D’Angelo astonishes the music world with Voodoo

D'Angelo - Live 2000 (redbull.com)

D’Angelo – Live 2000

Introduction

It is as unbelievable as it is true: Voodoo, the first masterpiece of the new millennium, is twenty years old. Ever since the release of his debut album Brown Sugar in 1995 D’Angelo is regarded as the hope for the future, the new Prince. Someone who singlehandedly creates an entirely new genre and can do everything himself: composing, playing multiple instruments, singing, producing, arranging, etc. At first all signs were set towards success. Voodoo proved D’Angelo to be a genius who was able to meet high expectations. Unfortunately, it would also be the start of a very dark period in D’Angelo’s life, that would follow him for years on end.

D’Angelo

D'Angelo - Brown Sugar (thesource.com)

D’Angelo – Brown Sugar

On February 11th, 1974, D’Angelo (real name: Michael Eugene Archer) was born in Richmond, Virginia, USA as the son of a Pentecostal preacher. Pretty soon the boy showed an extraordinary musical talent (he was found playing the piano at 3 years old) and played at a lot of the Pentecostal church services. His first band was Michael Archer and Precise, which ended up winning local and New York talent shows. D’Angelo started to compose in earnest and he wanted to record an album.

In 1993 D’Angelo signed a deal with EMI Music. The first release came in 1994 with the single U Will Know by Black Men United (consisting of Brian McKnight, Usher, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Raphael Saadiq and Gerald Levert). The song’s music was written by D’Angelo, the lyrics by his brother, Luther Archer.

In June 1995 debut album Brown Sugar was released. It took some time, but ultimately the album turned out to be a success: on February 7th, 1996, the album was certified platinum in the US. D’Angelo worked for about two years promoting the album and went on tour. Recordings from the concert on September 14th, 1995, at The Jazz Café in London were released on June 30th, 1998, on the Live At The Jazz Cafe album.

D'Angelo - Live At The Jazz Cafe (writteninmusic.com)

D’Angelo – Live At The Jazz Cafe

In the meantime both D’Angelo and Brown Sugar‘s status had grown considerably. The album was heralded as the beginning of ‘neo-soul’, a new musical genre that was identified as ‘classic soul’ translated to the current times. Organic music, made with real instruments, without neglecting the ‘feel’ of hip-hop. In the years following Brown Sugar a huge number of fantastic ‘neo-soul’ albums would be released: Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (1996), Erykah Badu’s Baduizm (1997) and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998). D’Angelo had started a movement and the (music)world longed for his next move.

After the Brown Sugar tour D’Angelo more or less disappeared. He suffered from a server case of writer’s block and stuck to releasing covers: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s Your Precious Love (with Erykah Badu), Prince’s She’s Always In My Hair and Ohio Players’ Heaven Must Be Like This. He dueted with Lauryn Hill on the song Nothing Even Matters, coming off Hill’s beautiful debut album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.

Following the birth of his son 1998, his writer’s block disappeared as quickly as it had come. At the time he was in a relationship with singer Angie Stone (D’Angelo produced Stone’s impressive debut album Black Diamond in 1999).

N.B.:
Within two years D’Angelo had a second child, a daughter. Voodoo would be dedicated to his children.

Electric Lady Studios/Soulquarians

Electric Lady Studios - Logo (univibes.com)

Upon receiving his inspiration once again, he wrote Send It On, the first official effort for Voodoo. Shortly thereafter he left for New York. He rented Jimi Hendrix’ original Electric Lady Studios, which hadn’t been used in quite some time and still existed as the first occupant and owner Jimi Hendrix had originally intended. The story goes that the new occupants had to blow the dust off the Fender Rhodes and microphones, but everything still worked pristine. An old analogue world that still sounded perfectly.

In those surroundings a journey through the history of funk, soul and hip-hop and endless jams began that would last for years. His companion on his journey was Ahmir Thompson, better known as Questlove. Together they watched and listened to the works of Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Al Green, George Clinton, Fela Kuti, Sly & The Family Stone and, the favorite of both, Prince: albums, bootlegs, videos, concert recordings, etc. Those sessions usually evolved in nightly jams, sometimes playing songs they had just heard, for inspiration. Everything was recorded. Literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of recordings have been made during this time.

Soulquarians (soulhead.com)

Soulquarians

At the same time recordings took place for Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, albums that would be released in 2000 as well, and are also part of my favorite albums. It all led to collaborations of different artists on multiple projects. With the arrival of producer James Poyser and, particularly, J Dilla the Soulquarians collective was born. During a period of 3 to 4 years the collective released many ‘neo-soul’. Soulquarians productions often used the same musicians and writers and were all produced using the same principles, making the groove and beat the main focus. The groove was characterized by the fact it lagged to the actual beat, creating an alienating effect. It took Questlove some time getting used to the idea of drumming outside the beat on many productions. A part of the tension (and excitement) within the music is rooted in the dissonance between the beat and the groove. And all involved preferred deviant chord changes. It all added to a unique sound that was heavily rooted in the here and now.

Voodoo

D'Angelo - Voodoo (allmusic.com)

D’Angelo – Voodoo

After being postponed a few times, the second D’Angelo album was released on January 25th, 2000, in the US, in Canada a week earlier and England followed in February. I suspect January 25th or 27th was the release date for The Netherlands, since I bought it for the first time on January 27th, 2000, paying ƒ 39,95.

N.B.:
Voodoo was the only cd I had to re-buy because of my first child. He never played with my collection, but somehow he did play with D’Angelo’s Voodoo twice. Both times I was forced to buy it again.

The album hit home, hard, very hard to be exact. With me was well. Finally someone who was able to meet the high standards Prince had set. Someone who did things himself as much as possible (and was able to do so), innovated and was able to punt on a an exciting unforgettable live show. The new millennium wasn’t even 4 weeks old and the first masterpiece had already arrived.

Voodoo has been with me for 20 years now and I still discover new things. Particularly when listening though headphones the layered production sounds impressive, rich and immaculate. D’Angelo’s vocals are sublime throughout. The joy in playing and improvising almost literally drips from the album. Soul, funk, gospel, blues and jazz are blended into one organic sound. Ever since its release the album has been part of my top albums of all time (see 10 to 1).

Sound

Voodoo‘s sound is organic, warm and perfectly balanced. Audio engineer Russell Elevado had studied old recording techniques in great detail and used the original studio facilities. It also meant that much of the music was played live in the studio. It all attributed to the beautiful sound, the album’s production is an entity in itself.

Song by song

D'Angelo - 2000 (realitygossip.com)

D’Angelo – 2000

Playa Playa, the first notes immediately set the mood: this was no Brown Sugar part 2. The perfect introduction to the album. The off-beat drums, the instruments and the genius vocals by D’Angelo.

Devil’s Pie, hip-hop meets soul. Produced by D’Angelo with hip-hop producer DJ Premier.

Left & Right, rappers Redman and Method Man start off the song with a macho-rap, after which the song develops into one of the many highlights on the album.

Lyrically one of the more sexually oriented songs on the album:

And I even kiss you way down there
You know I will, Think I won’t?

That’s the way we do it
Left and right
Keep it moving
Up and down

The Line, one of the most alienating and distinct songs on the album. The vocals are genius. The use of the many background choirs (all D’Angelo) going back and forth and back again is almost not humanly possible and phenomenally good.

Said, “I know everybody watchin’ me”
“I said the pressure is on from every angle, political 2 personal”
Will I hang or be left hangin’? Will I fall off?
Or will it be bangin’? And I say it’s up to the man upstairs

D'Angelo - Send It On (video) (hq-music-videos.com)

D’Angelo – Send It On (video)

Send It On was the first song D’Angelo wrote for his new album and marked the end of his writer’s block. This song resembles ‘classic’ soul the most. The rhythms is addictive. Yet another highlight.

Chicken Grease, funky with a glorious groove and guitar riff. Created after jamming to Curtis Mayfield’s Mother’s Son.

One Mo’ Gin is another beautiful song that sounds relaxed. Once again the vocals really stand out. D’Angelo’s voice and the back and forth game with the background choir (also D’Angelo) is impressive.

The Root is yet another one of those typical Voodoo song which can only fit on this album, with vocals that floats below and above the music resulting in a completely unique song.

I feel like my soul is empty
My blood is cold and I can’t feel my legs
I need someone to hold me
Bring me back to life before I’m dead

Spanish Joint introduces a Latin rhythm and instrumentation. The song sounds contemporary and classic at the same time.

Feel Like Makin’ Love is a cover of Roberta Flack’s original dating from 1974. By giving the song a much more dark and heavy interpretation than the rather whimsical original, the song gains in eroticism and fits much better within the context of Voodoo. A highlight!

Greatdayindamornin’/Booty is equally beautiful, but seems (with the 2014 sequel, Black Messiah in the back of my mind) more fitting on the next album.

I search for answers often
I payed the price for many
Still long for happiness
Not promised to the plenty

D'Angelo - Untitled (How Does It Feel) - Tape (discogs.com)

D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel) – Tape

Untitled (How Does It Feel) is one the greatest ballads I know and is part of my top 10 favorite songs of all time. A song of seduction that is musically subtle and magical. The vocals are intoxicating once again and the build-up is beautiful. The song’s climax is expected halfway through the song, but instead D’Angelo brings the song back to its core. Next the song is slowly built up again to a phenomenal climax that is way too short. D’Angelo screaming sends shivers down the spine and is very convincing. After the song’s sudden end (think The Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy)) the listener (well, at least I am) is left perplexed.

I wanna stop
Silly little games U and me play
And I am feeling right on
If U feel the same-way baby
Let me know right away
I’d love to make you wet
In between your thighs cause
I love when it comes inside U
I get so excited when I’m around U

Africa closes the album. When i first heard it something felt familiar. And what seems to be the case? The drums of Prince’s I Wonder U (coming off the 1986 Parade album) have been used as a sample. A quiet closing to the album, with an experimental sounding song.

Review

D'Angelo - Live At The Cirkus (discogs.com)

D’Angelo – Live At The Cirkus (bootleg)

As stated before this album is one my favorites. I have been playing it regularly these last 20 years and I still think it’s beautiful every time I hear it. The album’s atmosphere is tempting and leaves a big impression each and every time. D’Angelo has created a complete world of his own, that hasn’t been equaled yet. Just like all his idols, he made an album that has never been repeated, content and sound wise.

It showed that another genius had entered the music world, one that could match and rival Prince’s status. Because in concert D’Angelo was peerless as well. Unfortunately I haven’t seen the Voodoo tour, but I did hear it (on the bootleg Live At The Cirkus, amongst others). The band is tight and the soul revue the band performed is otherworldly. Many of the musicians that made the album as irresistible as it is, went along for the tour as well.

With the release of Voodoo the new decade/century started off at a rare and very high level. From all genres, publications reviewers and music lovers the album was lauded. It put the ‘neo-soul’ movement at the center of the (musical) map and identified the Soulquarians project as one of its major sources.

Rating:

D'Angelo - Voodoo - Singles (discogs.com)

D’Angelo – Voodoo – Singles (Left &Right, Devil’s Pie, Untitled (How Does It Feel), Send It On)

Singles

No less than 5 singles were taken from the Voodoo album, 3 preceding the album.

  • Devil’s Pie
    (released on October 31st, 1998)
  • Left & Right
    (released on October 19th, 1999)
  • Untitled (How Does It Feel)
    (released on January 1st, 2000)
  • Send It On
    (released on March 25th, 2000)
  • Feel Like Makin’ Love
    (released on April 9th, 2000)
D'Angelo - Untitled (How Does It Feel) (video) (hq-music-videos.com)

D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel) (video)

Video – Untitled (How Does If Feel)

For the release of the singles video clips were developed. The video for Untitled (How Does It Feel) was controversial. The 4 and a half minute video showcases D’Angelo’s (muscular) torso in one take, zooming in on his body and face. D’Angelo playbacks the song in front of a black background. It’s all somewhat voyeuristic, yet instills admiration. Contrary to a lot of the R&B, hip-hop and pop video’s at the time, Untitled (How Does It Feel) was different. Intimate, vulnerable and strong, without turning macho. At least it felt real and genuine.

The video greatly impacted the single’s success and the sales to Voodoo. The video garnered a lot of attention for D’Angelo and made him famous. But, the video would become a problem and would shift the public’s attention from the music to D’Angelo’s body. He turned into a sex symbol, making D’Angelo feel very uncomfortable. When the tour for Voodoo commenced in March things went downhill.

The Untitled (How Does It Feel) video was a turning point in D’Angelo’s career. combine success with innovation. Unfortunately, D’Angelo the artist and person suffered for it. More so, he nearly collapsed (also see The Voodoo Tour and After Voodoo).

Songs

All songs written by D’Angelo with help from others, except Feel Like Makin’ Love (see below).

D'Angelo - Voodoo - Poster (ebay.com)

D’Angelo – Voodoo – Poster

  • Playa Playa
  • Devil’s Pie
  • Left & Right
  • The Line
  • Send It On
  • Chicken Grease
  • One Mo’Gin
  • The Root
  • Spanish Joint
  • Feel Like Makin’ Love
  • Greatdayndamornin’/Booty
  • Untitled (How Does It Feel)
  • Africa

All songs produced by D’Angelo (Devil’s Pie: D’Angelo & DJ Premier, Untitled (How Does It Feel) & Africa: D’Angelo & Raphael Saadiq) and recorded by Russell Elevado.

In 2000 Virgin also released a remix album as Voodoo DJ Soul Essentials, which contained three instrumental versions of Voodoo songs.

Liner notes

The liner notes to Voodoo were written by Saul Stacey Williams, an American rapper, singer, composer, musician, poet, writer and actor:

To be the son of a preacher man was once African American cultural royalty. As traditional churches have grown empty many of us have been left to wander these haunted castles like that displaced Prince of Denmark, contemplating the paths of our mothers: that electric lady that landed us here in the first place. The Aquarian Age is a matriarchal age, and if we are to exist as men in this new world many of us must learn to embrace and nurture that which is feminine with all of our hearts (he-arts). But is there any room for artistry in hip hop’s decadent man-sion? Have we walked our Timberlands soleless…soul-less? When you pour that wine on the ground in that video shoot that has become your life will you be ready to hear the voice that pours from the bottle to inebriate the very ground on which we walk? It is libations such as these that are the start of every voodoo ceremony. And let us not forget that that is why we have come.

D'Angelo - Voodoo - Booklet (discogs.com)

D’Angelo – Voodoo – Booklet

We have come in the name of Jimi, Sly, Marvin, Stevie, all artists formerly known as spirits and all spirits formerly known as stars. We have come in the tradition of burning bushes, burning ghettos, burning splifs, and the ever-burning candles of our bedrooms and silent chambers. We have come bearing instruments and our voices: Falsetto and baritone, percussion and horns. We have come adorned in the apparel of the anointed: leather and feathers, jeans and t-shirts, linen and cashmere, and even polyester. We have come to seduce and serenade the night and the powers of darkness. We speak of darkness, not as ignorance, but as the unknown and the mysterious of the unseen.

Envision this: a lone man in a haunted room surrounded by glowing instructments. What sounds are evoked from a room where Jimi once slept? What are the rewards of those who tend to their God-given talents as they would have the Creator tend to their spirits and daily lives? What happens when the artist becomes the conjur man?
These are questions that seem to be null and void in the face of all the glitter and glamour that has dominated most successful Black artistry of recent years. We seem to be more preoccupied with cultivating our bank accounts than cultivating our crafts. Nowadays, I find my peers more inspired by an artist’s business tactics than their artistry. In fact, we do not seem to mind an artistry that suffers in the face of seemingly good business. More artists seem to yearn to own their own labels, etc., than they seem to yearn to master their crafts. No, we cannot allow any more Bessie Smiths to occur, but once an artist owns their own publishing the question then becomes, what are you going to publish? Of course, I am using the word “artist” loosely. I, personally, believe in an art as it exists in the context of the phrase “thou art God”. In this phrase, art is the word that connects the individual (thou) to their higher self (God) or to that which is universal. Using such a standard, most emcees might become embarrassed.

Whoa! Why am I attacking hip hop? ‘Cause I’m a lyricist, son, a lyricist that has had to serve as his own inspiration when most of my peers seem to idolize Donald Trump more than Sly Stone, when they don’t seem to realize that Jimi Hendrix was and is a sonic Bill gates. Oh shit, don’t make me call no names.

Now, you may ask, “Well what does this have to do with D’Angelo?”
My answer: Inspiration.
Here is a peer that is focused wholly on his craft and has given himself the challenge of bettering himself. I mean really, D could have come out with any ol’ follow-up album after Brown Sugar dropped so that he could double his sales “While he’s still hot.” You know, an album that sounds just like Brown Sugar, uses all the same formulas, so that audiences don’t have to think ….or grown, they just keep liking the same shit. He could even sample songs that you’re already familiar with so that you don’t have to go through the “hard work” of getting used to a new melody or bass line. Y’all don’t hear me.

D'Angelo - Voodoo - Booklet (discogs.com)

D’Angelo – Voodoo – Booklet

You might respond, “Lyrics? Yo, I can’t even understand half the shit that D’Angelo be saying. That nigga sounds like Bobby McFerrin on opium.” And I’d say, “You’re right. Neither can I. But I am drawn to figure out what it is that he’s saying. His vocal collaging intrigues me.” Or you might say, “But his shit don’t sound all that original, he just sounds like he’s trying to be Prince or some shit.” And I’d say, maybe you’re right. At times he does. We often study the breathing techniques of our inspirations (inspire means to breathe in or to make breath, inhale). And that’s also true for most of you, emcees. I mean, don’t ¾ of y’all niggas sound like NAS? The difference is that D’Angelo has allowed influence to simply take its place among his own intuitive artistry. He works to find his own voice within his many influences. I’d pay to see Prince’s face as he listens to this album (Ahmir, Questlove of The Roots, said that the Artist lets Black people call him Prince). Do you think he’d feel robbed or inspired? My opinion, over the years as I’ve sat in countless conversations about why it is that the Artist puts out half the shit he does (you know the half I’m talking about) is because he lacks any new inspiration. Once again an artist is faced with the reality of having to serve as their own inspiration after they have worn out all their Sly, Jimi, Marvin, Stevie ( I do not mean to ignore the many inspirational female singers, I’m just making a point as regards this male vocalist)…

Damn, is there any way to speak of that which is feminine without having masculinity right in the middle of it? Female. Woman. Unless, of course, these words came first and we later derived male and man from them. Somehow, I doubt that. We need a new language to go along with this new age. And a new music.

Thus, we have come. As we prepare to journey, we must decide which elements of our sonic past we are going to pack to carry with us into this new day this new sound. The distilled ambiance of an Al Green song, the ambiguous sexual majesty of a Prince song, the creative genius of Stevie Wonder…D’Angelo has made his choices, carefully weaving them into his character, and has courageously stepped into the void bearing these sonic offerings to be delivered to the beckoning goddess of the new age. I do not wish to overly dissect this album. It’s true dissection occurs in how it seeps into your life shapes your moments. What you were doing when you realized he was saying this or that? How it played softly in the back ground when you first saw him or her. How you kept it on repeat on that special night. You’ll see. These songs are incantations, testaments of artistry, confessions of an Aquarius as he steps into his own.

© 1999 Saul Williams

D'Angelo - Voodoo Tour - Live (pitchfork.com)

D’Angelo – Voodoo Tour – Live

Voodoo Tour

After the album’s release D’Angelo went on tour, The Voodoo Tour, with many of the musicians that were involved with the recording of the album and the Soulquarians collective, as his backing band, which was given the name Soultronics. The tour lasted about eight months and was primarily targeted at US audiences. The tour was sold-out, the press was lauding it as much as the fans did. Halfway through the tour D’Angelo came to Europe to do a couple of shows, including the North Sea Jazz Festival. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend.

But, things turned sour. Female fans wanted a re-run of the Untitled (How Does It Feel) video and kept yelling Take it off! during the shows. Backstage D’Angelo reacted angrily and insecure. Angry, for he was an artist, it was supposed to be about the music, not his physique. Insecure, because he wanted to fulfill expectations and he was afraid his body wasn’t up to the task. More and more shows were canceled and/or postponed. The tour was shortened and after eight months it was all over. The consequences of the video and the tour would turn out to be huge.

N.B.:
I remember buying tickets to D’Angelo live at Rotterdam’s Ahoy in The Netherlands in 2001. The shows were canceled. However, I can’t find anything on it, not in my archives, nor by searching internet sources. Should anyone be able to verify/deny this: I would love to hear about it.

After Voodoo

D'Angelo - Black Messiah (blackmessiah.co)

D’Angelo – Black Messiah

After the tour had ended D’Angelo went home in Richmond, Virginia, and disappeared from the limelights. Following the suicide of a close friend D’Angelo started drinking. After the escalation of his drinking problems and scrapping a planned live album and a new album (with the Soultronics), record company Virgin stopped financing his next project. By 2005 D’Angelo had been left by his girlfriend, lawyer, family, management and record company. After the death of J Dilla (due to a rare blood disease) D’Angelo derailed ever more. Driving under influence, drugs and a severe car accident were followed by (failed) attempts at entering rehab. Pictures of D’Angelo started appearing, showing a very unhealthy and obese man, unhappy and tired of it all. The promise D’Angelo seemed to hold wasn’t fulfilled and faded away ever more.

From 2007 onwards rumors about D’Angelo making music started to pop up. Over the years Questlove announced that a new album was done for about 95%, 97%, 99%, but nothing came of it. At the end of 2011 D’Angelo announced he would tour Europe in the beginning of 2012. And, it really did happen. In January 2012 I saw D’Angelo at a sold out Paradiso in Amsterdam making his long overdue comeback. Old songs were placed in between new songs (like Really Love and Sugah Daddy). And it still lasted over two years before D’Angelo released his third album: Black Messiah. In the song Back To The Future, Pt. 1 he addresses the consequences of the Untitled (How Does It Feel) video:

So if you’re wondering about the shape I’m in
I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to
This what I want you to listen to

In other words: it’s not about my appearance, listen to my (new) music.

And D’Angelo went on tour again. And once again the tour was fantastic, exciting and musically of an otherworldly level. D’Angelo was back, but after 2015 things turned quiet again. Until 2018, when it was announced that D’Angelo would play at the Paradiso and the North Sea Jazz Festival. However, the shows were canceled. Health issues and work on a new album were named as reasons.

D'Angelo - Devil's Pie (cineville.nl)

D’Angelo – Devil’s Pie

In 2019 the documentary Devil’s Pie, made by the Dutch Carine Bijlsma, was released, which showed just how musical, genius, vulnerable and sensitive D’Angelo really is. Let’s hope that the future will bring more music. Three albums over the course of a 25 year career is too little, especially for someone of his stature.

In closing

Voodoo is a rare piece of work that can stand the test of time perfectly and has to be part of every music collection. A beautiful work of art by an artist who can do it all if he wants to and isn’t afraid of experimentation.

What do you think of Voodoo? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: D’Angelo astonishes the music world with Voodoo. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.