On his bewitching "VOODOO," D'Angelo summons the spirit of Hendrix. But will the album's uneasy listening jimmy its lock on success?
Does D’Angelo make you horny, baby?
Don’t be embarrassed to answer in the affirmative. An informal EW survey of women (and some men) reveals that the 25-year-old retro-soul man’s latest video, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” — in which he appears nude, flexing his magnificent pecs, flashing bedroom eyes, and crooning words of love — is getting a lot of folks hot and bothered. Copies of the clip were said to be the Christmas gift of choice in some quarters of the industry, and BET has had it in heavy rotation for more than a month. “It’s keeping the drool cups full over here,” laughs Stephen Hill, the station’s vice president of music programming. “Whenever it comes on, all work stops. Our female viewers and employees just can’t get enough of it.”
D’Angelo (né Michael D’Angelo Archer) professes to be bemused by such talk, pooh-poohing his sex-symbol status with an aw-shucks humility that makes you want to tell him, “Get real.” (His buff bod is, after all, the result of an obsessive weight-lifting program.) “A lot of times, I have to be the aggressor and initiate contact [with women],” he protests in a low voice dripping with laid-back cool. “It’s mainly like that — except for certain situations.”
Sitting in the bar of New York City’s Millennium Broadway hotel and looking like a Black Panther as reimagined by a trendy Italian fashion designer, D’Angelo has not had to fend off smitten admirers. So maybe there’s some truth to his assertion that he’s more musician than babe magnet. As proof, he’s just offered up the long-awaited Voodoo, a heady and challenging mix of soul, funk, jazz, and ambient sounds that ranks as one of the winter’s most rewarding new albums.
Voodoo comes five years after D’Angelo’s debut, the platinum-selling Brown Sugar, was hailed as a watershed of “alternative R&B” (that silly, media-coined tag for the organic blend of old-school soul and hip-hop). In its wake came a group of like-minded artists — Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray — who rejected the predominant computer-generated sound of modern urban music, drawing inspiration instead from the titans of ’60s and ’70s soul and funk: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, James Brown, George Clinton, Aretha.
To that list, D’Angelo would add another name: Jimi Hendrix. While there are no extended molten guitar freak-outs on Voodoo, the rock deity’s spirit suffuses the album, which was recorded at Electric Lady, the Greenwich Village studio Hendrix built in 1969. D’Angelo, a multi-instrumentalist, says most of the songs evolved from jams, and that the trippy, experimental feel of the disc was partly a result of imagining where Hendrix might have taken his music had he lived. “Being at Electric Lady and being around a lot of serious Hendrix fans, I really learned what he was about more,” says D’Angelo, who divides his time between New York and his native Richmond. “I began to see the connection between him and everybody else — Sly, George Clinton — and I started to realize Jimi was just as much a pioneer of funk as these guys were. He influenced this project a lot, the direction of where I think my music is going.”