Official Biography (January 2000)
With the release of his 1995 solo debut Brown Sugar, Michael "D'Angelo" Archer did more than just make yet another R&B record; he ushered in a new era of music. Brown Sugar became a template for what male fueled rhythm and blues and soul should, could and had to sound and feel like. Blessed with slinky, slurred, sinewy grooves and a deft musical touch that can only come from a deeper place, Brown Sugar would go on to sell over 2 million copies, yield the hit singles "Lady" and the title track, and make a then 20-year-old D'Angelo a star and a soul standard bearer.
So what do you do once you've set new standards? Simple enough, you raise the stakes and set them even higher. You take a chance, you reject the status quo and you forge your own aural path. You delve deep into yourself and conjure up a collection like this.
The name of D'Angelo's second album is Voodoo, and like some dark, longing, out of body hallucination, Voodoo burrows its way into your subconscious, weaves a web and casts a serious spell. Infused with the revolutionary, funkafied mojo of early Ohio Players, James Brown, the Meters, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Kool and the Gang and any pioneering band that dared to take a risk, Voodoo is the album D'Angelo was put on this earth to create. It is the music that has been playing in his head.
To call Voodoo the most eagerly anticipated sophomore release in recent musical history is am understatement. It is quite literally the record much of the universal soul nation has been feenin' for. Yet if you ask D'Angelo, who produced and wrote Voodoo, what took so long, his answer speaks volumes to his artistic integrity and his mission. "The main thing is that I really just wanted to make the best album that I could make. I basically wanted to be able to sit down and write some nice songs and it takes time to get it together as to what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. I felt some of the pressure to follow up Brown Sugar and I tried not to think about that. I wanted to concentrate on what I was doing, and to get it back on the love of music and writing that I had even before I signed a contract. So if there's one reason why I took such a long time in between records is because I wanted to keep that purity, to keep my motivation for why I make music pure."
The spiritual and sonic birth of Voodoo coincides with the birth of D'Angelo's almost three-year-old son. It was shortly after the child's arrival into the world that D'Angelo entered a studio in Virginia and laid down "Send It On", a sly slow jam laced with a bluesy afterglow. With "Send It On" fresh in his mind, D'Angelo felt ready to start the recording process for real and set up camp at the famed Electric Lady Studios, built by the late Jimi Hendrix. It was at that studio D'Angelo says, "we all made a spiritual and mental musical journey."
Joining D'Angelo on this journey were a group of players whom he dubs the best musicians he could find. "I love to play," D'Angelo states (he played drums, keyboards, guitar and bass on Voodoo), "and I wanted to work with people who love to play, too." Among the guests on Voodoo are Charlie Hunter (whose guitar forms the crux of the winding grooves of "The Root"), jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Ahmir (?uestlove), Thompson (drummer for the Roots), bassist Pino Pallidino, Raphael Saadiq (who goes for his on the sensuous stroll "Untitled"), Method Man & Redman (who can be heard on the off kilter bounce "Left and Right") and Grammy Award winning artist Lauryn Hill. "Lauryn is a beautiful spirit," D'Angelo says. "Very warm. When we did "Nothing Even Matters" (which appears on Hill's Miseducation Of") it was just a natural thing. And this new song, "I Feel Like Making Love" is just as natural."
Asked how he assembled such a diverse and dynamic crew and D'Angelo answers, "A lot of these people are folks I've been fans of for a long time. Like with Ahmir. The first time I saw him was when he was opening up for the Fugees, back when I was touring. As soon as I met and heard him it was like I'd found my long lost brother. I knew right then and there this guy was going to play with me and Ahmir's kind of my co-pilot on Voodoo."
Voodoo was recorded live with no overdubs, and often what is on the finished project is how it unfolded in the studio. Lyrically, D'Angelo offers that much of Voodoo is personal reflection: touching on subjects like spirituality, sexuality, growth, and in particular becoming a father. Musically, as he puts it, Voodoo is "definitely groove based. Sometimes we'd be in the studio and Ahmir would come up with a beat and we'd just jam and things would just happen very spontaneously. Lots of times we'd just go in there and just play and we'd have the tape rolling. It was a different experience than Brown Sugar cause (back then) I had written all the songs at my house and then came into the studio. This time I wrote in the studio and worked a lot more with other musicians."
Although there was a long period of time in between Brown Sugar and Voodoo, D'Angelo was far from inactive, or uncreative. D'Angelo recorded "Devil's Pie" (a collaboration with DJ Premier that appeared on the Belly Soundtrack), "Heaven Must Be Like This" (Down in The Delta Soundtrack) and a cover if Prince's "She's Always In My Hair" (Scream 2 Sountrack). In addition, D'Angelo worked with Method Man on "Break Ups 2 Make Ups" (Judgement Day 2000), the aforementioned duet with Lauryn Hill, and recorded "Nobody's Home" with the legendary B.B. King, a duet which appeared on King's latest album.
D'Angelo also sat in with saxophonist David Sanborn and Eric Clapton (performing a cover of Cream's classic tune "Sunshine of Your Love", on Sanborn's televised 1999 New Year's Eve special), recently took the stage at the R&R Hall of Fame to perform a tribute to Curtis Mayfield at Eric Clapton's request, and sang the National Anthem prior to the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis fight (which incidentally was the largest televised sporting event ever), proving that D'Angelo's skills as a player are recognized across all genres and generations. Further cementing his place in the national spotlight, he was chosen to appear on the cover of Rizzolli's "Body & Soul: The First Black Book", a pictorial highlighting prominent African American men in the entertainment realm.
It was clear from the jump that there was something special about D'Angelo. Born in Richmond, Virginia, the son and grandson of preachers, D'Angelo showed precocious musical talent as a small child and began playing piano at the age of five.
By the time he hit 18, D'Angelo was a three time Amateur Night at the Apollo Winner and a member of a rap act called I.D.U. It was through a demo tape of that now forgotten act that D'Angelo first caught the ears if the industry. A record exec was impressed with I.D.U.'s tracks and asked to meet the man behind them.
In 1991 D'Angelo was signed to a publishing deal, which would eventually lead to his recording deal with the now defunct EMI Records. In 1994, D'Angelo co-wrote and co-produced the stirring anthem "U Will Know", which was the lead single from the Jason's Lyric Soundtrack. Quickly, the buzz grew to deafening levels and in 1995, Brown Sugar hit the streets.
Now four years later this preternaturally wise and seasoned man-child of R&B and soul returns. "My inspiration was to just go farther," D'Angelo says, speaking of Voodoo's mission statement. "To get to that next level. To push it even further. To work against the floss and the grain and to get even deeper into the sound that I'm hearing, and the thing is, I'm just looking at Voodoo as just the beginning. I'm still developing and growing and still listening to that sound I hear inside my head. To take that sound and put it on tape. So this is the first step. It took a while but I'm on my way now."
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