Last night D’Angelo took the stage at the Brooklyn Museum to reveal the more intimate, and often funny, parts of his life and musical career.
Hosted by Red Bull Music Academy and moderated by filmmaker and journalist Nelson George, the nearly two-hour exchange revealed a more nuanced story of a man with strong musical roots and a desire to keep those roots nourished in his safe haven of creation. We’re still dying for that next album though. Until then, here are 9 things we learned about D’Angelo:
1. He never considered himself a “neo-soul” artist
“I never claimed neo-soul,” he said. “When I first came out, I would say, ‘I make Black music.'” He also shared what he considers to be the future of his music, saying, “It’s expanding. There’s less segregation of genre. If it’s good, it’s good.” Indeed, the progression of his musical sound towards a more rock n’ roll genre is sure to bury that title once in for all.
2. He was once part of a group called I.D.U
Did you know that as a teenager, D’Angelo was an MC for a group called Intelligent Deadly But Unique (IDU)? The announcement was followed by great laughter from the audience, and even the singer himself. “It was pretty good, too,” he reassured the audience.
3. He won amateur night at the Apollo
At just 16, D’Angelo won a talent show in his hometown of Richmond, VA that led him to the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He described performing on the Apollo stage as “surreal,” and won first place. The song he performed? “Rub You the Right Way” by Johnny Gill.
4. He’ll always love soul music, but right now his heart is with rock n’ roll
During the recording of Voodoo, the singer said that Jimi Hendrix was “a big influence and spirit in the place. Rock is a natural progression for me.” For his fans that expect only soul singing he says, “I love if it is confusing at first; that’s a good thing for me.”
5. He earned his performance chops in the church
“In Church they used to say, ‘don’t go up there for no form or fashion. We’re singing for the Lord, don’t try to be cute. We just want to feel the spirit moving through you. [The Church] is the best place to learn that.”
6. He really is a musical prodigy
D’Angelo has been playing the piano since age 3, and studied classical music from 12 years old. He auditioned for Ellis Marsalis (Wynton Marsalis’ father) as a teenager. His friend Questlove who joined him onstage, recalled saying “this is our savior” when they first met in the ’90s.
7. He wrote the entire album Brown Sugar in his bedroom in Richmond, Virginia
All of the demos for Brown Sugar were recorded on four-track tapes in his bedroom. The album Voodoo was created in the studio.
8. His song “Devil’s Pie” may not be about what you think.
When asked what the inspiration behind the song was, D’Angelo replied, “The spirit of the vocals is more like a chain gang or a field of slaves picking whatever massa was telling us to pick in the hot sun,” he said.
9. Media pressure. What media pressure?
“To a fault, I’ve put myself in a bubble so that I’m not affected,” D’Angelo explained.
And with D’Angelo, it is indeed, always good.