10 Years of D’Angelo’s Voodoo: He Done Worked A Root

It’s been exactly 10 years since Voodoo, D’Angelo’s sophomore album, hit the top of the US Billboard 200 on the day of its release (25 January 2000). In some ways, Voodoo is the reason Soul Culture exists.

It opened a conversation. Voodoo’s often ambiguous lyrics – when they can be heard at all – and jam session vibes (rather than disciplined melodies) rendered the album less accessible than D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar debut – but for me [and many others] the verbal incoherency is part of the puzzle, the in-the-moment vibes are incentive to work it out.  [For those who like it on a platter, the lyrics are there in the album booklet. Quit moaning already.]

A decade on, the conversation continues – only last week I found myself arguing with a producer over the album’s timeless merits. For me, that’s what it is. Timeless. Far less tied to a particular era than his debut. More adventurous. More meaningful.

The album’s liner notes, written by Saul Williams, touched on the issues D’Angelo already faced with regard to artistry and innovation.  “We seem to be more preoccupied with cultivating or bank accounts than cultivating our crafts. Nowadays, I find my peers more inspired by an artist’s business tactics than their artistry. In fact, we do not seem to mind an artist that suffers in the face of seemingly good business. More artists seem to yearn to own their own labels, etc., than they seem to yearn to master their crafts.”

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Even those reflections and contemplations couldn’t foresee the mental and emotional toll the album would take on D’Angelo, who suddenly faced mainstream adulation as a sexual icon above the merit in his art – and all the insecurities, issues, conflicts and pressure that can arise internally as a result [“to this day, in the general populace’s memory, he’s the naked dude” – Dominique Trenier, D’Angelo’s former music manager, speaking to Spin magazine in 2008].

Many speculate and cite the impact of Voodoo [perhaps more specifically, the ‘Untitled’ video] as the key reason behind D’Angelo’s withdrawal from music, aside from the odd collaboration.  The reason, a decade later, none of us really know whether his this third album, so-called James River, will actually be released this year – if ever.  Whether Voodoo eventually turns out to have been his last studio album or not, its creative impact seals his place as one of the best to do it.

What was a 14 year old doing digging into this – empty house, full volume – after school?

I can tell you it had nothing to do with the video for ‘Untitled’, which I hadn’t seen. Cable/Sky and the accompanying music channels didn’t exist in my house. I’m fairly sure DJ Trevor Nelson’s Rhythm Nation show on BBC Radio 1 had something to do with it, but however I stumbled onto Voodoo, six years on it was certainly one of the albums at the forefront of my mind when this website was conceptualised. A decade on, I acknowledge it as part of my ID.

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