2013: Year of the Comeback

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Posted February 9, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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The Second Coming of the R&B Savior

Hard to believe that D’Angelo’s last record was back in 2000. When Voodoo was originally released, the large sector of hip-hop and those of the MP3 generation taunted the change of musical direction from the “Brown Sugar” singer. Thankfully, he did manage to pull off a hit single (and a bigger hit of a music video) with “Untitled [How Does It Feel].” The song, dressed up in Princey musk, quickly transformed the singer into a sex symbol; something that D’Angelo – a product of the Pentecostal Church – admits he was not mentally prepared for.

Rather than building on his new platform of superstardom and embracing the clarion call to become the Marvin Gaye of his generation, D’Angelo retreated into a cave, afraid to face his latest batch of fears while still wrestling with old ones. He found himself in trouble with the law. He wrestled with addiction. His relationship with Angie Stone fell to pieces. And remember those sexy chiseled abs that reduced countless women to exercise their right to idol worship and countless panty-tossing charades during his commercially successful Voodoo World Tour? That was all covered up with pounds of unflattering fat. According to a very poignant write-up by Amy Wallace in GQ magazine in 2012, D’Angelo simply wasn’t ready for this kind of pressure.

“There’s forces that are going on that I don’t think a lot of motherfuckers that make music today are aware of,” he said. “It’s deep. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt other forces pulling at me. This is a very powerful medium that we are involved in.”

D’Angelo managed to work his way unto Mark Ronson’s ‘80’s-tribute disc, Record Collection back in 2010. But the song he performed, “Glass Mountain Trust,” was an oddball of wickedness, something Ronson called “the weird abstract one.” “’It was an [instrumental] track I had written with Anthony Rossomando,’ Ronson told Wall Street Journal. “I said, ‘I know this doesn’t sound anything like a D’Angelo track, but this is my favorite track on the record that we still don’t have anything on.” It hardly resembled a return of form for the recluse singer, but it was still a positive step forward. Bouncing back from his fall, a healthier D’Angelo tried out a few live shows overseas in Europe back in 2012, performing very odd reincarnations of rock hits, before trying out his music on familiar ground. He arrived at last year’s Bonnaroo to perform a set of ambitious covers with an all-star fleet of hip-hop specialties, including members of The Roots, The Time and George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic. The whipped through Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be,” the Beatles’ “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and Funkadelic’s “Hit It and Quit It.” Then more D’Angelo sightings: He performed at Jay-Z’s Made In America set and performed at the BET Music Awards. Those who expected to hear a rerun of D’Angelo’s old hits, like “Lady” and “Brown Sugar,” were left underwhelmed in 2012. He hardly touched his back catalog – and it’s probably for his best. Digging too deep into his own discography would’ve easily pegged him as an oldies act and would undermine the work that’s forthcoming.

 

 

Overlooked when originally released in 2000, Voodoo – D’Angelo’s second LP, has been universally praised by a litany of rock and pop critics. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked it #481 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Something that worries some of D’Angelo’s strongest supporters is the climate surrounding black soul music. Today, the market is not the same for R&B as it was at the turn of the century. Nowadays you get high marks just for showing off your ripped abs and latest ink, even if record sales are almost close to nothing. Even the avant-garde leaders in this newly assembled arena of alt-and-B, musicians such as Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Miguel, are hardly producing major hit singles, let alone selling the kinds of copies that R&B once used to. It’s a sagging sector that stands in dire need of re-invigoration  It needs big ideas, it needs a cultural renaissance in the tradition that Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye did at Motown in the early ‘70’s. We don’t expect D’Angelo to bring the neo-soul fad back to life, but we do anticipate something exceptional to come out after a thirteen-year recording hiatus.

Roots’ drummer Ahimr?uestlove” Thompson has been anxious to get D’Angelo out of his depressing funk and to get him back into the music. ?uestlove his back at his old buddy’s side and believe he’s  stumbled upon an “instant classic.” “I’m heading out to Asia right now praying that we’re still on schedule for when we said we were going to turn that record in,” ?uestlove told Billboard back in January. “All last week I was in the studio finishing (the album). Right now, we’re just tightening up the loose ends. But I still stand by, 99 percent  of it is done.”

?uestlove has a very busy schedule on his hand. Not only does he have his full time gig as musical director of Jimmy Fallon’s house band, but he’s also a teacher at NYU and an in-demand producer (a new album by The Roots and a collaborative project with Elvis Costello is also on the way in 2013). But his commitment to D’Angelo’s comeback is serious business.  He’s already comparing the new record with Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. “It’s potent,” he says. “It’s an extremely hard pill to swallow. He’s one of those artists that have, of course, taken thirteen years to follow up a record. It’s going to take you about ten years to digest this record.”

Regardless if his fan base and those defectors now playing with Trey Songz are set to pre-order D’Angelo’s next work by the millions, we only hope that D’Angelo is absolutely ready to return to his post. This time around, we hope he’s ready.

NEXT PAGE:
DAVID BOWIE


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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