Wed 23 May 2012
When D’Angelo first came on the scene, singing about “Brown Sugar” and “Lady” and “S–t Damn Motherf–ker”, all sleepy eyes and shiny skin…he was like some sort of revelation. The perfect storm of soulful pipes, centerfold looks, and hip hop swagger. But we’ve heard the stories of how he was derailed by the pressures to maintain his “Untitled” sex symbol status. And in the years that followed, there were drunk driving accidents, drug arrests, hooker solicitation, and two failed rehab stints…Some how D’Angelo never made his ordeal into a public side show. Aside from a mug shot and a few news reports, there was never D’Angelo selling sobriety on reality TV or showing up sweaty on the red carpet of some fashion party. He just disappeared.
I kept hearing whispers that D’Angelo was back but after buying into Lauryn Hill comebacks and DMX cleanups and countless reunions and truces and homecomings….the skeptic is strong in me. It only felt real once Q-tip told me that he was working with D’Angelo and that the music was really good. And it felt realer when D’Angelo went on a short European tour and performed new material. Now he’s featured in the new issue of GQ magazine, in fine form, body back, speaking candidly about his arrests and drugs and anxieties…He tells writer Amy Wallace that it was producer J.Dilla’s death in 2006 that snapped him out of his downward cycle.
But in the above video clip of D’Angelo singing falsetto while playing a bad-ass bluesy guitar, does it sadden you that the shine is off? Or does all the pain he’s inflicted on himself make the music better?
I appreciated this quotes from Chris Rock on D’Angelo and the burden of grace:
“Black stardom is rough, dude,” Chris Rock tells me when I reach him to talk about D. “I always say Tom Hanks is an amazing actor and Denzel Washington is a god to his people. If you’re a black ballerina, you represent the race, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your art. How dare you just be excellent?…D’Angelo. Chris Tucker. Dave Chappelle. Lauryn Hill. They all hang out on the same island. The island of What Do We Do with All This Talent? It frustrates me.”
That’s all well and good, Chris Rock says—as long as D actually releases his music. “You’ve got to earn it, man,” he tells me, adding that the only reason fans aren’t disappointed by Jeff Buckley, the celebrated singer-songwriter who recorded just one album, is that he drowned. “Body of work, babe. It’s all body of work at the end of the day. I mean, the only way D’s going to be a great artist with the output he has now is if he dies.”
Check out what D’Angelo told GQ about substance abuse, and being treated like a male stripper…
along with his first photo shoot in over 10 years…
After the jump
D’Angelo on his struggle with cocaine and alcohol:
“Any person who’s dealt with substance abuse, it’s an ongoing thing,” D tells me. “That’s the mantra—one day at a time—right? So you’re going to have good days and bad days, but for the most part, I have a grip on it.” He feels the forces of good are on his side now. “I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner. It’s just the way Yahweh ordained it.”
D’Angelo remembers the pressure of stardom that he felt after the “Untitled” video:
“One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel fucked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.’ ” He was beginning to sense a darkness beckoning. He recalls a particular moment onstage at the North Sea Jazz festival in 2000. The band was in the middle of “Devil’s Pie,” his song about the spell fame casts upon the weak—Who am I to justify / All the evil in our eye / When I myself feel the high / From all that I despise—when he felt an ominous presence in the crowd. “That night I felt something that was like, whoa,” he tells me. E-vil.
On the last day of the eight-month tour, Questlove says D’Angelo told him, “Yo, man, I cannot wait until this fucking tour is over. I’m going to go in the woods, drink some hooch, grow a beard, and get fat.” Questlove thought he was joking. “I was like, ‘You’re a funny guy.’ And then it started to happen. That’s how much he wanted to distance himself.”
D’Angelo’s diet and exercise regime:
D is back in the gym, and it’s not just vanity that’s tugging at him. He knows physical presence is key to any live performance. And though he’s still finer than fine, with swagger to spare, he’s no longer the chiseled Adonis from the “Untitled” video. Eating little more than fish and green apples, D’s been working to trim down his five-foot-seven frame, which just a few months ago had topped 300 pounds. In January, on the eve of his European tour, his managers told me he still had another twenty-five pounds to go. Which is why when I boarded the plane for Sweden, I wasn’t surprised to see D’s personal trainer—Mark Jenkins, the same one who got him into underwear-model shape twelve years ago—a few rows up. [*Jenkins is also the trainer who got Diddy into shape for the NYC Marathon]
And finally, a little insight into his upcoming album:
I ask him about Internet reports that the new album is called James River, after the Virginia waterway whose swampy banks provided hidden refuge for escaped slaves. No, that’s no longer the title, D says, but he doesn’t say what is. I let slip that I’ve heard about another new song he’s written called “Back.” I just want to go back, baby / Back to the way it was, it goes. And then: I know you’re wondering where I’ve been / Wondering ’bout the shape I’m in / I hope it ain’t my abdomen.
I tell him I’m impressed that he’s addressing his body directly, using wry lyrics to confront and reclaim this difficult chapter of his life. He murmurs a thank you, but he looks a little unsettled. “Wow,” he says, when I ask if the song will appear on the album. “I don’t know if that’s going to make it.”
Read more of D’Angelo’s GQ interview here.