D'Angelo: Salvation Sex And Voodoo

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It's come to this: you had a Baby Ruth for breakfast, you're operating on three hours' sleep, and you're sitting in a rented Hertz in the parking lot of a CVS drugstore waiting for your cell phone to ring. You're waiting for D'Angelo. You're not alone. Ever since the hip-hop/soul singer released his promising first album, Brown Sugar (1995), with its old-school crooning and new-school beats, fans, critics and impressed fellow musicians have been eagerly anticipating his follow-up. Even hip-hop folkie Beck--a guy who could give a rat's behind about most pop CDs--asked you a few months ago, "Is D'Angelo done with that album yet?"

Well, finally he is, and the brilliant, smoldering Voodoo (Cheeba/Virgin) is due in stores next week. Now you're waiting for the man himself. And waiting. And waiting. You make a mental note: Make some sort of reference in lead of D'Angelo profile to Waiting for Godot. Ten minutes later you make another mental note: Only pretentious journalists who aren't really very well read lead stories off with references to Beckett. Put Beckett reference in second paragraph.

Dooo-di-dooo-di-dooo! Your cell phone--which for some reason is programmed with the most ridiculous-sounding ring in all of telecommunications--goes off. It's D'Angelo's publicist.

"We're still looking for D," she says. "The interview will happen. Sit tight."

Dooo-di-dooo-di-dooo! D'Angelo's manager this time. Still looking.

Dooo-di-dooo-di-dooo!

"Yo, it's D. I just got up. Sorry about the wait. Where you at?"

Eighteen minutes later, D's buddy Brian, a friendly faced guy in a knit cap and a blue North Face jacket, pulls into the parking lot in a Volkswagen. Brian takes you to his apartment, which is nearby. He introduces you to Pee-Wee, a solidly built guy in a FUBU jacket. Turns out both of them were in a hip-hop band with D'Angelo back in grade school.

"D and us used to play all over the area," says Brian. "We still run the group. It's called I.D.U."

I.D.U.?

"Intelligent, deadly, unique," says Pee-Wee. Before you can ask who was intelligent, who was deadly and who was unique, D'Angelo arrives. He gives you a handshake and a hug, and everybody heads out. You pass a bail bondsman's office, a few check-cashing joints. You're just hanging now, seeing some of the Richmond, Va., streets that helped make Michael D'Angelo Archer who he is. D'Angelo recorded most of his new album in New York City, at Electric Lady Studios, the recording home of Jimi Hendrix. "I believe Jimi was there," says D'Angelo. "Jimi, Marvin Gaye, all the folks we were gravitating to. I believe they blessed the project." But Richmond is the turf the 25-year-old songwriter-producer draws from. Virginia is where D'Angelo's people--or "peeps" as he puts it--are from. You make a mental note that it's hard to say the word peeps and get away with it unless you're as cool as D'Angelo.

A fortyish woman stops D'Angelo. "You look like D'Angelo," she announces.

"I am," he says in a soft voice.

"I knew it, I knew you were from around here," she says. She leans in close. "Thank you for that video." In D'Angelo's video Untitled (How Does It Feel), he is shown seminude, and the camera holds tight on his tattooed, muscular body as he sings and sweats. He mumbles something to the woman that sounds humble and appreciative. The woman replies with a lusty laugh--kinda the way you imagine a character in a Terry McMillan novel might laugh after seducing a younger man.

D'Angelo and his crew--Brian, Pee-Wee and a third member, Malcolm--stop off at the Jackson Ward Cafe. It's a modest, cafeteria-style place. D'Angelo orders chicken, corn bread and greens, and you sit down. You have a lot to ask. Voodoo is a richly imagined CD with an all-star supporting cast: drummer Ahmir ("?uestlove") Thompson (his nickname is pronounced "Questlove") of the hip-hop band the Roots, jazzman Roy Hargrove, rappers Method Man and Redman. The music blends hip-hop with smooth soul and gritty funk. The songs don't rush to please, like puppy-dog pop tunes; instead, each track takes its own sweet time stretching out, like a cat waking up from a nap. Intelligent? Deadly? Unique? Voodoo's all three.

So what took him so long to finish? D'Angelo says he was following his own rhythm, doing it his way. He admits freely that for the past few years he has done only three things: 1) lift weights, 2) smoke weed and 3) make music. He was searching for something. "I got something I'm seeing; I got a vision," he says, explaining how he wants to bring back artistry to hip-hop and soul. "This album is the second step to that vision." The birth of his son Michael, 3, inspired him. (D'Angelo, who is unmarried, also has a three-month-old daughter Imani).

A woman, in her 30s maybe, comes over. She says, "You know you're Marvin Gaye reincarnated, don't you?"

D'Angelo just does that sexy humble thing, and mumbles at his plate.

He leaves the cafe and heads to a nearby church, Refugee Temple Assembly of Yahweh Yahoshua the Messiah. His father used to preach in this Pentecostal church. This is where D'Angelo got his start--at age 5--playing piano or organ while his father preached. He hasn't been back in ages.

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