Here are a few excerpts below:
On fighting fame after Brown Sugar and hating the term ‘neo soul’:
D’Angelo looks back on that time with some discomfort. A perfectionist, he wishes he’d had more of an active interplay with the audience. But it all took off so fast, he says. He was confused, he says, by his sudden notoriety, even as he, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and others were credited with launching the “neo-soul” movement (a label he hates). “It counteracts the very fawking idea of what it was in the first place,” he says. “It’s black music thinking — it’s black music manifested outside of the box. And when you label it neo soul, you’re putting it right back in the box. How about you just call me soul music?”
That argument was just one of many D was having in his own head. “I tried to fight, I guess, what typically fame quote-unquote does to people,” he says. “I didn’t want to stop being, you know, the rambunctious mug that I was, because that’s what made my music what it was. It happens to the best of them, you know: At some point in everyone’s career, it was like the music lost its bite. I’m like, ‘Well, how do you avoid that?’”
On what it was like for D to perform in Stockholm in January, his first concert in more than a decade:
“It was scary,” D will tell me later, reflecting on playing the guitar in public for the first time. “I would feel comfortable when I was by myself, but actually getting onstage and playing was a different thing. My friend Raphael Saadiq was like, ‘Yo, man, you’ve just got to jump in. Start swimming. Just jump in the pool, you know?’ It was good advice. I was nervous up until the point where we started playing and singing, and then it just felt—it felt cool.”
On D’s upcoming third album:
Despite assurances that it’s 97-percent done, D hasn’t locked his third. Not yet. In Europe, he unveiled several songs he thinks will be on it. In addition to “Ain’t That Easy” and the irresistible dance number, “Sugar Daddy,” there is a song Questlove compares to Herbie Hancock called “The Charade.” “Crawling through a systematic maze to demise,” it begins, and D sings the line with a seething fury. When I catch a reference to “the deceiver,” I can’t help but think: this song—twisted, almost atonal, multi-layered—is about that forked-tongued devil, Fame.
D says I’m wrong. “It’s about the disenfranchised,” he says. “It’s telling the powers that be, ‘This is why we are justified in our stance.’ There’s another song on the album called ‘A Thousand Deaths’ that is the flip side of the coin. ‘A Thousand Deaths’ is just a fucking war cry. You know what I mean? The beheadings have commenced.” It occurs to me that the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831, in which slaves rose up and killed more than 50 white people, the only sustained slave rebellion in the South’s history, took place in D’s home state of Virginia. “Ain’t no justice/It’s just us/Ash to ashes/Dust to dust,” D sang so insistently on Voodoo. I am beginning to get what he means.
I ask someone who has a closely-guarded copy to let me hear “1000 Deaths.” It is dark, dense and mysterious and makes the most of D’s newfound prowess on the guitar. The lead vocal is so distorted—like the moans and groans of a Negro spiritual—that D could almost be speaking in tongues. The song is compelling, maybe even profound, but it is the opposite of catchy. That’s just fine with D. He tells me art, not commerce, is his fuel.