D’Angelo & Friends: A Verzuz Battle?

Scrolling through Instagram one day I noticed that one of my favorite artists, D’Angelo, made a shocking announcement. As he is known for his laid back, private nature, I was stunned and ecstatic when I saw that he would be participating in a Verzuz Battle. But I have so many questions, considering the fact that he isn’t the most “public facing” figure, nor someone that I thought would want to participate in a “battle;” perhaps that explains the change in format. It’s “D’Angelo Vs. Friends” and not a head to head with one specific artist.

Throughout the years 2001 to 2014, you won’t find D’Angelo in the public eye much. Make no mistake though he does have a cult like following around the world and I expect them to show up and show out on February 27th via IG Verzuz TV or Apple Music.

For the uninitiated… you may be asking, “who is D’Angelo?” Well, that’s why I’m here providing a mini introduction for you all.

The multi-instrumentalist from Richmond, VA was introduced to the small screen in the mid 90s after performances at the Apollo Theatre and penning + producing Black Men United’s “U Will Know,” on the soundtrack for the film Jason’s Lyric.

In 1995, his debut album entitled, Brown Sugar, rocked the RnB world and was a bit of a turn away from the guy groups that had risen to fame during that time. Not as “rough and tough” as Jodeci, but still similarly laced with a hip-hop influence, due to his love of funk music and growing up during the emergence of hip-hop music culture. To me, his voice was made for vinyl (and yes, the digital clarity of today too), imbued with gospel influenced runs, riffs, and hooks, and soulful vocal stacking.

With the release of Live at the Jazz Cafe, London in 1998, D’Angelo revealed more of his musical inspirations through cover song and would be in Electric Lady Studios creating his sophomore album alongside other Soulquarians (Common, Erykah Badu, J Dilla, Questlove, Bilal, James Poyser, and many others).

By the time he released Voodoo in 2000, D’Angelo created a sound all his own and that album cemented his status as a luminary and leader of “neo-soul” musicians. One may sense that Voodoo was in large a meditation and proclamation on love, new life, and ancestry. The projected is accented with musical moments of Afro-Latin jazz grooves, the sweatiest of funk, hip-hop, gospel, and of course soothing soul. Well at least this is what I think. Some even argue that Voodoo transformed jazz

After a 14-year hiatus, his latest album more than ever before drives full force into the world of funk and, more explicitly, gospel. On Black Messiah, listeners hear a grown man in admittance of love, loss, and examining what living means during an age of sociopolitical unrest, which has been constant for Black folks. Self-evident in the name of the album, D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah signals directly to the belief that all Black folks are their own savior, one for the other, whether that be in love or civil unrest. We need each other, not just one leader at the helm.

With over a decade of living his everyday life, he’s been featured on some songs and released  “Unshaken” for the Red Dead Redemption 2 video game. This year he has reemerged into the social media sphere with an Instagram page. His first IG live appearance was him speaking on D-Nice’s Club Quarantine about the upcoming Verzuz battle and a new project. D’Angelo’s most recent Sonos Radio Hour named Feverish Fantazmagoria gave listeners a deeper peek into his recent and past musical rabbit holes he’s been going down. As suspected, he included Prince, Funkadelic, and Sly and the Family Stone in this radio hour.

I’m beyond ready to hear and see this timeless musician perform at the Apollo Theatre with/against “Friends.” Which “friends” do you all think will show up? I got money on longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq or The Roots. I have a sneaky suspicion that this will feel like a Soulquarian reunion (RIP Dilla & Roy Hargrove).  

Good sources to read/listen to if you want to dive in this artist’s pool:

https://www.mixcloud.com/sonos/radio-hour-with-dangelo/

https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2014/12/dangelo-black-messiah-inspirations-interview

https://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/lectures/dangelo

https://www.theringer.com/music/2020/1/24/21079786/dangelo-voodoo-20-year-anniversary-untitled

Devil’s Pie Documentary

Images courtesy of: Cheryl Gerber/Invision/AP & Vickie Ford for Okayplayer/Sneakshot (featured image)

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Author: aisha

Aisha Gallion is a Columbia, SC native, music enthusiast, and major foodie. She is an alumna of College of Charleston ‘17 and Florida State University ‘20. As a writer, she holds expertise in Black popular music and much of what she pursues aims to uplift Black folks and the arts. When she isn't writing or thinking about writing, she's on YouTube watching tours of tiny living spaces in Australia or listening to podcasts. You can follow her Instagram on Black music @blackmusicbeeverywhere or her personal Instagram @aisha_chey.

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