D’Angelo is one of those artists who tends to leave fans wondering if, not when, he will offer up a new musical morsel. He was last heard alongside GZA and Rapsody on the latter’s lead single “IBTIHAJ” from her 2019 album Eve, and he hasn’t released a solo album since his critically acclaimed 2014 Black Messiah.
Thus, the music world took immediate notice earlier this month when filmmaker Jeymes Samuel announced that D’Angelo would be teaming up with Jay-Z on the nearly ten-minute track “I Want You Forever” on the soundtrack for the film, The Book of Clarence starring Lakieth Stanfield. The soundtrack album just dropped, and it’s worth a listen — even if only for that one epic track.
While the neo-hipsters rave about the early aughts throwback tracks on the Saltburn soundtrack, the best soundtrack album of the moment is easily The Book of Clarence. With contributions from Kid Cudi, Jorge Ben Jor, Doja Cat, and many more, this album will get you into a groove with great new music that may not have existed otherwise.
And though it’s difficult to imagine how he was able to literally do it all, James Samuel is credited with writing and directing the film as well as composing both the score and soundtrack. His fingerprints are everywhere, including as a performer on most of the soundtrack’s songs, including “I Want You Forever.”
“It’s so deep. D’Angelo and Jay-Z on the same track,” Samuel said as he teased the I Want You Forever” to a cheering crowd at a promotional screening of the film. “9 minutes, 33 seconds of absolute soulful biblical bliss.”
Born the son of a Pentecostal minister, it’s a vibe that D’Angelo has long embraced. He began playing piano by ear as a young child, surprising his older brother by recreating Prince riffs at the age of three. By the time he was five years old, he was playing in church alongside his father and would continue to draw creative inspiration from both gospel music and Prince throughout his teenage years.
Those influences blend perfectly in “I Want You Forever,” which for stretches of time feels like a jam session as Samuel works jazzy funkadelic keys and loose drums play underneath vocal interplay between D’Angelo and longtime collaborator Kendra Foster, who co-wrote eight out of 12 songs on D’Angelo’s album, Black Messiah. Though the bulk of the song consists of a four-bar refrain, it never gets old as the musicians continuously bend “Forever” with variations and flourishes, much like a gospel choir might improvise during an alter call.
When Jay-Z eases his way into track about a third of the way through, he does so sans his usual bravado. Opting for an irregular cadence one would expect from a spoken-word jazz poet, he delves back into how his actions negatively affected his marriage to Beyonce, much like he did at times on his 2017 release 4:44.
Among Jay-Z’s more introspective and vulnerable revelations in “I Want You Forever” are that he sees how his relationship missteps and indiscretions mirror his father’s imperfections and that during a particularly intense period in his marriage, he slept on the couch because “The bed’s not a bed without you.”
Though not a vintage headlining performance, Jay-Z’s verse fits the song seamlessly. And while “I Want Your Forever” is by far the longest song on the album, it slots naturally into The Book Of Clarance soundtrack, likely thanks to Samuel serving as both the ideator and the connective tissue of the project. It’s the type of singular vision that would make it possible to successfully bring an enigmatic creative force like D’Angelo into the fold with someone like Jay-Z, who is used to calling the shots and driving the creative process.
“Someone like D’Angelo, he moves in his own speed and his own time, so there’s no planning there,” Jay-Z said during the aforementioned screening event. “You can’t plan that, you can’t say, ‘OK, I’ve got this song, come over Tuesday.’ It just has to happen like that. The circumstances, the vibes, the music, everything has to be in a perfect space for something like this to happen. Obviously, we haven’t collaborated for our entire careers, so it was meant for this moment right here.”