Yo, this is the Bible straight up telling you to end oppression.
Let’s go get it, m’kay?
one of my favourite X-men covers
This is the album for right now. Just trust me.
VOODOO’s liner notes, written by Saul Williams.
To be the son of a preacher man was once African American cultural royalty. As traditional churches have grown empty many of us have been left to wander these haunted castles like that displaced Prince of Denmark, contemplating the paths of our mothers: that electric lady that landed us here in the first place. The Aquarian Age is a matriarchal age, and if we are to exist as men in this new world many of us must learn to embrace and nurture that which is feminine with all of our hearts (he-arts). But is there any room for artistry in hip hop’s decadent man-sion? Have we walked our Timberlands soleless…soul-less? When you pour that wine on the ground in that video shoot that has become your life will you be ready to hear the voice that pours from the bottle to inebriate the very ground on which we walk? It is libations such as these that are the start of every voodoo ceremony. And let us not forget that that is why we have come.
We have come in the name of Jimi, Sly, Marvin, Stevie, all artists formerly known as spirits and all spirits formerly known as stars. We have come in the tradition of burning bushes, burning ghettos, burning splifs, and the ever-burning candles of our bedrooms and silent chambers. We have come bearing instruments and our voices: Falsetto and baritone, percussion and horns. We have come adorned in the apparel of the anointed: leather and feathers, jeans and t-shirts, linen and cashmere, and even polyester. We have come to seduce and serenade the night and the powers of darkness. We speak of darkness, not as ignorance, but as the unknown and the mysterious of the unseen.
Envision this: a lone man in a haunted room surrounded by glowing instruments. What sounds are evoked from a room where Jimi once slept? What are the rewards of those who tend to their God-given talents as they would have the Creator tend to their spirits and daily lives? What happens when the artist becomes the conjur man?
These are questions that seem to be null and void in the face of all the glitter and glamour that has dominated most successful Black artistry of recent years. We seem to be more preoccupied with cultivating our 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 artistry 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. No, we cannot allow any more Bessie Smiths to occur, but once an artist owns their own publishing the question then becomes, what are you going to publish? Of course, I am using the word “artist” loosely. I, personally, believe in an art as it exists in the context of the phrase “thou art God”. In this phrase, art is the word that connects the individual (thou) to their higher self (God) or to that which is universal. Using such a standard, most emcees might become embarrassed.
Whoa! Why am I attacking hip hop? ‘Cause I’m a lyricist, son, a lyricist that has had to serve as his own inspiration when most of my peers seem to idolize Donald Trump more than Sly Stone, when they don’t seem to realize that Jimi Hendrix was and is a sonic Bill gates. Oh shit, don’t make me call no names.
Now, you may ask, “Well what does this have to do with D’Angelo?”
My answer: Inspiration.
Here is a peer that is focused wholly on his craft and has given himself the challenge of bettering himself. I mean really, D could have come out with any ol’ follow-up album after Brown Sugar dropped so that he could double his sales “While he’s still hot.” You know, an album that sounds just like Brown Sugar, uses all the same formulas, so that audiences don’t have to think ….or grown, they just keep liking the same shit. He could even sample songs that you’re already familiar with so that you don’t have to go through the “hard work” of getting used to a new melody or bass line. Y’all don’t hear me.
You might respond, “Lyrics? Yo, I can’t even understand half the shit that D’Angelo be saying. That nigga sounds like Bobby McFerrin on opium.” And I’d say, “You’re right. Neither can I. But I am drawn to figure out what it is that he’s saying. His vocal collaging intrigues me.” Or you might say, “But his shit don’t sound all that original, he just sounds like he’s trying to be Prince or some shit.” And I’d say, maybe you’re right. At times he does. We often study the breathing techniques of our inspirations (inspire means to breathe in or to make breath, inhale). And that’s also true for most of you, emcees. I mean, don’t ¾ of y’all niggas sound like NAS? The difference is that D’Angelo has allowed influence to simply take its place among his own intuitive artistry. He works to find his own voice within his many influences. I’d pay to see Prince’s face as he listens to this album (Ahmir, ? of The Roots, said that the Artist lets Black people call him Prince). Do you think he’d feel robbed or inspired? My opinion, over the years as I’ve sat in countless conversations about why it is that the Artist puts out half the shit he does (you know the half I’m talking about) is because he lacks any new inspiration. Once again an artist is faced with the reality of having to serve as their own inspiration after they have worn out all their Sly, Jimi, Marvin, Stevie ( I do not mean to ignore the many inspirational female singers, I’m just making a point as regards this male vocalist)…
Damn, is there any way to speak of that which is feminine without having masculinity right in the middle of it? Female. Woman. Unless, of course, these words came first and we later dervied male and man from them. Somehow, I doubt that. We need a new language to go along with this new age. And a new music.
Thus, we have come. As we prepare to journey, we must decide which elements of our sonic past we are going to pack to carry with us into this new day this new sound. The distilled ambiance of an Al Green song, the ambiguous sexual majesty of a Prince song, the creative genius of Stevie Wonder…D’Angelo has made his choices, carefully weaving them into his character, and has courageously stepped into the void bearing these sonic offerings to be delivered to the beckoning goddess of the new age. I do not wish to overly dissect this album. It’s true dissection occurs in how it seeps into your life shapes your moments. What you were doing when you realized he was saying this or that? How it played softly in the back ground when you first saw him or her. How you kept it on repeat on that special night. You’ll see. These songs are incantations, testaments of artistry, confessions of an Aquarius as he steps into his own. —-text written by Saul Williams
As best as I can approximate from memory, a Strib article, and the limitations of Spotify, here’s a draft of the D’Angelo/Questlove Brothers In Arms set last night.
Stevie Wonder - The Beat Club (1973) (by 15peter20jo)
In my pantheon, Stevie’s top 20, for sure, but on the strength of his mid-70s work alone - particularly this performance - he’s closer to top 5.
Carve out a half hour to watch this concert. “Higher Ground” and an early version (pre-“songs in the key of life”) of “Contusion,” stunning ballads in the middle, crazy (cut short) version of “Superstition.”
Prince - Honky Tonk Woman (The Rolling Stones cover)
Met a freaky bar-room queen in Nevada
Tried to pull me upstairs for a ride
She covered her nigga with 20 roses
Blew my nose, yeah baby, blew my mind
I’ve been looking for this album for 15 years. So groovy.