Last night, at the Cantor Auditorium at the Brooklyn Museum, as a part of the Red Bull Music Academy, D’Angelo, one of the last men of mystery in music, sat down for a rare public interview, with author Nelson George. Famous for his amazing album Voodoo, the hysteria inducing shirtless video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” and the fact that up until a string of recent gigs, he had gone into a reclusive hiding, the night offered some illuminations to how D’Angelo got to where he is, and where he’s headed.
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After two classic albums, Brown Sugar & Voodoo, which were released in 1995 and 2000 respectively, one of the big topics of discussion is a pending third studio release. Touring in the last years, specifically playing at venues such as Bonnaroo & Brooklyn Bowl, which was noted had whiter audiences than he was used to, audiences had been confused by the new direction this tentative studio album is headed. While he didn’t say he was ditching the piano altogether, the weapon of choice seems to be the guitar. Sure, D’Angelo played the guitar a little on Voodoo, which may be news to some, but this is seemingly the dawning of a new age.
Citing Prince and Jimi Hendrix as major influences in his recent studio hours, Nelson and D’Angel unfurled the idea that rock guitar and funk are going to be calling cards in the music to be released. D’Angelo said he sees it as a natural progression for himself, but people weren’t expecting his new sound these recent tours, and it wasn’t a bad thing that it to a lot of confusion. “I love that, if it’s confusing, that’s a good sign.” When Nelson asked if the audiences would have to be prepared, D’Angelo simply confirmed, saying “Yes, I think so.”
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When asked about collaborator and fellow Soulquarian Questlove, D’Angelo started to tell a story about meeting him at a concert with the immaculate bill of Goodie Mob, The Fugees, and The Roots, but then a booming voice announced from the audience, “I CAN TELL THAT STORY!” and Questlove himself bounded up to the stage to join the evening.
The story, it turns out, started earlier than that night, when the legendary record producer, mixer, engineer, and musician Bob Power was trying to sell Questlove on D’Angelo being the next super talent. Unfortunately, in his own words, Quest was a snob about R&B at the time, and didn’t listen. Flash forward to the horrible Source Awards Show in 1995 that Suge Knight ruined, and someone ran up to Questlove, while he was trying to leave the venue, and gave him Brown Sugar CD. So when Questlove finally gave it a listen, he realized that, in his own words, “I done fucked up now. This is our savior. And I plotted to get within his sights, so I can atone for being dismissive.” So, back at the night they met, Questlove says that between The Fugees, Goodie Mob, and the Roots, there was a rivalry of one-uppsmanship, and D’Angelo was there too. Everybody was working their hardest. But then Questlove, on his mission to win over D’Angelo, starts to drum in a style his band wasn’t accustomed to, referencing one of Prince’s bands, Madhouse, and the song “4,” to see if he and D’Angelo shared the love of The Purple One. Of course, D’Angelo caught the reference from across the room and stood up to shout “YEAH!”
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Lastly, reports of a much-larger D’Angelo are exaggerated, he showed up in fashionable ripped jeans, leather jacket, scarf, and a fedora, a slight paunch could be seen if you looked close. No plans to get undressed to shoot “Untitled 2” (which doesn’t exist), any time soon.
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