In a scathing and emotional open letter posted to his blog earlier this week, former EMI A&R Gary Harris—initially responsible for signing D'Angelo to the label back in 1993—attacked his former associate as "a charlatan and a pimp—disguised as a soul man—who has gamed the system out of millions."
Addressed to both D'Angelo and Nelson George, the 2000-word essay was a response to the RedBull-sponsored interview conducted by George last week. In the letter, Harris also states that D'Angelo is a "butt naked emperor," and that he and his collaborators are "attempting to promote a hoax on the public." But most surprising of all is how caustic and personal Harris is in his attempt to de-mystify the process behind the legacy of an artist widely celebrated as a genius of R&B.
Over the course of its length, Harris goes into detail about what his role as an A&R on D'Angelo's first album entailed—a rare peek behind a curtain all too often closed off from the public. (This allegedly included approving the money from EMI to get D'Angelo moved out of his mother's place when most of D'Angelo's family—according to Harris—was set against him becoming a musician.) Harris also hints at a strong personal relationship with D'Angelo—he describes recent drunken late night phone calls from D'Angelo asking for career help, and mentions making calls to D'Angelo when the singer was in the hospital—one of many oddly personal details he chose to reveal to the public.
If they were as close as Harris suggests, the piece feels like a particularly brutal attempt at giving the public another perspective on the artist—one that risks making Harris himself look petty or selfish in an effort to give a more complete story. Towards that end, he even disputes D'Angelo's funkiness:
"In light of the recent and deeply flawed funk documentary that he produced for VH-1 where you were claimed to be the future of the funk, I have some thoughts on that too: I grew up on funk, danced to it, bought tickets to shows and collected the records. You are not that funky, your records do not recall the hey day of James Brown, George Clinton and Sly. They are deeply soulful, but not deeply funky."
At its core, looking past the torrid personal details, Harris seems primarily interested in drawing attention to the collaborative nature of D'Angelo's greatest albums. He discusses how, for his part, he had refused to open up the singer's budget until the songwriting was up to par—a decision he suggests helped make the record what it was. "You didn’t like it," he says, "but you never like it when solid business decisions interfere with your agenda."