D’Angelo’s Voodoo was an album that understood that reclaiming femininity did not mean shunning masculine aspects of sexuality.
How many albums have conveyed what love could feel like? From the embers of intimacy to the value implied in kinship, D’Angelo’s classic sophomore album, Voodoo, explores every shade of the sacred energy that can bind souls together. And, for all the diverging nuances of romance that Voodoo could exhibit, its portrayals of love were (and still are) universal truths, slated to latch into a listener’s inner self.
The record’s resolve of exploring love was forthright: its liner notes, written by poet Saul Williams, poised Voodoo as an hour-long ceremony expected to “serenade darkness.” “We speak of darkness as the unknown and the mysteries of the unseen,” the sleeve read. If romance was something unfamiliar to the listener, then Voodoo was the gateway into the mystique surrounding the different stages of human intimacy.
A successor to 1995 platinum-selling Brown Sugar, Voodoo, released on January 25th, 2000 and recorded in Electric Lady Studios, was shaped in sound and vision by the collective Soulquarians, of which D’Angelo and Questlove participated, but which also featured soul and hip-hop luminaries such as J Dilla, Common, and Erykah Badu. Beneath the message of love, Voodoo amalgamated strains of musical styles linked to the traditions of funk, soul, and hip-hop. From the sloppy bass-playing to the back phrasing rhythmic rimshots to the earthy production standards, D’Angelo’s sophomore record epitomized the sound of the blazing neo-soul movement. Voodoo, supported by grooves so deep sounding they swirled like sweet smoke from “burning spliffs and ever-burning candles,” is a remarkable musical journey through the history and future of soul.
Even for all its noteworthy features, Voodoo is best remembered for D’Angelo’s sexy appearance — naked and sly — in the music video for “Untitled (How Does it Feel?).” In it, a smoldering D’Angelo sings and flexes past the swooning point, the grooves in his body running as deep as the low-end bass in Voodoo’s central tracks. One can fathom why memories of Voodoo are mostly associated with his strikingly alluring chest rather than the messages of love or his devoted rendition of soul music. It was all about exposition — nothing else from the record had as much airtime and as much attention as the video for “Untitled.” It was Voodoo’s driver for success. D’Angelo became a sex symbol, an icon for black macho bravado and suggestive lovemaking invitations and, naturally, a superstar.
Many narratives have pondered on D’Angelo’s proper decline, which took effect after Voodoo’s tour. Women and men alike would attend the shows to flaunt and cry “Take your shirt off!” Even the media echoed the smiting effect of his figure. A May 2000 Rolling Stone article narrated D as “moving, strutting his macho-pimp stride, shoulders swaggering, exuding the masculinity of a champion prizefighter ready for combat.” This attention was too much for a sensitive soul. The shy son of a pentecostal preacher, D’Angelo could never cope with being a superstar. To his dismay, he was acclaimed for his body and not for his music. After touring for Voodoo, D’Angelo disappeared from the public eye. He rarely showed up, and when he did, music was the last issue to touch upon: he was caught up in a mugshot in 2005, overweight and frightened. It would be another 14 years before he would release Voodoo’s follow up, the future-funk protest album Black Messiah.