UPDATE: You can now experience the endlessly insightful sit-down between Nelson George and D’angelo firsthand down below. Happy weekend watching fam. Go get learnt.
D’angelo appeared as scheduled onstage at the Brooklyn Museum yesterday for a wide-ranging conversation with music journalism OG Nelson George, as part of Red Bull’s RBMA NYC music festival. Given D’angelo’s famously reclusive nature, his appearance as scheduled was news in and of itself. But even more worthy of trumpeting to the heavens was the fact that the conversation was–amazingly–everything it was cracked up to be. ‘Amazingly’ because, as with everything D’angelo-related, expectations were almost impossibly high; that force field about him that prompts people to say things like “I found our savior”–as Questlove did when he joined Nelson and D onstage, describing his first listen to a sampler version of D’angelo’s debut album Brown Sugar.
George opened with a seemingly abrupt question–about the fact that D’angelo’s music had been changed by his study of the guitar. It turned out to be an insightful cut to the heart of D’angelo’s writing style, however, as D revealed that he had always been emulating a guitar when playing the keys, his main instrument–as can be attested to by anybody who attended Questlove and D’angelo’s 2-man Brothers In Arms shows last year; at several times an invisible bass guitarist seemed to be joining the two visible players, only to be revealed as D’angelo playing bass harmonies through an oddly-patched moog. George quickly switched to a less-known aspect of D’angelo’s musical education however–his tenure as a hip-hop producer and artist in the groups IDU (Intelligent, Deadly but Unique!) and Precise, prompting D to reply with one of many quotables of the night “yeah, that’s when I was MCin’–I was pretty fuckin’ good.”
It was only the first of countless anecdotes (find us nerding out on some highlights on the OKP twitter timeline, starting here) of the kind that make music fanatics dream of; like the time D’angelo met Jocelyn Cooper for an audition “hellbent on wearing a new suit and church shoes” and had to repeatedly excuse himself to take the painfully new shoes off his hurt feet; of James Mtume holding court during Midnight Music’s songwriting sessions; the time 14-year old D’angelo wowed Ellis Marsalis, then a professor at VCU; newly-signed D’angelo’s all-star songwriting contribution to the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack; of Aaron Hall (of Guy) and Gerald Levert subsequently taking “youngblood” under their collective wing; of the–very recent–time D hung with Sly Stone, only to discover he was “on some auto-tune shit!”–and that was all before Questo announced his presence in the audience and joined the conversation.
Questlove told the story of how he “auditioned” for D’angelo by unexpectedly working a Prince beat into a Roots set co-billed with Goodie Mob and The Fugees live onstage at L.A.’s House Of Blues (the full video of this talk is viewable above, but if you have a short attention span, lucky for you Questo and D have shared this story before–for Okayplayer’s cameras backstage at the Prince tribute at Carnegie Hall!) but it was only one of several “This Is Your Life” moments as key figures in D’angelo’s career who turned out to be in the audience when their name was called–including Motown A&R Kedar Massenberg, who stood up to take the weight for coining the term “neo-soul” when Nelson asked Questlove and D if it was valid “or some PR bullshit.” D’angelo wisely stated “I plead the fifth.” Everyone, it seems is a D’angelo fan, from M.I.A.‘s tour DJ Venus XX (who sat next to me) to visual artist Sanford Biggers, spotted backstage before being received into D’s presence.
It was not all nerdery, nostalgia and punchlines, however. Though the unspoken question on everyone’s mind–when will you release a new album?–was apparently off-limits, George’s questions elicited a deeper side of the extremely private artist, both in the form candid admissions: “To a fault I put myself in a bubble, so I’m not affected by all that” (‘all that’ being the glare of celebrity generally and social media in particular) and in revealing details (D’angelo confirmed that he has to record vocals inside “a cave”–a dark tent inside the live booth of his studio with only a mic, humidifier and ashtray inside). The night ended on an appropriately pregnant note when Questlove referred to the progression in D’angelo’s sound we would see on “this third, unmentionable album…and I think I just ended the interview.” Stay tuned for more on the “untitled” and the unmentionable from the undisputed (and click the link to NPR for audio stream and full transcript).