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After almost 15 years, D'Angelo is back and he's as good as ever

Mary J Blige and D'Angelo with Special Guest Melonie Fiona in 2012
Mary J Blige and D'Angelo with Special Guest Melonie Fiona in 2012
Vallery Jean/Getty

For fans of R&B and Soul — hell, for fans of music — the surprise drop of D'Angelo's first album in almost 15 years today is Christmas come early. Fans have waited since 2000's cult-classic Voodoo for D'Angelo for a new release. Then on Friday, without any other warning, the artist announced that Black Messiah was coming. The internet broke.

But why was everybody so excited about an album from someone who hasn't released one in 15 years? Here's everything you need to know:

Who is D'Angelo?

Michael Eugene Archer is an R&B singer and producer who goes by the stage name D'Angelo. He signed to a record label at 18, and produced his first major album, Brown Sugar, in 1995 at the age of 22. The album debuted at no. 6 on the R&B charts. Afterward, D'Angelo took a four-year hiatus, and returned with Voodoo in 2000. Voodoo quickly established a following for the artist, and the Voodoo tour was one of the most highly attended of 2000.

Why do people love him so much?

Mostly because he's great. D'Angelo's sound has been compared to Prince and Marvin Gaye. He's considered one of the foremost voices in the neo-soul movement for his dreamy, melodic songs, filled with humming keyboard lines and lyrical twists. He brought soul music back into the Billboard Top 100, and made room for more soulful pop music from artists like Justin Timberlake.

Also, the long wait between albums allowed D'Angelo to obtain a kind of mythic quality. Because he doesn't produce albums quickly, he was able to maintain a quality in his work, thus releasing this album to a slew of excitement.

What's so great about Black Messiah?

D'Angelo doesn't release light and fluffy pop albums. He likes to say something about society. He spoke about the inspiration behind the album and the title in a statement saying:

"Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it's about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I'm calling myself a Black Messiah. It's about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decided to make change happen... Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are), but calling this album ‘Black Messiah' creates a landscape where those songs can live to the fullest."

On top of the political basis for the album, D'Angelo is just a great musician. People like his work because it's well-produced and masterfully performed.

It would have been easy for D'Angelo to disappoint after 14 years away. After all, that makes it easier for his audience to build up unrealistic expectations.

But Black Messiah is an album that will force critics to rearrange their top 10 lists for the year. The bass is heavy and thick, the drums ricochet, and D'Angelo's voice is more mature — scratchier, heavier, and tougher — than it was in the past. Take a look at tracks like "Really Love," which combine hints of Spanish guitar riffs, layered echoing, and a thumping heartbeat of a bass line to create a song that places D'Angelo right where he left off — in the upper echelons of R&B and soul.

What has the response been?

It's too early to make final judgements on whether the 15-year wait was worth is, but Black Messiah is already beloved by plenty. Just look at the responses from other musicians:

Where can I hear the album?

Black Messiah is available in full on iTunes and Spotify. You can listen to the whole album here:

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