Until my dying day, I will proclaim that Virginia is the greatest state ever. Sure it has beauty, Slurpees, and most importantly, it is the birthplace of yours truly, the Head Playa In Charge. But it has also produced some of the best musicians of the modern era.
Innovators like Missy Elliott, Timbaland and Pharrell call Va home. Clipse, one of the best rap groups of the past decade, rep Va, along with underrated lyricists Skillz and Lady of Rage. Cousin Chris Brown and Trey Songz release pretty good music too when they’re not smashing windows and yelling at people. And who can forget about Magoo?
Stop hatin’, I love Mag-a-noo.
Anyway, there is one Virginia native who is rarely mentioned in a discussion of the region’s best. No not Nicole Wray, I’m talking about D’Angelo. What ever happened to that guy?
Michael Eugene Archer grew up in the Pentecostal church in Richmond, Va. Like many of the folks we feature in this column, D’Angelo fine-tuned his talents in the church house.
D’Angelo signed with EMI Records in 1991 and penned “U Will Know” for the Jason’s Lyric Soundtrack. That song was performed by Black Men United, a massive collection of the era’s male R&B artists (the most notable being Keith Sweat, naturally). Can you imagine a Black Men United in 2012? Cousin Chris Breezy, Trigga Trey and Drake – that’s more like Strip Clubs United.
D’Angelo’s shot at solo glory came four years later, with the release of Brown Sugar. Revisionist history casts this album as an instant classic, but take it from someone who actually bought this album in 1995 – it went largely ignored for almost a year (this also applies for Jay-Z’s debut, and Nas’ too). Yeah the title track was great (convincing me to cop the album) but it didn’t get much radio play. It wasn’t until “Lady” was released that D’Angelo gained momentum, pushing the album to platinum status. Every girl in my school thought D’Angelo was singing directly to her each time it came on the radio.
Brown Sugar was packed with gems – the fantastic remake of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’,” the vastly underrated “Me And Those Dreaming Eyes of Mine” (forgive the ridiculous video) and the infamous “Sh*t, Damn, Motherf*cker,” which was one of the first times I heard an R&B artist cussing out a lover on record. Consider D’Angelo a trailblazer of R&B thuggery.
D’Angelo’s success put the ’90s neo-soul movement in the spotlight, and made room for the likes of Maxwell and Erykah Badu. But by ’97, D’Angelo was largely a background player, contributing to random soundtracks like Belly and making guest appearances, most notably on Lauryn Hill’s “Nothing Even Matters.”
D’Angelo returned around the end of the millennium, dropping “Devil’s Pie” and “Left and Right” in anticipation of his highly anticipated sophomore set. But it wasn’t until he dropped “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” that women nearly dropped their draws in excitement. Actually, I’m positive they dropped them.
True story: Back in 2000, I would have to get my dates home by midnight so they could watch this video, which ALWAYS kicked off BET’s Midnight Love show.
How I hated D’Angelo for cutting my dates short.
The song is cool, but watching this video always … disturbed me. But I guess I’m not the target audience.
Voodoo was released in January 2000 and remains one of the most polarizing albums ever. People either found it ponderous, murky and weird or proclaim it one of the best R&B albums of all time. There is no middle ground. I couldn’t get into the album AT ALL, but the album certainly has its fans – it also went platinum like its predecessor. But after a few more random cameos, D’Angelo vanished again.
Voodoo seems like a lifetime ago and these days D’Angelo is known more for his rap sheet than his six pack. In 2005 he was arrested for DUI and drug possession charges. A few months later, he was critically injured in a SUV crash. Thankfully he recovered, but a couple of years later he pleaded guilty to reckless driving. And then in 2010, he was busted for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. Judging by his 2010 mugshot, I’m not even sure if that’s D’Angelo or the ghost of ODB.
Should He Come Back?: By all means. D’Angelo definitely could pump some life back into the cadaver that is R&B. His third release has been in the works for about a decade. And best of all, the album will be called James River, named after one of Va’s most famous bodies of water.
He may look like ODB now and he constantly messed up my mackin’, but D’Angelo has Va in his veins. I respect that.