Greatness only gets better with age. Fifteen years ago, as the world shivered in the cold of a blustery new millennium, a sonic masterpiece appeared. An instant-classic record that would change the shape of r&b and hip-hop for decades to come. D’Angelo dropped his long-awaited second LP Voodoo 15 years ago on this day, making good on all the promises of his sprawling talents with an album born out of his assiduous songwriting, versatility as a musician, power as a bandleader and deeply tender nature.
It’s those last two qualities that have kept Voodoo so necessary. From the grimy stomp of “Chicken Grease” to the aching shiver of “One Mo’gin,” from the skull-kicking of “Devil’s Pie” to the pensive prayer of”Africa,” the album is much more than one man’s work. It is a record made by a top-caliber collective. D’Angelo’s greatest victory was to bring together a supporting cast of the world’s best players and producers and let them do their thing. Questlove‘s drunkenly perfect snare, Pino Palladino‘s cooly vicious bass, Roy Hargrove‘s minimalist horn arrangements and C. Edward “Spanky” Alford‘s ornate guitar–these are the sonic voices that make Voodoo a collective roar. With D’Angelo’s ear and J Dilla‘s mind for messy, inventive rhythms pointing the way, Voodoo‘s musicians pushed each other out toward r&b parts unknown. The album’s 13 tracks are the document of those travels, and for so many young artists they’re still the signposts that point the way.
The playing on Voodoo never ceases to satisfy. A decade and a half later we’re still finding new pitch-perfect bass fills in “One Mo’gin,” still humming Charlie Hunter’s “Spanish Joint” guitar solo in our heads. But the album’s musical essence is without a doubt its ecstatic fucking-up of tempo and rhythm. D’Angelo’s confidence to inject space into Voodoo‘s grooves and encouraging of Questlove to drop his kick drum further and further off the beat gave the album its signature fractured clatter, a laid-back conviction that teases us with every swung quarter note. Like almost everything in D’Angelo’s career, the beat on Voodoo shows up late but also right on time.
Ultimately though, solely groovy music, no matter how inventive, wouldn’t have the staying power of Voodoo. And although it’s a sexy album for reasons that definitely don’t need explaining, sultry desire isn’t what’s made the album a classic after 15 years. For all its hard beats and sharp guitar lines, Voodoo is soft in the middle–it’s an album powered by love, longing and our basic human need to connect with another. On tracks like “Send It On”; “One Mo’gin”; “Greatdayndamornin'” and “Untitled,” Voodoo shows itself as a tender masterpiece, soft for all its swagger, crying out for the comfort that only love can give. Its closing track takes it even further, reaching back toward the past in hopes of finding the strength needed to face the future.
A decade and a half later, some things have changed and some are just the same. D’Angelo is once again riding high off an epic sonic document, but whereas Black Messiah aches for a better, fairer world, Voodoo yearns for a better life, shared with a loved one. Right now musicians–some of whom played on both of these records–are getting ready to follow D’Angelo as he tours the world, and fifteen years ago they were doing the very same thing. Voodoo’s live tour was a legendary show, a searing exposition of funk in the new, young millennium. The shows were brash, loud, and grueling, with each on-stage moment measured down to the millisecond.
Backed by Questove on drums, Palladino on bass and the newly-minted Soultronics band to his left and right, D’Angelo blew the roof off of venues across the globe. To honor that tour and Voodoo’s 15 years of greatness, Okayplayer has prepared a very special treat for you and yours. We’ve unearthed Questlove’s and tour manager Tina Farris very rare tour diaries–personal notes that he kept throughout the entire album tour as he, the band and D razed stages in the name of Voodoo. And to sweeten the deal, we’ve added photos culled from deep in the Okayplayer/D’Angelo archives. So cue up “Playa Playa,” turn the page and simply enjoy. 15 years and it still feels so, so damn good.