There are rare works scattered across the vast reaches of place and time that are able to earn the title of masterpiece. They exist all around us taking a variety of forms. Some are obvious and have been acclaimed by experts and the public in large numbers over a long period of time – the classics. Others are loathed by the majority and exist as masterpieces only in the minds of a few – the cult. Others still are yet to be discovered, yet to be respected, or have altogether been forgotten and exist only in some dying history. But what they all share is some common sense of greatness, ingenuity, influence, importance. They are perhaps revered for being daringly unique, encapsulating of an era, or are defined best by the subsequent masterpieces that they inspire. A genius capable of inspiring further genius creates the most powerful and longstanding art the world will ever know. Often, the work of these special few is less known to the public than that of their successors.
Though Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson are the names today most closely associated with modern architecture, they share a common inspiration – Louis Sullivan and his early non-ornamental, modernistic designs. The modernist greats all took influence from Sullivan, expanded and perfected his ideals, and in turn, cemented their places in many more history books than Sullivan himself.
When the world thinks back on the era of impressionist painting, the names that come to mind are Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh. But none of these artists would have had the opportunity or the inspiration to pursue their work had it not been for the way paved by Gustave Courbet, an anti-establishmentarian who worked tirelessly to finance and exhibit his own work in defiance of the closed société held in monopoly by the French authoritarians.
In recent years, some of the world’s most talented and renowned musicians have created the most revered work of their careers and have done so with the clear and present inspiration from a singular, shared, influential album: D’Angelo’s 2014 masterpiece, Black Messiah.
There was understandable question and uneasiness as to whether Kendrick Lamar could follow up his illustrious 2012 album, good kid, m.A.A.d. City, with an equally impressive, creative, and important project. It’s not that anyone doubted Kendrick’s ability, it was simply that m.A.A.d. city seemed like one of those albums that could come to define an artist’s career, even so early on. The album was so well done; encompassingly influential on the course of hip-hop that no one could blame Kendrick if he were unable to follow it up. However, in 2015, he made a fool of us all when, with the release of his album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar once again blessed us with a work of genius and reaffirmed his position as the greatest rapper alive. To this day, like most of Kendrick Lamar’s canon, it is one of the great hip-hop albums not just in recent memory, but of all time. And it’s ubiquitous sound was unique in one primary aspect: it was inspired and driven by a modern take on funk music – a turn from his previous work which gave the album a sense of relatability to classic hip-hop and allowed it to act as a bridge across different genres and eras. To Pimp a Butterfly is undoubtedly innovative, has certainly been influential on the music scene since its release, and is arguably Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece to this day, but it also bears a striking resemblance and owes a hell of a lot of its direction to Black Messiah. Kendrick’s Institutionalized, These Walls, Hood Politics, and You Ain’t Gotta Lie in particular share a funky production and off-kilter flow that would see the songs fit seamlessly into Black Messiah. Even the soulful, broken falsetto reached for by many of the vocal deliveries from Kendrick and his features on To Pimp a Butterfly can be seen as allusion to D’Angelo’s signature voice.
A year after the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, another artist released their key mark album, once again taking advantage of the influence that D’Angelo had left on the music spectrum. A smooth blending of elements ranging from funk, hip-hop, R&B, rap, and electronic had become successful in the mainstream by way of Black Messiah, and an artist with an unstoppable skillset ranging across the same set of genres was about to take D’Angelo’s creative idealogy to the next level. Anderson .Paak released his sophomore album, Malibu in January of 2016. It’s an hour-long groove fest overflowing with soulful vocals, unique flows, pristine production and lots and lots of funk. There is little doubt that the styling of Anderson .Paak – a hip-hop, R&B, rock, electronic, soul, and funk artist acting as the front man for a talented band is heavily inspired by D’Angelo who carries with him an awfully similar résumé. If anything, .Paak’s unique sound can be seen as a more new age and up-tempo take on D’Angelo’s whose tends to be a little more subdued and vocally prominent. In fact, one of the songs on Malibu most reflective of the styling on Black Messiah is the Waters featuring BJ the Chicago Kid – an R&B artist with a knack for interesting flow and a unique, soulful delivery in some ways similar to D’Angelo.
Just a month after the release of Malibu, BJ the Chicago Kid released his own album, In My Mind, which has left him a staple on lists in search for the greatest R&B artist alive. Though it wouldn’t be outlandish to just assume that in some ways, every R&B artist today has been inspired by D’Angelo, BJ the Chicago Kid seems particularly reminiscent. Maybe it’s their imperfect vocal deliveries as their accents shine through, maybe it’s their knack for incorporating funk and soul, or maybe it’s that they, in a genre where it’s essentially a requirement to ooze sexuality, seem to do it effortlessly while with many others it feels forced. Just listen to BJ’s The Résumé and D’Angelo’s Sugah Daddy.
Black Messiah was an album that came out of nowhere by an artist who hadn’t released a project in 14 years and had been all but forgotten. It was a pure, heavily instrumental, grass roots production that merged the worlds of funk, soul, hip-hop, R&B, and rock seamlessly into one of the great albums of the last decade. In its genius, it found its way into the sounds and styles of other artists, and became more well-known and widespread by Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid than it ever could have hoped to be in the hands of D’Angelo alone. But, it’s important to remember those who have inspired those who inspire, and there is no doubt that to Pimp a Butterfly, Malibu, and In My Mind are all extensions of the movement that Black Messiah started.
Which leads us to beg the question: what have those albums inspired since? The truth of the matter is simply that there is a lot of music flooding the modern scene that in some way or another can thank D’Angelo and Black Messiah for a path well paved. An artist incorporating funk, soul hip-hop, R&B, or rock into their sound; an artist breaking down the very archaic boundaries of genre; an artist influenced by Kendrick, .Paak. or Bj, have probably been inspired, and if not, owe it to themselves to become inspired by Black Messiah. Like Louis Sullivan was to modernist architecture; like Gustave Courbet was to impressionist painting, D’Angelo and his masterpiece, Black Messiah are to the current music scene.
Revisit the influential masterpiece here