It’s been more than 13 years since the last time I pushed ‘play’ on a new D’Angelo album. The last time my man El Juba and I were posted up in my postage stamp-size crib in Crown Heights. We had scored a bootleg copy of the original release (two songs shorter, featuring another instrumental track, and voice interludes from Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye).
My sharpest memory of that night was in the feeling the music gave me on that first listen. It was R&B for hip-hop heads, soul that dug deep into the dirt from which the genre was born, surpassing that of the cadres of artists who’d gone multi-platinum by resting lightly on its surface. The two tracks that hit me hardest were “The Root”, an ode to those women who put that thang on you, and “One Mo’ Gin,” a dirty dirge to love lost and rediscovered in the midst of semi-unavailability.
Voodoo was one of the records that fueled the writing of my second novel, Dakota Grand. When I met D for the first time, a month or two after that first listening, he was blazed out and shirtless on the set of the clip for “Left and Right”. There was excitement in his eyes when I told him my fam was from Powhatan, VA, just one town over from Midlothian, where he’d grown up. Even though he kept one eye on the poom poom passing by, I felt like I was sitting down with a dude that took the artist/journalist exchange seriously, a far cry from the rappers of the minute who spewed canned answers and stared at their watches in wait for the next mic to be shoved in front of them.
All of this was before the monumental “Voodoo” tour, before, the car accident, arrests, weight gain (and loss) and the decade plus wait for the man to put out some new music. In the same stretch I too tumbled into the world beneath the world, learning the other side of my game through and through. Stripped bare in the cold of reality that was no show, a man armed at all times with gunpowder and a match reminded me that I still mattered, that I had to go back.
It was around this same time that “Really Love”, a leaked D bootleg, emerged. Then he returned to the stage, first in Europe and then here. Two nights ago he rocked a secret show at The Brooklyn Bowl, a venue that had yet to exist when I was living in Bed-Stuy five years ago.
But when I saw he and Questlove working their magic onstage via Youtube, it got me as geeked I had been in my first lodge back on Sterling Place.
This Spring I will return to the streets with The Morning After, my first book in six years, a collection of short pieces and fiction that form the war report of where I’ve been. I’m crafting a new style of promotion and performance, and a new look and feel that are so much more like the man in the mirror than the boy who I was before.
I know my first time back in front of a podium might be shaky. But I won’t show it. Revealing myself in memoir will be frightening. But I won’t flinch. And when my DJ cuts in that that first groove, and as that first read line leaves my lips, where I’ve been will not matter so much. Because I’ll be home.