Click Read More/Comment for additional pictures. The man who has been compared to the distinct hypnotizing sounds of legendary singer Marvin Gaye, multi-talented artist, D’Angelo returns to the public eye in rare form after over a decade. Finishing his album and opening up for GQ’s correspondent Amy Wallace, D’ Angelo shares a side of his self that led him to the path of darkness for all those years but through the darkness the road eventually showed him the light.
D’Angelo is Back
By: Amy Wallace | Photographs by Gregory Harris
“I didn’t really think I had a problem like that,” he says, taking a hit off a Newport. “I felt like, you know, all I got to do is clean up and I’ll be fine. Just get in the studio and I’ll be fucking fine.”
What finally made him see, he says, was the passing of J Dilla, the revered hip-hop producer, on February 10, 2006. They’d just talked on the phone, D’Angelo says, when suddenly, J Dilla was gone at 32 after a long battle with lupus. It was like a blinding light had been switched on. Why did so many black artists die so young? He’d been haunted by this thought for years. Marvin. Jimi. Biggie. “I felt like I was going to be next. I ain’t bullshitting. I was scared then,” he says, recalling how shame engulfed him, preventing him from attending the funeral. “I was so fucked-up, I couldn’t go.”
Shame, guilt, repentance—D’Angelo knows them well. To say that he was raised religious doesn’t begin to capture it. He’s the son and the grandson of Pentecostal preachers. To D’Angelo, good and evil are not abstract concepts but tangible forces he reckons with every day. In his life and in his music, he has always felt the tension between the sacred and the profane, the darkness and the light.
“You know what they say about Lucifer, right, before he was cast out?” D’Angelo asks me now. “Every angel has their specialty, and his was praise. They say that he could play every instrument with one finger and that the music was just awesome. And he was exceptionally beautiful, Lucifer—as an angel, he was.”
But after he descended into hell, Lucifer was fearsome, he tells me. “There’s forces that are going on that I don’t think a lot of motherfuckers that make music today are aware of,” he says. “It’s deep. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt other forces pulling at me.” He stubs out his cigarette and leans toward me, taking my hand. “This is a very powerful medium that we are involved in,” he says gravely. “I learned at an early age that what we were doing in the choir was just as important as the preacher. It was a ministry in itself. We could stir the pot, you know? The stage is our pulpit, and you can use all of that energy and that music and the lights and the colors and the sound. But you know, you’ve got to be careful.” ….
D’Angelo’s newfound discipline is evident in the way he has thrown himself into studying a new instrument, practicing for five and six hours a day. “The one benefit of this eleven-year sabbatical was he used 10,000 Gladwellian hours to master the guitar,” says Questlove, who compares D to Frank Zappa. “He can play the shit out of it, and I don’t mean no Lil Wayne shit. -GQ correspondent Amy Wallace
View the video of D’Angelo’s amazing guitar acapella freestyle here –> D’Angelo’s freestyle