The son and grandson of pastors of the Apostolic Faith Church, D'Angelo comes from pure gospel...
His songs are streamlined, his arrangements spare. There is ample room for vocal embellishment -- his forte. The songs are punctuated by Amen cadences and churchy call and response; unlike others who have graduated from gospel, he lets the basics of church music inform his pop songwriting...
D'Angelo has had little performance experience outside of church. He knows what to do -- nobody could concoct a record like Brown Sugar without having some sense of the way things are supposed to feel live. But he has yet to do it, and as the gig draws near, there are whispers. Some EMI executives who saw D'Angelo a few weeks before in Philadelphia are wondering whether he's up to the job. It's almost too late: The success of the record has landed D'Angelo on a forty-city fall tour. He will be performing constantly soon enough, ready or not.
D'ANGELO HAS heard his music described many ways. Sensual hip-hop. Steamy funk. Smoldering R&B. Smooth neo-soul. What does he call it? "Intense expression."
His new CD, Voodoo, debuted at No. 1, and critics have praised it as a ground-breaking, love-drenched link to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye. In his own way, D'Angelo, 26, is singing harder-edged love songs to a tougher generation. "You can sing angrily -- with yearning, longing, pain -- and still it's a love song," he says.
At the same time, he uses well-established R&B imagery -- he's often buffed and shirtless -- to make the roughness of his lyrics more appealing to the masses more used to R. Kelly than N.W.A.
In the suggestive, carefully shot video for his hit single, Untitled (How Does It Feel), the camera moves from his face to below his belly button, creating the distinct feeling he's completely nude. But he insists it's not exactly sensuality he's offering. It's intensity. Pain. Honesty. "The album is raw. It's back to basics. Not having clothes on is a representation of that."
He grew up as Michael D'Angelo Archer, the son of a preacher in a strict Pentecostal church in Richmond, Va. "Women had to wear dresses -- no pants, no makeup, no earrings," he says. "People in the church couldn't see movies. All they could do was go bowling." Is he a good bowler? He laughs. "Oh, yeah. I could bowl." Understandably, his mother didn't like his explicit lyrics. "I told her, 'Look, Mom, you don't understand what I'm trying to do.' She said, 'I don't understand, but I'll trust you.' "