D’Angelo, Voodoo

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 05.18.11 in Reviews


Exploring the meaning of “soul” as something more than a musical classification

The success of his 1995 debut Brown Sugar left D'Angelo in a minor funk, irked by the music industry and suffering from a bout of writer's block. The unease that accumulated during his sabbatical surfaced with his 1998 single, "Devil's Pie." Built on a paranoid, tail-chasing DJ Premier bass loop, D'Angelo turned away from the earthly delights of Brown Sugar and crooned about the spiritual crisis in hip-hop and beyond: "Drugs and thugs, women and wine/ Three or four at a time/ Watch them all stand in line/For a slice of the devil's pie." From its very title to its dark aesthetic, Voodoo fixed on the possibility of purpose and redemption beyond the material world — this was an album that explored the meaning of "soul" as something more than a musical classification. There were still crushing moments of conventional beauty, like "Untitled (How Does it Feel)" or the charming "Send it On," and Method Man and Redman lend their intimate chemistry to the muscular "Left and Right." But on moments like "Chicken Grease," with its sketches of a bygone Southern simplicity, and the captivating "Africa," Voodoo felt ghostly and haunted, as though D'Angelo and Soulquarians were trying to conjure a portal to the past during their marathon jam sessions.