D’Angelo’s Black Messiah project, his first album in 15 years, was inspired by the current state of race relations in the United States. With the amount of high-profile police brutality and racially motivated cases in the United States, including the horrific shooting that took place at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina that took place earlier this week, D’Angelo felt it was time for him to add his voice to the conversation. While out in Oakland recently, D’Angelo was fortunate enough to meet one of his heroes, Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party. The New York Times documented the meeting and sat down with both the artist and the political activist to discuss political protest, the importance of music to the movement and the prison industrial complex.
In the interview, the singer discussed how important it for artists to sing about social change but how disappointed he is that only a handful of black artists are taking a stand:
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. 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 also spoke on the politically charged hip-hop music he grew up on and how much trends have changed since the late ’80s and ’90s:
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.
On another note, D’Angelo also teased that he has new music coming out in the fall including a song called, “Go and Tell Bro”:
There are also songs that didn’t make the [Black Messiah] record but that I’m getting ready to release in the fall. I got a song called “Go and Tell Bro.”