Don’t Call It a Comeback: D’Angelo’s Return to Music

Dan Adu-Gyamfi ([email protected]) is rivaling Abe Beame for semi-anonymity. Last month, engineer Russell “The Dragon” Elevado made a YouTube account and posted three cryptic videos of him in...
By    February 12, 2014

Dan Adu-Gyamfi ([email protected]) is rivaling Abe Beame for semi-anonymity.

Last month, engineer Russell “The Dragon” Elevado made a YouTube account and posted three cryptic videos of him in the studio with soul music unicorn, D’Angelo. January 25 marked 14 years since his magnum opus Voodoo and fans have been anxiously anticipating a follow up ever since.

The preacher’s son wrote and produced most of his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar in his mother’s house in Richmond, VA. He eventually collaborated with A Tribe Called Quest DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, legendary engineer Bob Power, and Raphael Saadiq to create a funky palette inspired by boom-bap and his favorite soul controllers of the past. The title track is an ode to smoke and much of the album lambently deals with love, relationships, and how they’ve affected him for better and for worse. “Lady” pays tribute to the special woman in his life and he does ample justice to Smokey Robinson’s classic “Crusin’.” The climax remains “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker” which chronicles a story of his friend sleeping with his girlfriend, killing them, and getting arrested. The story is maybe inspired by the O.J. Simpson trial and is sung in a somber but strong mood.  In a review of the album for Rolling Stone, Cheo H. Coker said “… he’s shattering the conventional definition of “black music.” It doesn’t have to be a lackluster genre in which format, not content, determines heavy rotation. Brown Sugar is a reminder of where R&B has been and, if the genre is to resurrect its creative relevance like a phoenix rising from the ashes, where it needs to go.”

Even though his record label wanted to quickly release his second album to capitalize off his new-found popularity, the Grammy winner took his time. While working on Voodoo, D’Angelo and Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson used to watch videos (nicknamed “treats”) of Yoda figures. In a 2000 story for Rolling Stone, Touré explained “A Yoda figure is one of the masters they revere: James [Brown], Prince, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, Marvin Gaye, Fela Kuti, Al Green, Joni Mitchell, Sly [Stone], Jimi [Hendrix].” Touré also breaks down the routine they would go on before recording for the album. “From four until seven in the evening, the crew would watch the treat of the day and eat. Then they’d turn on the recorder and begin playing an album or an entire catalog by one of the Yodas – the dominant influence of ’96 was Prince, in ’97 it was Jimi and Rev. Al, ’98 Gaye and George Clinton, ’99 James and Nigerian star Fela Kuti. They’d jam and wait to see what the groove inspired. One night they played Prince’s Parade until they flowed into a new groove that became “Africa.”

Voodoo is a brilliant collage of their heroes combined with D’Angelo’s state of mind after having a son and breaking up with his singer girlfriend Angie Stone. In a review of Voodoo for, Questlove said “Music lovers come under 2 umbrellas. Number one: those who use it for growth and spiritual fulfillment and number two: those who use it for mere background music. The thing is this record is too extreme to play the middle of the fence. This record is the litmus test that will reveal the most for your personality. Cats who live for music and all the new directions it can show you have cried when I played this record (I don’t wanna embarrass no one but I assure you at least 7 of your favorite artists were on their knees BAWLING because of this astounding document of music. This is what we need today…this is no miseducation ….this is the blueprint right here!) for them.”

The second track on Voodoo, “Devil’s Pie” finds D’Angelo intensely explaining the ills of society and how it makes people do wrong. His second verse breaks it down by saying “Main ingredients 2 this dish/ Goes like this/ Here’s the list/ Materialistic, greed and lust, jealousy, envious/ Bread and dough, cheddar cheese, flash and stash, cash and cream.” “The Root” is about how a relationship with a woman that has cut him deeply. You hear the pain when he says “In the name of love and war took my shield and sword/ From the pit of the bottom, that knows no floor/ Like the rain to the dirt, from the vine to the wine/ From the Alpha to creation, to the end of time, yeah/ To the end of time.” The masterpiece of the record is “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” which was probably blasted when a lot of Millennials were conceived. Compared to the Kidz Bop take on love that a lot of artists use now, D’Angelo’s view on the truest emotions a human can feel resonates deeply.

His need for isolation from the music industry increased after the popularity of the video of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” escalated and female fans began degrading him and throwing money at him on stage while he was on tour. In GQ’s 2012 profile of D’Angelo, Questlove told Amy Wallace that after the tour his friend told him “Yo, man, I cannot wait until this fucking tour is over. I’m going to go in the woods, drink some hooch, grow a beard, and get fat.” This is exactly what he did while acquiring a cocaine habit, crashing his car, getting arrested by an undercover cop while soliciting prostitutes, and taking two trips to rehab. In 2008, his record label EMI/Virgin stated that D’Angelo was working on his third album and the tease has continued as Elevado and Questlove have given updates of studio sessions since 2007. Yet nothing concrete has materialized.

Since the release of Voodoo, D’Angelo has made a few appearances: Common’s “So Far to Go”, Q-Tip’s “Believe”, and Snoop Dogg’s “Imagine.” But still no single or album. In the past two years he has performed at festivals like Bonnaroo, Budweiser’s Made in America Festival, and the Essence Music Festival preparing his return to the industry. The man once dubbed “R&B Jesus” by legendary music critic Robert Christgau is now 40-years-old and supposedly still working on finishing his third album. We can’t be sure if he’ll release this year because they’ve been saying that every year for over a half-decade. It’s threatening to become the Detox of soul music and yet we hold out hope because there are only so many Yoda’s still breathing.

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