Album Review: Voodoo
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
D'Angelo is regarded as one of the greatest singers in the neo-soul movement throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. His debut album, Brown Sugar, has been celebrated as one of the best albums in the genre, and D'Angelo himself has been described by many as the modern equivalent to Marvin Gaye.
Following his debut, expectations were high for D'Angelo's next project, which would not release for another four years due to issues with writer's block. When Voodoo finally released in 2000, it was not only viewed as an excellent follow-up to Brown Sugar, but an album which exceeded its predecessor in almost every way. Its production was mostly handled by D'Angelo and fellow Soulquarian, Questlove. Additional production help included names such as J Dilla and DJ Premier, turning Voodoo into a fusion of the smooth soul of Brown Sugar and the percussion and grooves of a hip hop album. The album has such a serene, warm sound, unlike any other album I have heard. It sounds like the soundtrack to a relaxing summer evening. Every song has its brilliant moments, turning Voodoo into one of the best albums in neo-soul, and D'Angelo's magnum opus.
While only thirteen tracks in length, Voodoo has a 78 minute runtime. Each song is given room to breathe, for the instrumentals to stretch and evolve, and for D'Angelo to get comfortable with each beat and utilise them perfectly to show off his soothing, powerful vocals. The opener, 'Playa Playa', begins with the beat slowly fading in, the finger clicks repeating as the whispery vocals gradually rise and the bass is introduced, followed by the light percussion and horns which bring the listener into the core of the song. Each element is handled with patience and precision, building such a soothing, peaceful atmosphere where all the instruments - coupled with D'Angelo's laid-back vocal style - create such a vivid and warm sound.
The slow funk of 'Playa Playa' then leads into the amazing 'Devil's Pie'. The funky, heavy bass production is handled by DJ Premier, which is obvious without looking at the credits since his signature record scratches and snippets of samples are sprinkled throughout the song. D'Angelo sings about the devil's pie - temptations of sex, drugs, and violence - and how we should avoid such evils instead of gorging on the pie. The mix of funk and hip hop production gives it such a fresh and catchy sound, making it a song any avid rap fan or soul fan could adore equally.
Next comes 'Left and Right', continuing the soul-rap fusion by having hip hop duo Redman and Method Man join D'Angelo on the track. They start and close the song with little verses, and support D'Angelo on the chorus with catchy repetitions of "How we do it?" as he sings. The soft drum patterns over the Eric B. and Rakim sample are reminiscent of J Dilla production. No drum sounds too abrasive, and the mixing is just right - they give the track its backbone but don't distract from the catchy grooves and irresistible funk of Voodoo.
'The Line' is a more straightforward neo-soul song, with a repeating groove throughout the track giving it a spacious, serene sound. D'Angelo sings about putting it all on the line, making references to suicide and pulling a gun's trigger, which could be a metaphor for taking a risk despite his fears. 'Send It On' continues the album's transition away from a hip hop sound, being a jazzy soul cut about D'Angelo's newborn son. The passion is clear in his voice as the production swells and calms, with the trumpet harmonising with his voice as he sings louder.
'Chicken Grease' has to be one of my favourites on Voodoo, where D'Angelo sings almost in staccato, deliberately stuttering with his words. His vocals are mixed far lower than the surrounding songs, to the point his voice is as soft and present as the production around him, turning his stammering delivery into a component of the instrumental. The strange delivery works well over the playful melody and bass, supported by the deep backing vocals. It's a style D'Angelo would build on with his next album, Black Messiah, and a refreshing song in the track listing which sees D'Angelo experimenting with his style, making for a far more dynamic and memorable album experience.
Following 'Chicken Grease' is 'One Mo'Gin' - one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. D'Angelo sings about wishing to reconnect with a past lover, over a sluggish, patient bassline which acts as the song's spine. Layered over the bass is a subtle pattern of piano and organ which sparkle with D'Angelo's sincere vocals and make the song into something magical. It's such a slow and patient track, but the bass accompanied by D'Angelo's impassioned vocals make it one of the most gorgeous moments on the album.
'The Root' gradually picks up the energy again, leading into the bright and summery 'Spanish Joint'. It has such a lively instrumental, with a groovy bassline with quick drum patterns, catchy guitar and swelling horns layered on top. D'Angelo sounds so alive, with charisma and vocal inflections akin to Stevie Wonder as he masters the upbeat and busy production. 'Feel Like Makin' Love' keeps the momentum going, with some punchy percussion and clapping to build the rhythm and a funky riff which ebbs and flows with D'Angelo's soft, seductive vocals about making love.
Where the album reaches its climax is with the incredible 'Untitled (How Does It Feel)'. The majority of D'Angelo fans will cite this as their favourite song of his, and for good reason. The way the guitar, piano and bass have these subtle bursts of energy across the instrumental gives the song such a unique, punchy sound. D'Angelo's serene vocals are as beautiful as ever, but where the song truly shines is in the chorus. The simple repetition of "How does it feel?" along with the guitar melody makes for such a satisfying and unforgettable chorus. Each time the chorus repeats, it holds so much more power, with D'Angelo providing extra vocals over the repetition, bringing another layer of passion and life to the song. Slowly, the instrumental dies down, with the subtle bursts of instrumentation fading, until the vocals suddenly swell once more, leading into the final chorus. D'Angelo shouts the words, singing with such vigour that it sounds like he's straining his throat. This angelic chorus goes on and on, as though D'Angelo knows just how spectacular it is and doesn't want to stop it himself - and then it cuts off, suddenly, ending the song on a tremendous high.
After such an impactful song, 'Africa' closes off the album. It's another song dedicated to D'Angelo's son, where he sings over some sparkling and minimalist production where the drums overpower the subtle bass. The albums ends with this hypnotic instrumental slowly fading - the gorgeous sound of Voodoo closes off with silence. Then, in the album's very last moments, there is an amalgamation of clips from the songs throughout Voodoo which play, all mashed together in reverse. Upon hearing these little reminders of the previous songs, Voodoo begs for another listen immediately.
Voodoo is gorgeous. The instrumentation can be so funky and smooth, then so lush and beautiful. Whether it be the tracks influenced by 90s hip hop, 70s soul or contemporary neo-soul, D'Angelo tackles each sound effortlessly, providing such soothing, mesmerising vocals. The album embodies such a summery, heavenly sound, and as I listen I bask in the warm atmosphere it creates, blown away by how lush and detailed every song is. It's neo-soul at its very best, and one of many masterpieces to release in the year 2000. D'Angelo may only have three albums, but with Brown Sugar, Voodoo, and Black Messiah, he has proven himself to be one of the best soul artists of all time, and a musical legend.
Fav Tracks: Untitled (How Does It Feel), Devil's Pie, Left and Right, One Mo'Gin, Spanish Joint, Feel Like Makin' Love