Brown Sugar is the supreme artifact of D'Angelo's cult status, and the neo-soul album that deified D'Angelo among the likes of Erykah Badu, Babyface, Maxwell, and Bilal. The album's snap-and-slither groove is equal parts funk and incantation, with tracks like "Smooth" and "Me and Those Dreamin' Eyes of Mine" standing as counterweights to the bigger, bombastic vibes of arena R&B acts of the day such as Blackstreet, Boyz II Men, and Jodeci. With "Cruisin'," D'Angelo reformats a free-love, open-air Smokey Robinson classic as a date night candlelight anthem. Here's an album that flickers, brilliantly.
Brown Sugar is intimate and, at times, confrontational; "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker" is, at once, as funky and smooth as any track from The Chronic: "I'm telling you what's on my mind; I'm bout to go get my nine, and kill both of y'all's behinds." Never as articulate as Erykah, or as bombastic as R. Kelly, D'Angelo's strength was his sex, abs, and attitude. He's a hometown hero of mine, and so it's been insufferable reading D'Angelo's fall from grace. Will he ever bounce back? I hold no breaths, even as D'Angelo's gut is chiseled back into a brand new six-pack. —Justin Charity