reconvene later in the year to help produce D’Angelo’s next album.”
April 10, 2002
Questlove posts a screed at 5 a.m. on OkayPlayer, his message board. Buried in the story, Questlove notes that he called D’Angelo: “he’s still writing cuts with raphael.”
November 20, 2002
D’Angelo is pepper-sprayed and arrested at his home after a disturbance at a gas station. (He apparently cut someone off.) He resists arrest; four misdemeanors quickly rack up.
January 8, 2003
Raphael Saadiq describes D’Angelo’s new material as “real meaty, real phat. A real nice piece. Everything he sings just sounds good. We’re like kindred spirits. It sounds like D., classic D.”
Questlove sits down with Touré for Believer magazine. It’s a sprawling interview, with many mentions of D’Angelo. For starters: “[D’Angelo’s] recording. I heard he’s got, like, four songs done. I know him, he’ll stop at song twelve. But what he wants is to get fat. He doesn’t want his braider braiding every nook and cranny of his hair. He doesn’t wanna have to have ripples in his stomach. He doesn’t want the pressure of being ‘Untitled’ the video.”
Quest also talks about touring after that video came out, which — by show four — was an impossible task; they canceled weeks of performances. Questlove’s closing quote: “Had he known what the repercussions of ‘Untitled’ would’ve been, I don’t think he would’ve done it.”
Looking back from 2008, SPIN reports D’Angelo had “been playing a lot of guitar, lending the tunes a distinctly rock edge. ‘The best way to describe it would be Parliament/Funkadelic meets the Beatles meets Prince,’ says Russell [Elevado, his engineer], ‘and the whole time there’s this Jimi Hendrix energy.”
November 30, 2004
Canada’s Canoe reports: “D’Angelo had originally been scheduled to play [Toronto] March 29, but postponed until May 3. He re-scheduled that show for tonight, but now has simply cancelled the date here.” Also, “the rest of the tour is touch and go,” due to a respiratory issue. But that doesn’t shake the Canadian’s cheerful demeanor: “The good news is there’s talk of D’Angelo touring again this summer and, hopefully, T.O. will be on the schedule.”
January 12, 2005
D’Angelo is arrested for drunk driving and possession of drugs near his home in Virginia.
July 25, 2005
J Records is rumored to purchase D’Angelo’s contract from Virgin, the label that put out his first two albums.
The singer is supposedly seen “high-fiving his way out of a Chesterfield, VA courthouse after a judge had handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence (and no fine to speak of) for cocaine possession.”
September 19, 2005
D’Angelo spends several days in a hospital after crashing through his Hummer windshield and landing in a Virginia cornfield. (This time he wasn’t driving, his license having been suspended a few months earlier.) Though D’Angelo’s laid up with broken ribs and bruises, L. Londell McMillan, his entertainment lawyer, says, “He is anxious to finish the recording of his soul masterpiece that the world has patiently awaited.”
September 26, 2005
McMillan follows up: “He’s home and bugging us about getting back in the studio. He’s fine. He had some bumps and bruises; he bruised a couple of ribs. But he’s fine — he’s cool. The cops got it wrong. He’s home. He’s playing his instruments and wants to record. This is an unbelievable business, man.” Pictures of D’Angelo’s Hummer are released.
September 27, 2005
Alan Leeds, his tour manager, writes in to Richmond’s Times-Dispatch: “Thank God … could have been much, much worse … He needs several weeks home and then, once doctors give the high sign, he goes to Nashville to resume working on his next album.” He confirms that the album will be the first of D’Angelo’s under Clive Davis’s J Records.
February 10, 2006
“So Far to Go,” a song featuring D’Angelo, pops up on J Dilla’s The Shining. A year later, it also appears on Common’s album Finding Forever.
After a number of tough battles spread across Virginia and Puerto Rico, Gary Harris, the A&R man who originally signed D’Angelo in the ‘90s, finally gets D’Angelo admitted to Crossroads for rehab. Says SPIN: “D’Angelo wasn’t in denial about his alcohol problem, Harris explains. ‘He just wasn’t prepared to deal with it.’”
In a largely empty article entitled “Chasing D’Angelo,” a writer for Richmond magazine doesn’t get any phone calls returned, except for a contact from J Records who says “plainly that J Records had no agreement with D’Angelo whatsoever.”
SPIN: “[Questlove leaks] an unfinished D’Angelo tune called ‘Really Love’ to an Australian radio station, fracturing their relationship. While they’ve since patched things up, Questlove has continued to keep his old friend at arm’s length.”
A rumor (and bootleg demo!) spreads across the internet: D’Angelo will be covering Prince’s “She’s Always in My Hair,” the B-side to 1985’s “Raspberry Beret.” There’s also discussion about a different song that Prince may be featured on, called “1,000 Deaths.”
D’Angelo re-signs to J Records after “protracted negotiations.” They hope to have the record done by the following year, aiming to finish recording in August.
Lindsay Guion, D’Angelo’s manager, tells Billboard: “He’s able to smile again and he’s ready to connect [with fans]. He’s coming back. And he looks great, by the way.”
June 19, 2008
Billboard reports a single will be ready by the end of the year 2008. Though now signed to J Records, Virgin — which, remember, put out the first two albums — “is still planning on releasing a CD/DVD retrospective containing hits, rarities, and previously unreleased videos, titled The Best So Far …”
June 20, 2008
According to sources, D’Angelo’s already collaborated with Raphael Saadiq and also plans to record with John Mayer for the new album. (There’s also some wishfulness, considering that Alicia Keys is his labelmate.) The headline? “D’Angelo Ready for His J Records Debut. Almost.”
June 24, 2008
The greatest-hits package is released by Virgin. According to the press release, “The new collection is titled The Best So Far … because D’Angelo is far from finished, currently writing and recording his highly anticipated next musical chapter.”
SPIN: “There were probably endless hours’, days’ weeks’, months’ worth of music, but we never got a sense of when that album would come,” says Ray Cooper, Virgin’s co-president from 1997 to 2002. “We were always being told he was ‘hitting a great creative streak’ or ‘nearly finished,’ only to see nothing. It just became you’d be thankful if he was back in the studio working on something.”
SPIN also quotes manager Dominique Trenier: “Don’t feel sorry for him, because it ain’t that. It’s on him to change and go, ‘I’m ready.’” Questlove calls it the Latifah factor: “The Latifah factor is the last scene in Set It Off, where she’s like, ‘Fuck it. If I’m going to get shot, I’m going to get shot with my chin sticking out,’” he explains. “She gets out of the car and gets blown the fuck away … I think D will be pleasantly surprised. He just needs to stop tripping over his feet and make the record already.”
October 21, 2008
Entertainment Weekly headline: “Exclusive: D’Angelo’s preparing to bring sexy back!” (It interviewed “celebrity trainer Mark Jenkins,” who reveals that the singer’s back in shape and is working on new music that sounds “hot.”)
November 3, 2008
Q-Tip releases The Renaissance, which features the D’Angelo-guesting track “Believe.”
January 20, 2009
We’ve got a title: James River! Prince, Cee Lo Green, Saadiq, Mark Ronson, and famed jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove have all already been in the studio and tracked parts, according to Billboard. John Mayer and Alicia Keys aren’t mentioned.
Oh, and also: “D’Angelo will play his first shows in years this summer, beginning in Europe and then taking in the United States. Cities and dates have yet to be announced.”
May 8, 2009
Q-Tip, Raphael Saadiq, and D’Angelo form the supergroup Lynwood Rose. Says Gotty from the Smoking Section, “I don’t know what this is about. The release notes (’This is a warm-up mixtape to what will hopefully be an amazing album from them …’) weren’t all that helpful nor did they make me believe a Higher Power is going to bring this triumvirate together for an actual studio album.”
July 17, 2009
Michael Gonzales looks back on D’Angelo’s depressions and drug use, getting a quote from Nelson George: “Everybody is not built to be a sex symbol. Just look at how it fucked up his hero Marvin Gaye.”
July 23, 2009
Newsweek is denied a request for an interview: “Here is the most recent update: according to Lindsay Guion, D’Angelo’s manager, no album will be released this summer. No collaborators have been confirmed. The artist is living in Richmond. He’s recording there and in New York City, and he will deliver the tracks to his record company by September.”
D’Angelo’s label-run website is replaced by a MySpace page. A banner says, “Album & Tour Summer 2010.”
January 29, 2010
“1,000 Deaths,” a long-rumored track due for James River, is leaked to YouTube (and deleted four days later after a successful copyright claim by D’Angelo’s production company). Of the leak, Questlove says, “For the record I had absolutely nothing to do with this leak. I have a version of this but this was back in 2005. This is way more developed than the version I had.” He dates it to around 2008–2009.
Online music retailers begin selling an album called Interpretations: Remakes, a collections of songs by D’Angelo. There’s some question as to whether or not it’s an official release. (It’s not.)
D’Angelo is arrested in New York. His MySpace page no longer says anything about an album or tour. (Later, the MySpace page of his manager, Lindsay Guion, will claim “D’Angelo’s album is slated for release late summer 2010.” That will change to “… Fall 2011.”)
September 7, 2010
Erykah Badu tweets, “in badudio w/ roots and d’angelo.” Recording! A studio! Progress!
Engineer Russell Elevado posts to his personal website: “The time has finally come again to go in the studio with D’Angelo. starting the last week of August and for the next three months, we’re going in to complete overdubs and do final mixing on a few songs. Wish us luck … more updates to come.”
January 1, 2011
Under the headline “Happy 2011 and D’Angelo continues,” Elevado posts: “Pino Palladino and James Gadson have joined D’Angelo and myself in New York City to finish cutting tracks for the upcoming album.”
More from Elevado: “We’ve just finished up 5 months of recording. D has been doing vocals and guitars … Also, ?uestlove came in to jam with D and Pino [Palladino, famed bassist]. [T]hey’ve finally reunited after 7 or 8 years (lost track how long really). [W]e’re taking a few months break while [I] take care of some other projects that have been on the back burner.” The website goes quiet soon after.
October 7, 2011
RCA absorbs J Records (along with Arista and Jive). D’Angelo’s record — if it comes — will now be under RCA.
December 1, 2011
Questlove tells Pitchfork, “The album is pretty much 97% done. He’s just finishing his lyrics now. He needs somebody to smack him and take the record away from him because it’s pretty much finished.” He also says the European tour is real and that the album will fall in the “Smile/There’s a Riot Goin’ On/Miles Davis’ On the Corner category.”
January 26, 2012
D’Angelo performs for the first time in the 12 years since 2000, in Stockholm. (He performs some songs from Brown Sugar, some from Untitled, and a few from this new album, which is still being called James River.) One of the new songs is called “Sugar Daddy.” A concertgoer tweets, “Framtiden, det blir svårt att bräcka konserten med D’Angelo,” which SPIN translates as, “”It’s unlikely you’ll see a better concert than the D’Angelo show any time soon.”
February 8, 2012
Video surfaces of “The Charade,” another new song, being performed in Zurich.
February 16, 2012
OkayPlayer says, “Told you it’s real. (Psyche [sic], let me not jinx anything).” In an interview with MTV Hive, engineer Russell Elevado says, “We started working on it right after Voodoo tour — so around 2001. We did extensive tracking for that first year, and since that time he’s been in and out of the studio. So in between that time he had a few years off obviously for health reasons and other shenanigans … so it hasn’t been a full ten or eleven years full-on.” He says one song recorded in 2001 will make the album, but not a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” which had previously leaked.
Also: “[D’Angelo] wants to finish it as soon as possible, but once he gets into the studio he gets into his own zone and he’s on D’Angelo time and nothing else really matters.”
June 17, 2012
“Ladies and gentlemen … I’ve been waiting twelve years to say this … D’Angelo.” —Questlove, surprising the crowd at Bonnaroo. They perform a bunch of covers: the Beatles, Prince, Hendrix, and the Meters.
June 18, 2012
Questlove details the album for Rolling Stone, saying D’Angelo’s taught himself guitar and has a very particular sound for keyboards. “For the last 12 years, he’s been strumming the guitar … He is so painfully shy about it. I think in his head, if he doesn’t surpass Eddie Hazel, Santana, James Blood Ulmer and Frank Zappa as an axeman, he doesn’t want to share it with the world.” Closing up, Quest takes it back to a realistic place: “Nothing is official — it is year 12. I’m just hoping that this was enough fire to really make him do that. Because we spoke the day after [Bonnaroo] and he said, ‘I’m so happy.’”
July 4, 2012
After 22 performances across Europe, he pops up in unlikely spots — like, yes, Bonnaroo, and now the BET Awards — and then does a surprise performance at L.A.’s House of Blues, his first true concert in the United States in 12 years. He performs “Really Love” — the song released by Questlove to an Australian radio station years earlier — “The Charade,” and “Sugar Daddy,” among others. He then heads off to New Orleans to headline the Essence Festival.
September 1, 2012
D’Angelo performs at the Made in America Festival in Philadelphia, concluding his live shows for a while.
Questlove tells Billboard the album is 99 percent done: “If this record is not turned in by February, then something is extremely wrong. Because we worked to the bone in the entire month of January just to tighten up all the loose ends.”
Something must be extremely wrong. The record is not turned in.
Questlove sits down with Red Bull’s Music Academy and promises, promises, promises the record will be coming out in 2013: “Ten songs are now mastered. I know for a fact there’s only one song left to be mastered on that record, so it’s definitely a fourth quarter release for that record … It has taken 11 years to make, but the amazing thing about it is that it still sounds like it came out tomorrow.” Also: It’s no longer called James River. Also: It will be so funky as to make Voodoo sound “normal.”
January 21, 2014
Russell Elevado shares footage of him (and D’Angelo, drummer James Gadson, and bassist Pino Palladino) working in L.A.’s Henson Recording. There are three videos, showing “Sugah Daddy” and “The Charade” are still being tinkered with after all these years.
May 21, 2014
Someone asks Erykah Badu what D’Angelo’s up to. She deadpans: “He’s studying quantum physics.” She continues: “He’s working on music, still. When you hear it, you’re going to shit on yourself.”
May 23, 2014
D’Angelo and Questlove sit down with Nelson George for Red Bull. On the subject of being reclusive, around the 59-minute mark, D’Angelo says, “I met Sly [Stone] recently … I always hear the rumor mill that he’s always constantly working on music. And it’s true! He’s got mad shit he’s been working on.” As for the constant social media pressures, D’Angelo responds, “To a fault, I think I put myself in a bubble so that I’m not affected by that. It’s hard not to, but it’s just the world we live in. I just completely block myself out. I have to. Because when I’m being creative I can’t even put my mind there.” Nelson George describes the recording situation as a “cave. You’ve got a black tarp … tee-pee with a keyboard and an ashtray.” Work is being continued; no date is announced, but D’Angelo closes, saying, “I just want to thank you all for your love and support.”
December 14, 2014
“Sugah Daddy” goes up for download at 3 a.m.
December 15, 2014
D’Angelo previews Black Messiah for an exclusive audience at Red Bull Music Academy in New York City. The entire album is released at midnight to immediate and rapturous reviews.