D’Angelo didn’t have to show his abs.
By the time his album Voodoo hit back in the early dawn of the 2000s, the forbearer of the neo-soul flame from Richmond, Virginia was already established as a force to be reckoned with. With his 1995 album Brown Sugar, he shined a light on and gave name to this re-expression of a music deeply embedded in African-American culture. The five years between Sugar and Voodoo saw the genre blossom in ways that nobody could have expected. Jazz, hip-hop, funk, and even rock and roll: Nothing was off limits, especially when it came to D’Angelo’s own music.
Co-written and produced by fellow neo-soulophile Raphael Saadiq, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” on its own packed in as much sex-per-square-inch as could possibly be allowed on the airwaves. A deep cut that smashed together the innocent soul practiced by the likes of Al Green, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, with the more get-to-the-point bedroom jams that dominated mid-to-late-80s R&B radio, the track already held the libidos of fans hostage, melting speakers and inhibitions in equal measure.
And then the video happened. Unnecessary in all the best ways, D’Angelo, fairly or not, went from just being a talented up-and-coming purveyor of neo-soul to being a legend. It wasn’t just smart marketing and smart sales; it was an indication of total commitment to his music, his identity, and most importantly, his duty to spread this new history of a culture’s experience as far and as wide as humanly possible.
And that’s the D’Angelo who showed up at The Fillmore Silver Spring last Thursday night.