An Ode to D'Angelo

Still thinking about his Verzuz

(Charles Sykes—Invision/AP )

I can’t remember exactly when I was introduced to D’Angelo’s music. After all, I wasn’t born or even thought of when his debut album Brown Sugar was released in 1995, and I was only one when his seminal project Voodoo dropped in 2000. Then, he vanished from the spotlight for nearly 15 years. However, I do remember the first time I saw the video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” from Voodoo. Yes, that video. There was never a time in which VH1 Soul (now BET Soul) wasn’t on in my dad’s home, and I remember being glued to the television when D’Angelo, who was basically naked, appeared in that much-talked about video for his hit single. I was only 9 or 10 at the time, so of course, like many others, I was attracted to D’Angelo’s sex appeal. But that wasn’t the only facet of of the song that captured my attention. It was his mesmerizing capability to mix the sensual with the secular in his art, which is exemplified in “Untitled (How Does It Feel).”

The nearly seven-minute long single is a soulful journey that explores the depths of D’Angelo’s artistry, which is as soulful as it is gospel as it is funk. And he, with his unmatched falsetto and groovy style, gracefully invites listeners along the ride. Just listen to the song’s opening seconds. The electric guitar chords (played by none other than Raphael Saadiq) shine as D’Angelo sings the emphatic line: “Girl, it’s only you. Have it your way”. I can’t think of a more inviting line, as I view it as the sexual equivalent of “Come here”. And the rest of the song is magic. Fast forward to the 6:40 mark and it sounds like D’Angelo is catching the holy ghost, as his shout mimics what I’ve heard in church praise breaks all of my life. His voice seems to be captured by some sort of higher power, but it still sounds sexy.

Then, the single ends abruptly.

The ending seemed to foreshadow what was to come next from D’Angelo because he left the music world without warning after finishing his Voodoo tour. And his struggle with the perception of him being a sex symbol, which emanated from “Untitled”, was part of the reason for his departure. He didn’t return until 2014 when he released his critically-acclaimed Black Messiah.

Aside from a few features and one single, D’Angelo hasn’t released anything since then, which is why, just like I was when I first saw the video for “Untitled”, I was glued to my TV screen during D’Angelo’s Verzuz last month. The event itself didn’t boast of anything remarkable (with the exception of a must-see duet from D’Angelo and H.E.R.). It was shorter than previous Verzuz events, and it didn’t garner as many viewers. Additionally, it was basically a one-man show, which goes against the premise of why Verzuz was created.

But the event was remarkable in the fact that it’s fucking D’Angelo, a legacy artist who rarely gives us anything. And that was enough for me.

Watching the Verzuz reminded me of just how much D’Angelo embodies Black art. Although it’s known that blues, funk, R&B and soul are genres that were created from gospel music, all of them become one on any D’Angelo song. There isn’t any distinction. There is no binary. He breaks that musical tradition. Take this live performance of “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker” for example, in which he literally breaks the drums because of how much he’s in tune with the song.

D’Angelo is the sentient form of the varied nuances of soul music and he takes listeners to church with every performance. It’s why he’s my favorite artist of all time.

After his Verzuz, I wondered when would be the next time he’d re-emerge from his hiding place. I also thought about what would’ve have happened to D’Angelo had he’d not gone into hiding in the first place. I don’t know if he’d still be with us, as I think about the fate of other Black artists who publicly struggled with the burdens of fame like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Natalie Cole.

But I’m glad that he is.

(Check out my D’Angelo playlist)

What I’m Listening to

Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic: Speaking about men begging to please women, Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars team to give us a preview of the nostalgic old-school R&B sound that’ll seem to take center stage in their new group.

That’s all she wrote!

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Talk soon,