D’Angelo, Voodoo

Voodoo D’Angelo

 

I feel like I owe something to Voodoo.  I remember exactly where I was when I bought the album (East Lansing, Michigan, on a mid-February college tour of MSU that I checked out of after 2 minutes of waiting for a bus), and remember feeling compelled to write about it for my high school newspaper.  It’s funny to think this album’s been a part of my life for the better part of a decade now, because D’Angelo’s career did nothing since then (word on the street is he’s fat now, but that’s about it), and because of the way my thoughts about it have changed.  In 2000, in Woodland Park, Colorado, I wasn’t a fan of hip-hop and sorta liked soul thanks to enough of my dad’s doowop records.  To me then, the way to write about Voodoo was in terms of its liner notes, that call out “fake” emcees rapping about nothing, and stating that hip hop had strayed from the genuine example of the Marvin Gayes and Otis Reddings that precede it.  I felt I had to contrast it to all other hip hop music, which was boring and clearly unworthy of occupying a sales mantle next to my heroes of popular music in the late 90’s, Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails.

 

Now I love hip hop, and I love soul music even more than I used to – then, the high high falsetto D’Angelo employed seemed grating, and seemed to keep him from the full range of his voice; now, knowing what to expect, his voice seems possibly even more expressive, and more rooted in the soul it wants to express.  Voodoo gets better the more you know.  Beginning with a slew of conversation that a cymbal crash and bassline emanate from in “Playa Playa,” we get breezy jazz and hip hop, a groove and a chorus of voices arriving from the most packed jam session in Harlem.  The music gets shape and moves forward – a backbeat and DJ’s record comes in “Devil’s Pie,” and moves into “Left & Right,” a full-on single with Method Man and Redman.  You begin to have thoughts, already, that this album seems to have everything – jazz horns, funk bass, hip hip dj’s, an emcee a great vocalist, and a great producer.  Even more overpowering a thought – these songs are long, almost none clocking in at less than 5 minutes.  The truth is the album is a commemoration of a great hip-hop experience, a release of melody and creativity that would have once defined the work of Bob Dylan or Van Morrison.  There’s great grooves – “Spanish Joint,” “Greatdayindamornin’/Booty” – followed by soul that would make Al Green proud – “The Root,” “One Mo’ Gin.”  A warm, breezy remake of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” even seems to legitamize that song’s dippy blissfulness.

 

At the time of Voodoo’s release, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” was a single, and one I liked enough to buy the record.  It was famous for, among other things, D’Angelo’s video, which is one sustained shot of a supposedly naked D’Angelo – ripped from long long hours at the gym – shot from mid-pelvis up singing the song.  Now, much was made of this successful appeal to female viewers, but it was also something else – an expression of the sincerity, the “nakedness” of the song.  That song is still, to me, the greatest of all neo-soul releases in the late 90’s and early 00’s – better than Lauryn Hill or Alicia Keys or Raphael Saadiq – but now it also occurs to me as something else.  As the 12th of 13 songs on the 79 minute lineup, “Untitled” is also the most exciting and moving expression of the creativity on the record.  Now, 79 minutes is a long time to devote to an album, but I think the process of working up to “Untitled” is key to its success as an album – following “Feel Like Making Love and “Greatdayindamornin’,” the album has been lightened, relaxed a little.  “Untitled,” afterwards, is all feeling and authenticity, and the song itself is a process, beginning with a drum beat and climaxing in a full-on guitar section and chorus of various D’s in ecstatic harmony.  What a release it is – it makes the album around it and before it.  It’s a release for the listener, too, and it caps an album that matches – and surpasses – the soul music legends it attempts to emulate.

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