Young, gifted, and sleazy, D'Angelo is what you get when you cross Prince with a used-car salesman. Like Prince, Michael "D'Angelo" Archer possesses an uncanny ability to incorporate his influences while never being overwhelmed by them. Unfortunately the singer's formidable musical skills are offset by an oily sexuality that, depending on your perspective, will either delight or repulse you. Put it this way: if you're a female with a penchant for roughneck romance, you'll love D'Angelo's gangsta lover persona. If not, his lip-smacking bawdiness is more likely to annoy.
But D'Angelo's sophomore album is so damned excellent, most listeners will forgive him his overweening sins. With Voodoo, D'Angelo emerges as the thinking man's R&B gangsta. There's an inexplicable hip-hop influence to the album's 13 tracks, though there's nary a digitized rhythm or blood-soaked street rhyme to be found on it. Instead Voodoo is haunted by the ghosts of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, John Lee Hooker, Parliament, and Sly and the Family Stone. The record boasts such a fat, warm production sound, listeners will swear they've stumbled onto a long-lost recording by some unsung '70s soul god. Voodoo is something a lot of us thought we'd never hear again: an honest-to-God funk and blues album by a young contemporary artist. Moreover the record is already a bona fide hit, having debuted on the national pop charts at No. 1. Go figure.
D'Angelo picks up where his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, left off. With its fatback rhythms and pelvis-pumping lyrics, the new album pledges fervent allegiance to the Groove Almighty. Tracks like "Playa Playa," "Devil's Pie," and "Chicken Grease" aren't so much songs as rhythmic incantations that simmer languidly before rising to a lusty boil. And though D'Angelo continues to display astounding composing skills, his supporting cast lends the disc musical heft. Featuring guest performances by neo-soul diva Lauryn Hill, bebop trumpeter Roy Hargrove, jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots, Voodoo comes on like a "We Are the World" project for the Internet Generation. The album's hip-hop feel can be attributed to cowriting and contributions of DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Redman, and Method Man.
Make no mistake: This is the shit. Voodoo is so rapturously retro-contemporary, it veritably clears the modern R&B playing field. Hell, it's such a convincing musical statement, I would buy a used Buick from this D'Angelo character. And that's more than I can say for Prince nowadays. -- Bruce Britt