Without debate, D’Angelo’s surprise album drop at the end of last year was one of the biggest musical events in a long time. “Black Messiah” immediately shot up to #1 in over 20 countries. The facts are, D was seen as the “Black Messiah”, or the savior of classically progressive styles of black music all the way back to 2000’s “Voodoo” and before that to ’95s “Brown Sugar.” “Black Messiah” the album is a deep, dense work featuring the chanking, splang a langing guitars of Vangaurd guitarists Jesse Johnson, Spanky Alford, Mark Hammond, Isiah Sharkey, and D’Angelo himself, the deep, rounded off tightly muted bass of Pino Palladino, the great background vocals and songwriting of Kendra Foster, and the drumming and musical brain power of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson along with a cast of many other talented musicians, singers and engineers too numerous to name here. The album was full of both deep, funky complex grooves as well as moments of pure beauty, with one of the most topical and politically relevant lyrical books to hit black pop in some time. “Sugah Daddy” is actually one of the most concise and to the point funk songs on the album, straight out of the book of James Brown and Parliament (not so much Funkadelic mind you, but PARLIAMENT) co written and played on by one of the funkiest drummers of all time, Mr. James Gadson.
“Sugah Daddy” is an interesting funky combo of a jazzy groove with a hip hop feel. When I say “jazz” I don’t mean the slick modern jazz of the classic era, no something much older. This goes back to the days of spats, the black bottom and mess around dances, James P Johnson’s “The Charleston”, and Maceo Pinkards “Sweet Georgia Brown”, the theme of the Harlem Globetrotters. The basic piano chord rhythm has the old feel of the Charleston, which is one of the first rhythmic patterns I ever learned on piano. The jazz rhythm with the solid back beat takes you back to the ’90s era of jazz inflected hip hop. As a matter of fact many musicians saw a potential for a new type of jazz groove in the slowed down, Go Go and New Jack Swing influenced Hip Hop of the late ’80s and early 90s. It’s used here to set a head nodding pace for D and the Vangaurd to lay down all of their big funk band techniques.
The tune begins with some hand patting rhythms from drummer James Gadson that give you a tap dance type of feel. The drum kit is added in layer by layer, bass drum first, then hi hats, followed by snare, and the chromatic piano chord riff that sets the groove for the song. The groove is both head nod, and backbone slip at the same time. Pino’s bass also comes in outlining the chromatic (step by step) descending chord movement. As the groove gets cooking, the master chef D’Angelo vocalizes funky exclamations, like a chef tasting a dish and being delighted at the way its coming together.
D goes on to tell a story about a scandalously sexy woman who makes the “congregation squirm.” The type of woman he sings about seems to be along the lines of Funkadelic women like their “Red Hot Mama” and also “The Freak of the Week”, or some of Prince’s women. But she also seems to be embued with another kind of deep, spiritual sexiness and appeal.
The groove takes another funky movement to the chorus, where D’Angelo sings highlighted by stop time music from the band: “Girls got a worldly view/Apparently she sees through you/Her love was never meant to share for two/She said I’ll Do it if you’ll be my Sugar Daddy”. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from listening to the song, as the chorus part goes deep into D’s infamous phased, obscured vocalizing. One musical aspect I love about the way the chorus was done is the way the last line “she said I’ll do it if you’ll be my Sugar Daddy” is sung with a jazzy riff and harmonized. After that horns are introduced into the song for the first time, as well as snippets of funky guitar, building up from the spare bass/drums/piano groove to a whole funky family affair. The song gets denser with more elaborate horn lines until it breaks down and vamps out with a minute of jamming.
“Sugah Daddy” was the first new music I heard from D’Angelo in quite a few years when it debuted in 2010. When he played it on television shows like the BET awards it sounded like more of a rolling, jamming groove, with the piano riff as the main element. It’s much cleaner, defined and sharp here, and it develops in musical intensity as the song progresses. The lyrical story itself is interesting, as D’Angelo wrestles with a woman who represents sin and salvation, in the tradition of Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Prince and many others. It sounds almost as if it’s a story about a Pastor taking on a side woman, then spending the church’s money to “give the baby anything that the baby wants” as Joe Tex put it. One of my favorite things about the song though, is that D had the historical sense and the musical taste to get the great drummer James Gadson involved in the project, and that Gadson recieved a writing credit for the song as well. Writing credits on a platinum selling album can be substantial, so I’ve got to admire a funky song like “Sugah Daddy” that gives up the funk in more ways than a few!