D'ANGELO

 

 

Born Michael D'Angelo Archer on February 11, 1974, in Richmond, VA; son of a Pentecostal minister and a legal secretary.
Education: Attended high school in Richmond.
Religion: Pentecostal.

Career

R&B vocalist, recording artist, composer, and producer. Formed group Michael Archer and Precise at age 16 and began writing original songs; won, along with rest of group, amateur contest at Harlem's Apollo Theater three times; signed to EMI label at age 19; wrote and produced song "U Will Know" for Jason's Lyric soundtrack; released Brown Sugar, 1995; released Voodoo, 2000.

Life's Work

The rediscovery of older styles of black popular music has been a hallmark of African-American music near the turn of the century. The classic figures of soul, R&B, and even jazz have come once again to exert an influence on younger performers, who find connections between those older styles and the features of the hip-hop and electronic dance music they grew up with. One of the most creative of these young revivalists, and the one who drew most directly on the raw, sensual power of such classic artists as Marvin Gaye, has been D'Angelo--who indeed shows signs that he may match that master's combination of sex appeal and sheer musical originality.

DIAND'Angelo was born Michael D'Angelo Archer on February 11, 1974, in Richmond, Virginia. With a father and grandfather who were both Pentecostal preachers, his upbringing was naturally a religious one, soaked in gospel music. His mother, a legal secretary name Mariann Smith, was a jazz enthusiast who introduced her son to the musical complexities of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis as well as to the soul and R&B music of the 1970s. She bought her son his first electric keyboard, but also tempered a mother's natural supportiveness with a critical ear. Quoted in Contemporary Musicians, she recalled that "[w]hen he started writing he'd write a song and bring it to me right away...And he knows I will critique him. I've always given him the opportunity to express himself, but I'll tell him what I think."

Shaken by Gaye's Death

The singer who made the strongest impression on the young musician was Marvin Gaye, and Gaye's violent death in 1984 shook him up a great deal. "The night he died my nightmares started," D'Angelo told Interview. "I couldn't listen to any song of his for years. I was petrified of them. I would weep. My mother took me to a psychiatrist to try to get a grip on it. The psychiatrist said something like, Unconsciously I had phobias about similarities between Marvin's relationship with his father and my relationship with my father..."

At age nine, D'Angelo added vocals to his piano and organ skills. By the time he was 16, he had formed his own group, called Michael Archer and Precise, and had begun to accumulate compositions of his own. A precocious songwriter, he composed between the ages of 17 and 18 most of the material that would appear three years later on his debut album. The group began winning talent shows in the Richmond area and making plans for bigger things. With a repertoire evenly divided between originals and soul classics, they headed for an event that had set many an R&B artist's career on its way--the Amateur Night competition at the famed Apollo Theater in New York's Harlem neighborhood.

They ended up winning the contest three times, and D'Angelo quit school and headed for New York at the age of 18. Another major musical inspiration around this time was Prince, whose triple threat of sensual vocals, multi-instrumental capabilities, and production skills had revolutionized music in the 1980s. D'Angelo set out to become the same kind of all-around musician that Prince was. In addition to his keyboard and vocal skills, he is proficient on drums, saxophone, guitar, and bass, and he has produced recordings by such artists as Brandy, SWV, Mary J. Blige, and The Roots.

Three-Hour Audition at EMI

Just as Prince's range of skills had impressed the recording executives he approached, D'Angelo found a ready reception when he auditioned for the EMI label in 1993. He dazzled EMI executives with a three-hour piano recital and was signed to a contract. EMI broke in their hot new property with a single release, "U Will Know." The song, co-written and produced by D'Angelo, was included on the soundtrack of the film Jason's Lyric. The song featured an all-star ensemble that included R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Tevin Campbell, and Lenny Kravitz. Not yet 20 years old, D'Angelo was playing in the big leagues.

D'Angelo's debut album, Brown Sugar, was released in 1995. The album became one of the top recording events of the year, selling over two million copies and crossing over to the pop charts with its three hit singles: the title track, a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'," and the pop Top Five "Lady." D'Angelo wowed influential New York crowds with his initial concerts in support of the album, and the buzz only grew stronger. A definite ingredient in its success was the co-production work of Ali-Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, who was responsible for the seamless integration of hip-hop beats into D'Angelo's old-school-influenced material.

Brown Sugar was honored with three Soul Train awards and three Grammy nominations, and D'Angelo picked up an American Music Award for Best New R&B Artist among numerous other honors. His live shows thrilled female fans, and he stayed in the spotlight in various ways, contributing music and production work to film soundtracks, including Spike Lee's Get on the Bus, and joining with Lauryn Hill for a duet on Hill's 1998 debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But material for a sophomore release was slow in coming. D'Angelo headed back to the South, spending time in South Carolina and in his hometown of Richmond and reconnecting himself with the African-American musical history that had first inspired him.

Sophomore Release Showed Hendrix Influence

To the classic soul vocals that he had mastered, D'Angelo gradually added a musical layer shaped by guitar-based funk. He immersed himself in the music of Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament and Funkadelic, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix. D'Angelo recorded his Voodoo CD in Hendrix's Electric Lady studios in New York, telling Entertainment Weekly that "I began to see the connection between him and everybody else--Sly, George Clinton--and I started to realize that Jimi was just as much a pioneer of funk as those guys were." The result was an album that Time termed "a masterpiece," a blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop, ambient music, and D'Angelo's usual soulful vocals. The album featured contributions from rappers Redman and Method Man and jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Voodoo was released in February of 2000, and made its debut at Number One on Billboard magazine's pop chart.

D'Angelo, thanks to the depth of his encounter with the music of the past, had gained the combination of chart-topping popularity and critical respect by the year 2000. Though he was only 26, he had himself already influenced a host of other artists; what some critics called his "neo-soul" music had blazed the way for such performers as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray, and others. "I got something I'm seeing; I got a vision," he told Time, explaining his aim to infuse the black popular scene with music of high artistic quality. "This album [Voodoo] is the second step to that vision." That vision seems an immensely promising and far-sighted one.

Awards

Best R&B Artist, Best R&B Single, Best R&B Album--Males, Soul Train Music Awards, 1996; Best New R&B Artist, American Music Awards, 1997; three Grammy award nominations for Brown Sug


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A Balancing Act . . .

 

To help balance both sides of his musical equation, Hamilton enlisted the familiar and the new. Back for return engagements are songwriter/producers Mark Batson (Hamilton's signature hits "Coming From Where I'm From" and "Charlene"), James Poyser and Kelvin Wooten. "It's always going to be them; they give me what I need," says Hamilton of his longtime collaborators. "They know what I've been doing but can see the growth I'm experiencing."

New to the Hamilton camp are the Avila Brothers (Usher, Mariah Carey) and Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, John Legend). "It makes a difference when collaborators are really into what you're doing versus just getting a check," says Hamilton.

That's readily apparent on "The Point of It All." Hamilton and crew get the ball rolling on lead single "Cool" featuring rapper David Banner. The pair's rough-and-ready vocals perfectly complement each other on this Kelvin Wooten-produced mid-tempo treatise on relationship dynamics. Hamilton, who co-wrote the song with Wooten, confidently croons to his significant other that's he's cool; he's got this. There's no need to worry because together they can conquer whatever comes in life.

 

More about Mr. Hamilton . . .

Hamilton also isn't afraid to admit when he's wrong as displayed on the confessional "Please Stay." Poignantly framed by a plaintive chorus of horns and Jack Splash's understated production, Hamilton makes you feel every bit of his torment as he tries to regain his lady's trust. As the song ends, his anguished, high-pitched ooohs say it all.

Hamilton�who co-wrote "Please Stay" plus the other album selections� brings it all home on the title track. Produced by the Avila Brothers, (who also co-wrote with Big Jim Wright), the moving ballad zeroes in on Hamilton's strong suit: subtly powerful, sparsely produced love songs that showcase his distinctive voice. As on his 2006 top 15 R&B hit, "Can't Let Go," Hamilton breaks love down to its pure essence as he sings, "No matter what the storm will bring/I'm fine with you/The point of it all is I love you."

While Hamilton definitely knows his way around a love song, he is just as comfortable shaking things up. He pumps up the beat on the feel-good "I Feel Like Fallin' in Love," produced by Mark Batson. Hamilton then stirs up fire and brimstone on the aptly titled "Soul's on Fire." His gospel background figures prominently on the ambitious "Prayin' For You/Superman," a two-part relationship anthem that shifts gears from spirit-in-the-dark revival to organ-fronted blues without losing anything in translation.


Hamilton's career-molding break arrived in 2002 when he sang the infectious hook on the Nappy Roots' "Po' Folks." That performance netted the singer his first Gammy nomination for best rap/sung collaboration--and a new label, Jermaine Dupri's So So Def imprint. A year later his platinum debut, "Coming From Where I'm From," was released. It was followed by the gold-certified "Ain't Nobody Worryin'." Not just a fan favorite, Hamilton is also the go-to singer for other artists whether the medium is R&B/soul, gospel, hip-hop, pop or country. In addition to new albums by Young Jeezy ("The Recession") and the Nappy Roots ("The Humdinger"), Hamilton guests on upcoming projects by Dr. Dre, T-Pain, Nat King Cole and Fonzworth Bentley.

Over the last three years, he has written and/or sung with a who's who in music including Al Green, Josh Turner, Keyshia Cole, John Rich (Big & Rich), Santana and Mint Condition. A 2007 highlight was Hamilton's cameo appearance in the Oscar-nominated film "American Gangster" starring Denzel Washington as well as his performance on the soundtrack's lead song, the Diane Warren-penned "Do You Feel Me.""It's pretty much the same rhythm, the same core, and that allows me to do a country song then bounce back to rap and then gospel," says Hamilton of his effortless versatility. "At the end of the day, it's what the heart and soul are saying; it's what I've got to say to people. I enjoy it all." In addition to giving back through music, Hamilton participates in various national and local outreach initiatives including his own TASTE Foundation (Take a Step to Elevate). And while his future plans include writing and executive producing feature films, Hamilton remains committed to music. He and his vocalist wife Tarsha McMillian have established independent label Mister's Music Recordings, whose roster includes Ashville, North Carolina rapper Ashes Clay.

"After all the ups and downs I've experienced," says Hamilton, "I've still got the same jones."

And that--bottom line--is "The Point of It All."

 

 

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