D’Angelo, Brown Sugar

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Brown Sugar

A terrain-shifting suggestion of what hip-hop had made possible

With a delicate, timeless falsetto and the confident, assured swagger of someone raised on Main Source and A Tribe Called Quest, the 1995 debut from Virginia singer D'Angelo was a terrain-shifting suggestion of what hip-hop had made possible. Having been inspired by his hero Prince's meticulous involvement in all stages of the recording process, the young D'Angelo sought to make Brown Sugar a total embodiment of his vision. Aided by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Raphael Saadiq and Bob Power, Brown Sugar is in turns stormy and atmospheric, ecstatic and sly. The classic title cut re-imagines Blue Note organ jazz for the blunted set, while "Me and Those Dreamin' Eyes of Mine" and "Lady" — which would both be remixed by DJ Premier — found D'Angelo at his understated best. On the stunning "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker," feelings of violent indignation are delivered with a refined, almost distracting smoothness. Despite Brown Sugar's tales of love and lust, it never felt triumphant. There was an occasional timidity in D'Angelo's singing, a modest refusal to come across as brash or showy. Even as the songs soared skyward, transcending their situations, their genius creator seemed increasingly unable to do the same.