It’s been a year since D’Angelo released a 3rd studio album, Black Messiah, a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album — after a 14-year break from music. Black Messiah was released in December 2014 and has since been nominated as Record of the Year for the track, “Really Love”, R&B album and R&B song for next February’s Grammy Awards. First published in WORD Magazine, February 2000, we bring you this story from WORD’s vaults by writer Errol Nazareth in celebration of his Grammy nods. The Awards take place February 16, 2016.
Since releasing Brown Sugar, his debut CD, five years back, the level of interest that has surrounded D’Angelo’s career has been staggering. You’d understand this if you indulged in the album’s raw soul and sweet sensuality, two elements that led to folks uttering his name in the same breath as Marvin Gay and Prince. We couldn’t get enough of the man, wondering when D’Angelo would treat us to a follow-up. Our patience was rewarded at the end of last month when he released the daring Voodoo. I spoke with D’Angelo late last month from his label’s office in Los Angeles. Despite dealing with a cold, he was gracious and funny.
WORD: You’ve been called “the future of Black music.” Given that you must have felt some serious pressure to come through with another winner when you began working on Voodoo.
D’Angelo: I felt some pressure when we began writing the album but I don’t feel it now. That’s one reason I shut everything out and focused on my love for music and the type of music I love to hear. I didn’t listen to the radio at all or look at videos. It was like being on a diet.
WORD: What type of record did you envision making?
D’Angelo: I’d envisioned making a record with a particular sound and mood, and I didn’t stray from that. I kept saying to myself, ‘I want something really gritty and dirty and raw,’ and I think I accomplished that.
WORD: God knows there’s enough polished stuff out there!
D’Angelo: Yeah, it’s ridiculous, man. It’s a joke, you know what I’m sayin’?, but the funny thing about it is that the people who are making this shit are dead serious about the stuff they are making,(he laughs). It’s sad. And half these people grooving off this shit think it’s wack! It looks like music is really being geared toward a club audience and they’ve turned black music into a club thing.
WORD: What was it like recording Voodoo at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios?
D’Angelo: It was beautiful man, It was a wonderful experience. There’s a great vibe and energy there. I felt blessed to record there and all the musicians felt Jimi’s spirit and force was in the house and assisting us.
WORD: I heard you used amps and microphones that Hendrix used.
D’Angelo: Yeah, man. His step-sister is very involved in the studio and the people that run the place are devout Hendrix fans and they keep all that stuff. A lot of songs (on Voodoo) were recorded on the same board.
WORD: So you’ve always been a big fan of Hendrix?
D’Angelo: I was definitely up on him before that but, I wasn’t a Hendrix nut like some of my friends. But, I’ve begun to see his genius and exactly what he was doing. I knew he was the father of psychedelic rock and the greatest guitarist who ever lived but, I didn’t know he was a pioneer of funk. A lot of people don’t look at Jimi in that respect. He really started a lot of what funk is all about…it came from Jimi Hendrix.
WORD: I understand “Untitled” is a tribute to Prince. How did that come about?
D’Angelo: I was on the piano and “Untitled” came to me, the melody just came to me. I was thinking about it and I was like, ‘I want it to be a ballad but I don’t want it to be intense, I want the bass to pop on this joint, I don’t want it to be subtle.’ I thought it’d be lovely if I got Raphael Siddiq to play on the joint and, while I was thinking that, he walked in the door and we cut it right then and there.
WORD: What’s the beauty of recording live?
D’Angelo: There’s nothing like it. I worked with some incredible musicians – Pino Pallidino, ?uestlove, Roy Hargrove, Raphael Siddiq, Charlie Hunter – you couldn’t ask to work with better musicians. You get into the studio with them and the sky’s the limit, man. (Charlie Hunter, who plays bass and lead simultaneously on his eight-string guitar, returned the compliment saying, “D’Angelo understands music, he understands the deeper aspect of what music is about. I’m proud of the music we made together.”)
WORD: How would you describe your personal journey since Brown Sugar was released?
D’Angelo: It’s been a ride. My life changed and this album definitely reflects those changes and what I’m feeling.
WORD: Congrats on becoming a dad for the second time.
D’Angelo: Thank you man. It’s beautiful. A lot of songs (“Africa” and “Send It On”) on this album deals with me becoming a father.
WORD: I’m curious how do you feel the dynamic of making music in the ‘90s has changed?
D’Angelo: Back in the day, cats had the opportunity to experiment and make records that didn’t have anything to do with getting a hit. They were just expressing themselves but now its all based on Soundscan and having a video for every single you release.