The neo-soul star makes a comeback with a scheduled album release and tours.
His was the typical tale of a star who rose, enjoyed immense success and fell fast and hard.
For 12 years, fans of singer D’Angelo have waited patiently for him to release a follow-up album to his 2000 hit recording, Voodoo. He left the international stage arena after releasing his raunchy Untitled video.
For the first time in over a decade, he sat down with GQ magazine to discuss what led to his break from the music industry, his drug problem, his connection to Marvin Gaye and what finally got him back in the studio.
Reflecting on the factors which caused him to go astray, D’Angelo admitted that even after an accident – caused by substance abuse – which nearly killed him in 2005, he failed to recognise that he had a serious problem. Despite several stints in rehab for addiction to both cocaine and liquor, he’d missed the opportunity to sign a $3 million (about R25 million) record deal and most of his close friends had long severed all ties to him.
Now, however, he’s reunited with his former manager, Kevin Liles of KWL Enterprises, and has embarked on an American and European tour to perform his old hits and rekindle his relationship with his fans.
Regarded as the godfather of the neo-soul movement, D’Angelo mesmerised audiences with his distinctive brand of the genre which invoked comparisons with the late Marvin Gaye.
Defying music industry standards, he released Brown Sugar to critical acclaim in 1995. According to www.billboard.biz, that album – as well as Voodoo, which followed it – sold a combined total of 3,5 million, as quoted on Nielsen SoundScan statistics.
Liles says no definite release date had been decided on for D’Angelo’s new album, but adds that the project is about 95% complete. “It’s [the culmination of] 12 years of emotion and love for music that have been pent up. D’Angelo’s finally going to share all of that. It’s a special space where he’s not searching for a song – he’s reaching for your soul,” he says.
We asked two D’Angelo fans about what they think of his comeback.
Thabo Mokwele (better known as T-Bose, mid-morning host on Kaya FM) is a lover of all things soul. The radio presenter and DJ has followed D’Angelo’s career since its inception in the Nineties.
Although skeptical of the star’s comeback, Mokwele acknowledges that he set high standards for himself with his albums.
“He was a breath of fresh air. It was also amazing that he played the organ. I believe he shot himself in the foot with the release of Brown Sugar because Voodoo didn’t live up the success of its predecessor. It’s like when Lauryn Hill released her first album and followed it up with some acoustic nonsense. That was absolutely ridiculous!” says Mokwele.
He believes it takes passion for an artist to achieve fame and still remain grounded and successful. “If an artist isn’t in it for the fame, but purely for the love of music, he’ll avoid falling into the trap to which many other soul icons have succumbed.”
Mokwele points out that artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Maxwell all struggled to make noteworthy comebacks after their debut albums.
However, he concedes that if D’Angelo ups his game, improves his music and delivers more than he gave his fans 12 years ago, he could rise again.
Kabomo Vilakazi, music producer, Afro-soul singer and writer, believes D’Angelo will outdo himself. He’s kept close tabs on the artist’s career over the years, having been a member of the production team which brought Roots member Questlove to SA five years ago. Questlove is currently working with D’Angelo on his latest album. “I’m excited about his comeback. I’ve listened to every song on each album at least 20 000 times!” he laughs.
“I’m surprised people think he took too long to come back. Anyone who knows him knows he doesn’t rush the process. When the album’s ready, it will come out.”
Vilakazi has no doubt Angelo will deliver an album of a high calibre, which won’t simply be a recreation of his debut and sophomore offerings.
“Brown Sugar sounded nothing like Voodoo – even phonetically, the two were different. Norah Jones says she’ll never be able to recreate her first album. Instead, she wants to make beautiful, creative music. There are similarities between soul artists, but there isn’t one person who can be credited with creating the genre. If soul artists sing and write honestly, they connect with their audience.
“I can’t wait for D’Angelo’s album. I want to see him perform live. A friend of mine, Anele, went all the way to see Beyoncé perform live in New York, USA and I’d like to do the same. My plan is to fly out and experience D’Angelo live,” says Vilakazi.
Sources: www.gq.com, www.billboard.biz