Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Michael Eugene Archer, professionally known on record as the soulful and sexy D’Angelo, is one of those mysterious artists who drop bombs on the industry years apart from each other. He has been AWOL more than once, but every single time he returns, it’s more than worth the wait. As one of the greatest artists (and collaborators) of the neo-soul genre that has been floating around since the late 90’s, D’Angelo brings a fusion of Hendrix funk, confessional songwriting, and Prince-worthy musicianship and production into his eclectic sound. Here are five of the Virginia native’s best moments.
- “Brown Sugar” from Brown Sugar (1995)
D’Angelo had his first taste of success as part of the group Black Men United with “U Will Know” which introduced his style of production and songwriting. It wasn’t until a year afterwards that he would become a soul-sensation, when Brown Sugar and its title track hit the racks. This song could act as a summary to D’Angelo’s career; it’s a song that celebrates sex sung by the industry’s newest sex symbol… or is it? The lyrics suggest D’Angelo is singing about his beloved marijuana – “See, we be making love constantly/That’s why my eyes are a shade blood burgundy”, sings D’Angelo before proclaiming, “Brown sugar babe, I gets high off your love”. Not the first thinly veiled ode to the kush, to be sure.
- “Lady” from Brown Sugar (1995)
Another standout from his debut, “Lady” is a straight-up love song, with no double entendre like “Brown Sugar”. “I’m tired of hiding what we feel/I’m trying to come with the real/And I’m-a gonna make it known/Cause I want them to know/You’re my lady”. This is D’Angelo at his most passionate and with his greatest honesty. The sensual mix of guitar and electric piano makes this particular track a true standout in D’Angelo’s discography.
- “Untitled” (How Does It Feel) from Voodoo (2000)
If Brown Sugar is considered a singles-based album, it’s funny to think that the follow-up, Voodoo, gained even more airplay and radio traction than D’Angelo’s debut did. Coming out from his first retreat from the stage and speakers due to a bout of writer’s block, as well as frequent collaborations with the likes of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, “Untitled…” re-introduced everything that was loved about D’Angelo and augmented it to even grander levels. The song is the album’s true centerpiece, even though it appears towards the end of the record, and its video stirred up controversy for its themes of sexuality. This is a perfect song on a damn-near perfect album.
- “Ain’t That Easy” from Black Messiah (2014)
After the huge success of Voodoo, D’Angelo retreated from the spotlight once again, and this time for nearly three times as long. Citing his discomfort with being one of the world’s biggest sex symbol and problems with alcoholism and being overweight, D’Angelo was nowhere to be heard, save for a few live appearances here and there. Cue the murders of multiple black men and the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement – D’Angelo felt like “something needs to be said”, and Black Messiah is his scripture and solution. The first sound we hear from the man in fourteen years is that of chunky’n’funky Hendrix guitar – classic D’Angelo; but he is audibly more political than in the past. “I wanna give you, give you something that will feed your mind” croons the singer. This is a more mature and socially aware D’Angelo than we’ve ever heard from thus far.
- “Really Love” from Black Messiah (2014)
The lead single off of Black Messiah is one of the singer’s most cinematic tracks. Opening with a dark string section featuring the Spanish-speaking of a female and beautiful flamenco guitar, the song gracefully moves into a cascading meld of strings, guitars, and a flawless soul groove. D’Angelo has always treated sex as a holy ritual, and “Really Love” is no exception. The song’s bridge tingles the spine as D’Angelo sings, “All night beside you I’d lay/I love you deep when you come to my bed/Doo doo wah, I’m in really love with you”. It’s absolutely one of the singer’s most mature songs about relationships and love.