1 - D'Angelo
4 years ago I used to tell my missus that we will get married when D'Angelo brings out a new album. That was how confident I felt about D not brining out another CD. It was as likely as (the then alive) Michael Jackson turning black again.
We are now engaged.
I truly believe that D'Angelo is the most important black artist whose name isn’t Prince, B.B, Aretha or Stevie. In fact, I consider D’Angelo to be an artist worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as those 4 legends – even with just two albums to his name.
I’d put Brown Sugar and Voodoo up against any albums, from any artist, of a genre, from any time period – I think they would both fare very well.
D’s albums achieve the contradiction of being case studies of music gone by, whether it is old school RnB, soul and funk, while sounding as fresh as anything on Youtube today (I was going to say radio… but you know). I’d say that his albums haven’t dated and for me this is an extraordinary achievement.
D’Angelo blurs lines. With his first album, released in 1995 (damn), his appearance and demeanour screamed hip-hop. But dig deeper into his music and you find out that isn’t the D'Angelo's vibe at all. You may expect to hear two-dimensional tracks about sex, weed and more sex with a number of different women on Brown Sugar, but the music is far more complicated than that. The song Brown Sugar sounds like it is an ode to a sister D was feeling, but after a few more listens you realise that it is an ode to drugs. Instead of macking the ladies he is telling them to trust him and everything will be ‘Alright’ because they are his ‘Lady’.
In fact, Brown Sugar is remarkable in its sensitivity. D is almost entirely venerable on this album. Even when he is displaying anger it is because his lady has cuckolded him.
Why is his vulnerability important? Well, understanding the nature and psyche of hip-hop will tell you that black heterosexual men are not supposed to be vulnerable. They are not supposed to show this amount of longing. They are not supposed to show this amount of respect to women. D breaks all of these hip-hop rules without appearing emasculate or un-hip-hop. This is why he is so important – he is my generation’s Marvin.
And then you have Voodoo – an album which holds the record for the longest time spent in my car’s CD player uninterrupted by another disc. I listened to nothing but this album for 9 months straight. I just didn’t understand it and just like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I had never heard anything like it. It sounds nothing like Brown Sugar, if anything it sounds rougher – rawer. There is no polish to the album like there was to Brown Sugar – it sounds like D and his musicians were making it up as they go along.
Yet Voodoo sounded and still sounds like magic. For the sake of my life I don’t understand why. I’m still trying to work it out.
Every single song on this album is unpredictable – grooves change and switch up on you without any warning. D’Angelo doesn’t always sing on this album, he mumbles, growls and grunts.
And I'm not sure you can be certain of what musician or era influenced a certain song on the album. I heard James Brown, Sly and Prince on Chicken Grease alone - but that song in its entirety is something utterly original. People hear Prince all over the much lauded Untitled but I always get Marvin and Teddy Pen (The song always reminds me of Close the door).
The craftsmanship shown on Voodoo is something that has been found wanting in modern-day RnB. Artists are not making albums that are made to listen to from start to finish - they are just making a collections of songs that have little to no relationship with one another.
Like the other two Unicorns, D has been on a very long hiatus; but unlike the other two Unicorns, whose comebacks have been littered with disappointments, D'Angelo's return has got me impatiently waiting for his new CD.
I should have known that he hadn't lost a step when I heard him on the J-Dilla produced So far to go, as well as Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's Imagine, but Ms Hill had me questioning all of my heroes. Watching the Youtube videos of D'angelo's return has me believing in miracles. It has made me believe that one day pigs may fly or that there is a massive dinosaur swimming underneath a lake up in Scotland.
The only thing different about D'Angelo now is his weight and I personally don't give a shit about that. I am just happy that he has conquered his personal demons. I am extra happy that he spent his hiatus time learning to play the guitar and not just getting busted by the police and getting high.
I love his new material so much that I actually know the words to a lot of his new songs already. I think Really Love has the potential to be one of the best songs ever made.
I don't envy D'Angelo - It must be hard being the chosen one. He is living proof that black men can be are talented, complicated flawed and intelligent. Like I've said before, I see D as a hub for so many spirits of other great artists that have come before hi, - but he is always the conductor.
I think out of all the Unicorn he has the most to gain. If he gets his next album right, he could become a legend to the many, not the few D apostles