Second Coming: A Timeline of D'Angelo's Last 20 Years

Here is your crash course in D’Angelo.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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If you have been a fan of D'Angelo since his Voodoo days, the release of Black Messiah last weekend was the culmination of a painfully long wait: 14 years, to be exact.

To get an understanding of just how much time has passed, think about it like this: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram didn’t exist 14 years ago. Most people who heard his previous album had to do so by actually buying it on compact disc. When D'Angelo last dropped an album, Apple had yet to introduce the iPod or iTunes.

And yet, while 14 years is a long time, D’Angelo has been around even longer than that. If you were a teenager when his first album, Brown Sugar, came out in 1995, you are old enough now to call Black Messiah “grown folks music,” all while telling anyone under the age of 20 that they don’t know nothing about some D’Angelo—because it’s likely they don’t.

To help all the young folks who weren’t around to hear Brown Sugar but were probably conceived to it, allow us a chance to put you up on game. Here is your crash course in D’Angelo.

1994: The Very Beginning

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No one outside of the music industry knew who D’Angelo was in 1994, but within the industry, he was already writing music for the greats. His first songwriter and producer credit was for a song called “U Will Know.” Featured on the soundtrack to the movie, Jason’s Lyric, “U Will Know” is like the all black version of “We Are The World,” an uplifting, church-inspired anthem performed by a smorgasbord of talent including Brian McKnight, all the original members of Boyz II Men, Tevin Campbell, Gerald Levert, Debarge, and many others. They came together to perform this song live at the American Music Awards, and if you’re wondering who is sitting at the piano, that’s D. He also collaborated with the Boys Choir of Harlem to record a song called “Overjoyed.” At this time, D’Angelo, whose real name is Michael Archer, was partnering with his brother, Luther Archer, who was tasked with writing lyrics for his brother's music. He is credited on both “Overjoyed” and “U Will Know.” 

1995: "Brown Sugar"

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It’s nice to think that we knew D’Angelo would be so big and influential from the moment we first heard him, most likely through his debut album’s first single, “Brown Sugar.” But the truth is, we were all sleeping on the cornrowed brother whose enthusiasm for weed was masked by a soulful, jazz-laced ballad.

D’Angelo’s sound was an anomaly. There were other popular R&B artists incorporating live instrumentation—Tony! Toni! Toné!, and Mint Condition were some of the most popular. But Brown Sugar had a rough-around-the-edges quality to it, as did its creator. The album went platinum in 1996 with the help of three more singles.

There was his rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” (peep the cameo by Angie Martinez).

As well as “Me and Those Dreamin’ Eyes of Mine.”

And his biggest single, “Lady.” The original album version was co-produced and co-written with Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné!

“Lady” also had a remix, produced by DJ Premier and featuring a great 16 from AZ. The video features cameos from a then-unknown Erykah Badu and Faith Evans.

Another important song to note on this album is “Jonz in My Bonz,” which was co-written by Angie Stone, the fairly popular R&B singer from the ’90s who would later marry D’Angelo. They had one son together in 1999.

1996: Soundtracks and Loosies

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D’Angelo was never one for the spotlight. Instead of going right to the studio to record his sophomore effort, D’Angelo became guarded, but not entirely hidden. In the five years between his first two albums, D’Angelo released new music, mostly in the form of loosies and collaborations with other artists. You could make a great sex playlist with it.

There's his cover of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's “Your Precious Love,” which featured Erykah Badu and was released on the High School High soundtrack. There's also his cover of Eddie Kendrick’s “Girl You Need A Change of Mind,” from the Get on the Bus soundtrack.

He also linked with the Roots for “The Hypnotic” from their album, Illadelph Halflife.

1997: D'Angelo Teams Up with B.B. King

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In 1997, D'Angelo continued to collaborate with friends and icons alike. He also produced music for soundtracks, landing "I Found My Smile Again" on one of the year's biggest movies, the Michael Jordan-starring Space Jam. He was once again tapped by the Roots and Badu for "The 'Notic," which appeared on the Men in Black soundtrack.

He also teamed with with blues legend and guitar virtuoso B.B. King for "Ain't Nobody Home," from King's Deuces Wild album.

1998: D'Angelo's Only Live Album, "Live at the Jazz Cafe," Is Released

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In 1995, D'Angelo performed at the Jazz Cafe in London. From this show came D's remake of the Ohio Players' song "Heaven Must Be Like This," which was subsequently featured on the Down in the Delta soundtrack. Other songs from this show were packaged and released as D’Angelo’s only live album, Live at the Jazz Cafe. For years, the album was available only in Japan, thus making this soundtrack cut a prized gem for die-hard fans in the States. D’Angelo surfaced later that year for other collaborations and soundtracks. He and Lauryn Hill came together for the beautiful “Nothing Even Matters,” from her solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

And he contributed one of his best tracks, the righteous "Devil's Pie," for Hype Williams' debut motion picture, Belly.

He also made an appearance on Method Man's Tical 2000: Judgement Day, with “Break Ups 2 Make Ups.”

For the Scream 2 soundtrack, he covered Prince's “She’s Always In My Hair."

1999: D'Angelo Begins the "Voodoo" Roll-Out

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2000: D'Angelo Releases "Voodoo"

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On January 1, 2000, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” was released as Voodoo’s third single. The now classic ballad was already a conversation starter for it’s subtlety and restraint. A week after the song was released, it entered Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart at number 65. But upon the release of the still-talked about video, the song really took off, entering the Billboard Hot 100, where it reached number two.

Voodoo was released on January 25, 2000 and entered the Billboard 200 at number one, selling 320,000 copies in its first week. The album appeared on numerous best-of year lists and featured a collection of notable musicians from across genres, including ?uestlove, DJ Premier, Raphael Saadiq, and guitarist Charlie Hunter and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who were big names in the world of jazz. Riding the success of “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” which won a Grammy for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance (Voodoo also won the Grammy for Best R&B Album—both were awarded in 2001), D’Angelo released two more singles: “Send It On” and a cover of the Roberta Flack's “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” The single version featured Lauryn Hill and a solo from trumpeter Hargrove.

There was also a b-side to the “Untitled (How Does It Feel)," a cover of the Roy Ayers song, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” featuring nothing but D’Angelo on a Fender Rhodes and some percussion.

For the remainder of the year, D’Angelo embarked on a world tour to promote Voodoo. But musically, he was popping up everywhere. He made a guest appearance on Slum Village's Fantastic, Vol. 2 and Common’s Like Water For Chocolate. D'Angelo was originally on “Geto Heaven Part Two,” which would later be a single for Common. But on later pressings of the album (and in the video), Macy Gray sings D's part. The version with D’Angelo was heard for those who bought the album when it originally was released.

2001: D'Angelo Releases First Post-"Voodoo" Song

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2002: D'Angelo Makes an Appearance on Raphael Saadiq's Debut

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In 2002, D’Angelo guested on Instant Vintage, the debut solo album from his frequent collaborator, Raphael Saadiq. Already a rare sight in the public eye by this point, D'Angelo strumming a guitar and singing in the video “Be Here” was special.

Another guest appearance surfaced on the compilation album, Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti, in the form of “Water Got No Enemy,” which featured Macy Gray and Femi Kuti.

On November 20, 2002, D’Angelo was arrested in his home state of Virginia. He was charged with assault, disorderly conduct, and other misdemeanors, according to The Smoking Gun.

2003- 2005: D'Angelo Is in an Accident

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In 2003, D’Angelo guested on yet another recording, this time Roy Hargrove’s funk/jazz group the RH Factor. For Hard Groove, he sang on a rendition of Funkadelic's “I’ll Stay.” He sings from the gut, and it's smoldering and haunting.

View this video on YouTube

That same year, Raphael Saadiq released a live album, All Hits at the House of Blues. The last track on the two-disc album is a live rendition of “Be Here."

Two years later, in 2005, D’Angelo was arrested again, this time in Virginia for drunk driving and drug possession. At this point, his absence was becoming the biggest part of his legend. It was no longer a matter of when he would put out a new album, it was if. Everyone was worried, including John Mayer, who penned this open letter to D’Angelo in 2005 for Esquire. He writes: 

If you haven't recently committed any of yourself to tape, I'm begging you to put your suit and cape back on. Your contemporaries aren't going to ask you to come back; they're scared of having to be perched next to you.

In September, D’Angelo was given a three-year suspended jail sentence and was not fined for his drug possession charges. He traveled to Nashville, allegedly to work on his album, but was injured in a car accident. According to reports, he was ejected from his seat and had to be hospitalized for several days.

2006: New Music Arrives

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New D’Angelo music! But not new album. Instead, we got D'Angelo in the form of—you guessed it—guest appearances, including the RH Factor's “Bullshit." On Feb. 10, 2006, D’Angelo’s friend and frequent collaborator J. Dilla passed away from complications with lupus. Later in the year, BBE Records, the label Dilla was signed to, released a posthumous album called The Shining, which included a song featuring D’Angelo and Common. In 2007, Common used it on his album, Finding Forever

D’Angelo appeared on record again, this time alongside two unlikely (at the time) collaborators, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

The recordings only provided a glimmer of hope that D’Angelo was ready to return, as he was still making no public appearances. Later, in a 2008 Spin article, it would be revealed that 2006 was the year he enrolled in rehab for alcohol addiction.

2007: D'Angelo Signs to a New Label

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2008: Virgin Releases a Compilation

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Virgin released a two-disc compilation called D’Angelo: The Best So Far. The first disc was an album of hits, live performances, and rare cuts that were previously only available on soundtracks. These included “I Found My Smile Again” and “She’s Always in My Hair.” The former song was made available on iTunes and framed as his return. This compilation also included a live performance of Earth Wind, & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love,” which was also featured on the Live at the Jazz Cafe album.

That same year, D’Angelo was featured on Q-Tip’s album The Renaissance

2009: Album Rumors Emerge

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2010-2012: A New Song and a Return to the U.S. Stage

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Music journalist Jerry Barrow broke the news on The Urban Daily of a new song by D’Angelo called “1,000 Deaths” (it's on Black Messiah). The song appeared on YouTube but was taken down days later. On March 6, D’Angelo was arrested and charged with solicitation, after he was busted asking an undercover officer for fellatio. The incident took place in the West Village off Greenwich Street, blocks away from Electric Lady, the studios where he frequently recorded. The same year, online music retailers sold another D’Angelo compilation, this one titled Interpretations: Remakes. The collection was composed entirely of covers that had been officially released over the years, but also included hard-to-find recordings like his rendition of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Superman Lover.”

The only new material from D’Angelo was on a collaboration with producer Mark Ronson and his group the Business International, titled “Glass Mountain Trust,” from the album Record Collection.

Also, RCA Records disbanded J. Records and several other of its labels, thus making D’Angelo an RCA artist. No announcement was made of any album plans.

By 2012, the question "Is D’Angelo ready to come back?" was given a half-answer. Though he didn’t release a new album, D’Angelo performed in Stockholm on Jan. 30, his first show since 2000. The Occupy Music Tour continued with 12 shows in all up until Feb. 10. Members of his band included Pino Palladino on bass and Kendra Foster on background vocals, both of whom would appear on Black Messiah. According to the set list, he also performed four tracks that would be included on the album: “Sugah Daddy,” “Another Life,” “The Charade,” and “Ain’t That Easy.”

In June 2012, new pictures of D’Angelo turned up in GQ magazine alongside a sprawling profile by correspondent Amy Wallace. The photoshoot was D’Angelo’s first in a decade. D’Angelo then made his first on-stage appearance on U.S. soil in over a decade at Bonnaroo Music Festival, when ?uestlove brought him out as a surprise guest. Later in the month, D’Angelo appeared in his first televised performance in the U.S. in over a decade at the BET Awards. He opened with “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and closed with “Sugah Daddy.”

The unofficial comeback tour continued, first with a stop at The House of Blues in Los Angeles on July 4 and then a performance at Essence Music Festival where he ran through hits from Brown Sugar and Voodoo. In August, D’Angelo went on the road, joining Mary J. Blige’s Liberation Tour for 20 dates. Then, in September, he performed at the Made in America Festival in Philadelphia.

2013: D'Angelo and ?uestlove Play a Show

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A secret performance with ?uestlove took place at Brooklyn Bowl on March 4. The set included some of D’Angelo’s hits and never-before-heard takes on oldies such as S.O.S’s “Tell Me if You Still Care.”

The entire set can be heard here.

The two later performed together in Philadelphia on July 3. 

2014: D'Angelo Returns

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The year started on a positive note. Russsell Elevado, the engineer for D’Angelo’s Voodoo sessions and a longtime partner, released three different video clips of a studio session. In the clips, D’Angelo can be seen on a couch while members of his band, including Palladino, tinker with some new songs.

On March 25, Virgin finally releases the Live at the Jazz Cafe album in the United States. A track from the recording premiered on Billboard on March 20. On May 21, D’Angelo made another public appearance, this time to take part in a discussion with Nelson George at the Brooklyn Museum for the Red Bull Music Academy Festival. The interview covered D’Angelo’s long but cagey career in music. And no, we did not get a confirmed release date for the album.

 On Dec. 11, this video surfaced on YouTube.

 On Dec. 12, a tweet was sent out with a picture of the album cover and a release date of Dec. 16.

On Dec. 14, “Sugah Daddy” appeared on D’Angelo’s SoundCloud. Later in the day it was announced that Black Messiah would be available for sale via iTunes at midnight.

Like many, until I actually saw it on my computer screen, I did not believe it. And even as it was downloading I was worried about what I would find. D’Angelo had been gone so long, and though the live appearances were promising, what would an album 14 years in the making sound like? Shortly before midnight, the album became available, and we learned the answer: damn good.

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