The past couple of months have been eventful for neo-soul singer/songwriter D’Angelo and his fans. He finally dropped his third studio album mid-December titled Black Messiah, which is his first solo album in almost fifteen years. A few weeks ago he appeared as musical guest on Saturday Night Live and gave what many call one of the best performances on the show this year. Last weekend he offered another stellar performance in his return to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY. Yes, D’Angelo is back with new music and giving us very good live concerts. Now D’Angelo has started a 17-date European concert tour called The Second Coming Tour.
Michael Eugene Archer (D’Angelo) exhibited natural musical talent at three years old by playing the piano. His talent continued to develop through life and at eighteen he and a group of friends won three consecutive Amateur Nights at the same Apollo Theater where he recently headlined. In 1994, his first significant success came in the form of the hit single “U Will Know”. D’Angelo co-wrote and co-produced the song for the all-male R&B supergroup Black Men United, which featured R&B singers such as Brian McKnight, Usher, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Raphael Saadiq and Gerald Levert. D’Angelo composed the music for “U Will Know”, while his brother, Luther Archer, wrote the lyrics. Originally featured on the soundtrack to the film Jason’s Lyric, the single peaked at number 5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. D’Angelo released his debut album in June 1995 titled Brown Sugar. On February 7, 1996, it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, following shipments in excess of one million copies in the U.S. In 2000, D’Angelo released his second studio album titled Voodoo. The album received rave reviews from contemporary music critics who dubbed it a “masterpiece” and D’Angelo’s greatest work. In 2001, Voodoo won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album at the 43rd Grammy Awards.
D’Angelo’s second album would begin an extremely long hiatus for the multi-instrumental musician. Why was there such a long wait for a third album? Throughout the fifteen years there were many rumors of album releases. Nonetheless, each report disappeared without music and with dejected fans. Many artists take time off after a successful album and subsequent tour to refresh in order to write new material. Did D’Angelo need fifteen years for new music? Normally, when an artist has an auspicious start the likes of D’Angelo, there may be some hits and misses, but definitely a lot more music. How promising was D’Angelo’s two album beginning? According to AllMusic, D’Angelo’s two studio albums garnered much commercial and critical acclaim, and have been cited as two of the most excellent and singular R&B albums of the past 15 years. In 2002, Q magazine named him in its list of the 50 Bands to See Before You Die, and, in 2003, Voodoo was ranked at number 488 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Pitchfork Media rated it at #44 on its list of the best albums of the 2000s.
As I thought about what happened to D’Angelo I had to reflect upon a well-known quote that I have used frequently throughout the years. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It comes from a poem of the 18th century by Robert Burns called “To a Mouse”. Burns was a Scottish farmer who was moved to pen the poem when a mouse’s home was destroyed by his plow even though the mouse thinks he has discovered an invulnerable site. The lesson: even the best ideas can fail.
Indeed, the record company executives and music industry insiders thought D’Angelo was a “can’t miss” superstar, but his development just did not occur. Adversity got in the way of his success. I got a chance to read an article from Spin Magazine written by David Peisner, and published August 5, 2008 about the plight of D’Angelo. Here is an excerpt from the article to show D’Angelo’s battle during his time away from music:
On a Sunday in April 2006 Gary Harris, the A&R man who’d first signed D’Angelo in the early ’90s and who had overseen his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, was on a mission: to escort the singer to Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Treatment Centre in Antigua. As he walked into the spacious kitchen, Harris knew this wouldn’t be easy. “There was scotch, vodka, beer,” Harris recalls. “While I was waiting for him, he emptied the contents out of the corners of three or four bottles to get a shot.” D’Angelo himself was unshaven, about 40 pounds overweight, and hadn’t packed. “He was trying to act like he didn’t know I was coming that day,” Harris says.
According to Harris, it took more than five hours to corral D’Angelo into the limo. Then the real journey began. Four days after hooking up with him, Harris had only gotten the then-32-year-old D’Angelo as far as Puerto Rico, delayed by missed flights, a forgotten passport, and the singer’s insistence on emptying every hotel minibar he came across. After two days of trying to coax D’Angelo from his room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Harris threw up his hands….D’Angelo wasn’t in denial about his alcohol problem, Harris explains. “He just wasn’t prepared to deal with it.”
Is D’Angelo prepared to deal with fame, fortune and life now? It does appear that he is ready. However, the fight is ongoing. I don’t believe D’Angelo should be judged adversely, because his troubles show he is human like all of us. We deal with problems of various types and sometimes life does not go the way we planned. There are millions of fans and friends that hope D’Angelo can make great music again – In his personal second coming.
photo by Greg Harris
photo by Greg Harris