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An instrumental figure in the 90s movement known as neo-soul, enigmatic singer-songwriter and producer D'Angelo gradually attained legendary status with a sporadic yet visionary body of work which combined the classic with the contemporary to super-sensual effect. A highly gifted musician from a young age, D'Angelo first achieved success as a co-writer of Black Men United's 1994 single before entering the spotlight a year later with debut Brown Sugar, a masterful blend of R&B, soul, gospel, hip-hop and funk which enamored both critics and audiences looking for an alternative to the producer-driven urban music dominant at the time. Alongside the likes of Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and the future mother of his child, Angie Stone, D'Angelo continued to pioneer the sub-genre on 2000's looser long-awaited sophomore, Voodoo, and became an MTV favorite thanks to a striking video for its third single, "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," in which he posed almost entirely naked. A publicized string of personal problems kept D'Angelo out of action for most of the following decade, but 2014 comeback Black Messiah, a highly experimental and socially-conscious affair which drew comparisons with Sly & The Family Stone, proved he'd lost none of his natural charisma and creative spark.
Born Michael Eugene Archer in Richmond, VA in 1975, D'Angelo grew up in a Pentecostal family and first began performing at his preacher father's church before success at a Harlem Amateur Night competition inspired him to drop out of school and move to New York to pursue a music career. Following a brief stint in hip-hop outfit I.D.U. (Intelligent, Deadly but Unique), D'Angelo landed a publishing deal with EMI in 1991, and two years later signed a record deal with the same label. His first success came as a writer when he co-penned "U Will Know," a cut from the "Jason's Lyric" (1994) soundtrack which the likes of Usher, Brian McKnight and R. Kelly took into the US Top 40 under the guise of Black Men United. After adding the Boys Choir of Harlem's "Overjoyed" to his behind-the-scenes credits, D'Angelo emerged as a performer in his own right in 1995 with Brown Sugar, a ground-breaking blend of traditional soul and modern R&B which pushed the neo-soul sound into the mainstream, peaking at No.22 on the Billboard 200, picking up four Grammy nominations and spawning four US Hot 100 hits including "Lady," "Me and Those Dreamin' Eyes of Mine" and a cover version of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin."
D'Angelo kept fans waiting for the follow-up with his only notable musical contributions over the next five years appearing courtesy of soundtrack cuts for "Get on the Bus" (1996), "Scream 2" (1997), "Belly" (1998) and "Down in the Delta" (1998), as well as a guest spot on Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of... But D'Angelo justified the lengthy delay when he finally returned in 2000 with Voodoo, a funkier groove-based record widely regarded as the neo-soul scene's masterpiece, which topped the US charts, won the R&B Album of the Year Grammy and sold nearly two million copies in his homeland alone. The album's third single, "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," also cemented D'Angelo's pin-up status thanks to an attention-grabbing video in which he lip-synced directly into the camera while appearing to be entirely nude. But once again, D'Angelo failed to sustain his career momentum, and apart from a handful of collaborations with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Common and Femi Kuti, he spent most of the 00s entirely absent from the music scene.
Instead, D'Angelo's troubled private life became the focus of the press as he swerved from one misdemeanor to another. In 2002, he was pepper-sprayed and arrested at his home following a disturbance at a gas station. In 2005, he was given a suspended jail sentence for cocaine possession, and two years later, received the same punishment after pleading guilty to the charge of driving under the influence. While in 2010, he was charged with soliciting a prostitute in New York. A 2009 album, provisionally-titled James Bay, failed to materialize, but D'Angelo finally began to sow the seeds of a comeback in 2012 when he embarked on a European tour and made a surprise appearance at Bonnaroo. Credited to D'Angelo and his backing band, The Vanguard, his eagerly-anticipated third album, Black Messiah, belatedly arrived in late 2014, and received a near-universal positive critical response, with Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On and Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life just some of the undisputed classics it was mentioned in the same breath with.
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