— After taking a four and a half year hiatus from music, Virginia-born singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, D’Angelo, returned with his stellar follow-up album, Voodoo.
Almost 5 years had gone by since D’Angelo released his 1995 debut solo album, Brown Sugar, but that made no difference. The demand for D’Angelo’s soulful crooning and funky instrumentals was still higher than ever. In fact, Voodoo is commonly regarded amongst D’Angelo’s most avid listeners as his best work. Though some may disagree, no one in their right mind will deny the brilliance behind this particular work of art.
D’Angelo began writing and recording for Voodoo in 1998. This followed a severe case of writer’s block that he had developed after spending 2 years on tour promoting Brown Sugar. When later discussing his difficulties with writer’s block, D’Angelo stated,
“The thing about writer’s block is that you want to write so fucking bad, [but] the songs don’t come out that way. They come from life. So you’ve got to live to write.”
Lucky for D’Angelo, “life” is exactly what he got with the birth of his first child, Michael, whom he had with fellow R&B singer and then-girlfriend, Angie Stone. Along with his new family, D’Angelo decided to move back down south in order to reconnect with his original influence—African-American musical history. Just like that, D’Angelo was able to get his mojo back.
The majority of the album’s recording was done at the legendary Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan, NYC. Drummer and producer Questlove of The Roots served as D’Angelo’s co-pilot during recording sessions. In fact, production of Voodoo occurred simultaneously with that of Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate. Furthermore, all of these artists became members of the Neo-Soul/Alternative Hip-Hop Collective, Soulquarians along with Q-Tip, J Dilla, Mos Def, and more. Soulquarian members frequently visited Electric Lady Studios during Voodoo’s recording along with more foreign visitors such as Rick Rubin, Chris Rock, and Eric Clapton.
Upon its release, Voodoo sent the world into a frenzy with many people praising D’Angelo’s fearless deviation from what had become the norm in R&B. Such a reception proves to be an accomplishment for D’Angelo who had become discontent with the direction of R&B and Soul music at the time. During an interview with Jet Magazine he said,
“The term R&B doesn’t mean what it used to mean. R&B is pop, that’s the new word for R&B… the funny thing about it is that the people making this shit are dead serious about the stuff they’re making. It’s sad—they’ve turned black music into a club thing.”
Furthermore, the album was given almost a perfect score from just about every major music and lifestyle publication you can name.
Beyond Voodoo’s critical acclaim, the project also enjoyed immense commercial success. Voodoo debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and remained on the charts for 33 consecutive weeks while also selling 320,000 copies in its first week. On March 1st, just 2 months after it’s release, Voodoo was certified platinum by the RIAA.
The album was supported by the success of 5 singles; “Devil’s Pie”, “Left and Right”, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”, “Send On”, and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”. Each of these singles did relatively well individually with all of them earning placement on the Billboard charts. However, none did nearly as well commercially as “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” with its infamous music video instantly thrusting D’Angelo into “sex symbol” status, much to his dismay.
There are countless other notable observations that could be made about this album such as DJ Premier and Raphael Saadiq’s production contributions, verses from Method Man and Redman, and Prince’s influence encouraging D’Angelo to write and produce the entire album almost singlehandedly. Still, none of that will properly do this album any justice without a good listen.
So, grab your boo, some bud, a glass of wine, or any combination of the 3 and enjoy the full album, documentary, and music videos featured above.
Written by Simo Haier