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Monday, January 25, 2010

Voodoo: 10 Years On




On this day, 10 years ago, an album was released that has helped shape and define my life, for better or worse, than any other before or since: D'Angelo's Voodoo. This album was the tipping point in my life, not only in how I consumed or listened to music but also in my political and personal life as well. My life can easily be divided in pre-Voodoo and post-Voodoo. I believe that once you go Voodoo you can never go back. I'm actually jealous of Voodoo virgins who have yet to discover and love the album. I wish I could recapture those feelings I had while listening to the album for the first time 10 years ago. In essence, I've been chasing that feeling ever since.

The 17 year-old who picked up Voodoo 10 years ago was very different than the person I am today. I had always been schooled by my Dad's classic rock and Nirvana records, and I had been listening to a lot of hip-hop for a couple years, but my musical/personal growth was still pretty stunted. I didn't have an older brother or sister to show me cool records, and all my friends' older siblings listened to crap like Sublime and the Bloodhound Gang. I was heavily preoccupied with being macho and "manly". I remember even feeling uncomfortable listening to overly sensitive songs and songs sung by women, something which I'm terribly embarrassed by now. Maybe it was because of the whole Lillith-Fair thing, but I distinctly remember not buying records with female singers for a long time. Which is weird, because now I prefer listening to girl-bands and girl singers.




Anyways, Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the breaking point; she had hip-hop cred because of The Fugees and me and my friends had all gotten her album when it came out in 1998. It was such a great record; still one of my top-10 favorites to this day. Half of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was "hip-hop music", but the other half were these incredible, soulful, sad, longing r&b songs sung in Lauryn's beautiful voice. I was surprised by how much I liked these songs. I wasn't embarrassed to listen to them... in fact, I preferred them over the other "rap" songs I was expecting on the album. One of these incredible soul songs was a duet Lauryn sang with somebody named D'Angelo, called "Nothing Even Matters". I was hooked.




The next time I saw or heard from D'Angelo was a year later; I caught his iconic, controversial video for "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" on MTV. Needless to say... my mind was blown. And has never recovered. YOU know which video I'm talking about...



I couldn't believe how much I dug this slow jam sung by a naked black dude. And believe me... this was a very different thing for me. It's not very "macho" to be sexily serenaded by a naked man. But I just couldn't stop listening to this song. I felt like I had discovered this whole new world, this whole new music that would take me places I had never been before. Based on this song alone, I went to the Tower Records on January 25th, 2000 and bought Voodoo (and D'Angelo's first album, Brown Sugar, which is a classic also). I remember even being ashamed and embarrassed that I was buying an album with a shirtless guy on the front... I was sure the cashier was going to make fun of me. I was really stupid back then, alright?

Anyways, needless to say, Voodoo was unlike anything I had ever heard and completely changed my life. This album spurred on my love for black music, for black culture, for black history, for black politics, for minority politics as a whole and eventually my lifelong affinity for liberal politics and beliefs today. This album opened me up to listening to different types of music and embracing different types of thought. I no longer was preoccupied with fitting in or trying to fulfill the role and stereotype that I believed I had to squeeze into. Because of Voodoo I discovered Prince, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, The Smiths, and other bands and artists who broke through genres and boundaries and pushed the envelope on both gender and musical lines.

Voodoo just feels so organic to me. It feels like a living, breathing thing. It is beyond funky and soulful; the rhythm teeters back and forth, the bass wobbles around the beat, the drums never exactly match up with the rest of the instruments (all things which were done on purpose). The record is just endlessly exciting and challenging. It is an almost-perfect record... except for "Left and Right".

"Left and Right" is probably the most frustrating track for me by any artist on any album. Not that it's even a bad song... it just doesn't fit on Voodoo AT ALL and actually detracts from the overall feeling and mood of the record. It really sticks out like a sore thumb. I have to skip the song EVERY TIME I listen to the record (which is often), making it frustratingly incomplete as a true "masterpiece". The thing is, Voodoo is a true "timeless" record. You could play this to people now and they probably wouldn't be able to tell you what decade it came out; I could imagine guesses ranging anywhere from the 60's to today. Voodoo could be the lost Prince record, the lost Marvin Gaye or Al Green album. Except for "Left and Right" TOTALLY dates the album to the turn of the millennium. "Left and Right" is the only song on Voodoo featuring rappers (Method Man and Redman), who rap pretty horribly and misogynistically throughout the song. "Left and Right" was the first single released, and I believe that D'Angelo's record label pressured him into using two big-name rappers to build up some buzz on urban radio for the album. It is so jarring to listen to Voodoo, totally vibing out, and then hear Method Man and Redman trade verses about their ballsacks or whatever. It's just such a shame that this song is on the album. However, this problem was recently fixed by me when I tracked down the "Left and Right" single a couple of years ago. The single features a superior B-side version of "Left and Right" without the rappers, and it is now the version I listen to while blasting Voodoo (on the regular).




A lot has changed for D'Angelo since Voodoo came out. He got fat, got addicted to crack, got arrested, spent time in jail, and has been supposedly "working" in the studio during the last 10 years making his follow-up to Voodoo. Those who have been "working" on these sessions claim that the music is next-level genius stuff that will blow all of our minds when it's released. We'll see...

Voodoo has not been forgotten or sullied with time though. This album is legitimately gaining traction as a classic "masterpiece" of neo-soul, of r&b, or of just plain soul music. It truly stands up to any Prince, Marvin, Al or Sam Cooke record, a true classic of it's genre. It has a Wikipedia page that is a mile long and incredible detailed. It ranked # 488 on Rolling Stone's "Greatest Albums of All-Time" list. It ranked #23 on Rolling Stone's "Greatest Albums of the 2000's" list. It ranked #44 on Pitchfork's "Top 200 Albums of the Decade" list. That doucher John Mayer wrote a great essay about Voodoo for Esquire. Heck, even Questlove said TODAY on Twitter that Voodoo is the greatest thing he's ever worked on (check the exclusive D'Angelo material he recently posted here).

Anyways, these were some of my random thoughts on Voodoo. Can't believe it's been 10 years since this album came out. I wonder how different I'd be if I had never heard it... I wonder if I would keep chasing that music high and care so much about the arts and taste and personal brands and liberal politics and culture-snobbery if I didn't have my mind blown by this funky, dirty, funky, funky album as a teenager... So maybe, in the end, Voodoo was the gift and the curse. Ya digggg?

Please come back, D. We need you. Get well. One love.

3 comments:

Shaylee Hoellein said...

Love this post. Albums that affect you that much are the best. Mine are "Is This It" - The Strokes and "London Calling" by The Clash.

Anonymous said...

okay if this post doesnt establish you as a music journalist i dont know what else could!!!!!! i loved reading it, and i love that i was a small part of your life changing d'angelo experience. i remember you always blasted it in that old green suburban with the huge amps, and i loved to listen to it too, esp of course 'how does it feel'. i remember laughing girlishly and embarrasingly at the video but thinking the song was really cool and intense. it was so nice reading this, i really get what you mean on all the effects it had on you! youre so articulate and analytical, keep it up bro
xoo
mallory

Eoin said...

Great Post man, I can relate. Top ten albums for sure

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