Questlove Hints At New D’Angelo Album In Red Bull Music Academy Talk

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Towards the end of the Red Bull Music Academy’s hour and a half-long Conversation With D’Angelo at the Brooklyn Museum Wednesday night (May 21), Questlove—brought up on stage by moderator Nelson George after he piped up with an answer from the crowd—began discussing the reception that D’Angelo’s second album, Voodoo, received when it came out in 2000.

Voodoo sounded like an acid trip,” Quest told the standing room-only crowd, stressing that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of the record initially. “Now it sounds normal, especially compared to the unmentionable, unspoken-of third record…” Quest trailed off, laughing, before turning back to George. “…And I think I just killed the interview. I’m sorry, thank you.”

Indeed, the existence of new music from the reclusive and adored D’Angelo is something that fans have been promised for more than a decade, but that looks like will wind up sitting on the shelf gathering dust next to Detox for the foreseeable future. When D’Angelo re-emerged early last year from his self-imposed exile for a show at Brooklyn Bowl and a brief tour opening for Mary J Blige, it seemed almost inevitable that he would link back up with Questo, get in the studio and actually come through with a finished project. A year and a half later, we’re left with only skittering rumors and vague promises, which meant that the Red Bull Conversation last night was left with little new material to chop up, and instead relied on old stories from decades ago and D’Angelo’s formative years as a teenager in Virginia. But any D’Angelo sighting is worthy of note these days, and while he smoked three cigarettes—three! on the stage of the Brooklyn Museum!—George got D to drop a few quotable lines.

One of those came after a question from fans on Twitter asking D what he thought about the influence of technology on the music industry. George followed up on that question by asking D’Angelo if he was working on any new music using Auto-Tune. ”Nope,” he said, then told a story about recently meeting Sly Stone—there’s a combination that would stop the world in its tracks—who was using Auto-Tune in his new music, but in a way that D’Angelo said he hadn’t heard before. “I don’t have a problem with technology as long as you do something new with it,” he said.

The conversation also turned to some of the keep moments of D’Angelo’s formative years, such as the opportunity at the age of 13 or 14 to audition to be part of Ellis Marsalis’—Wynton’s father—jazz theory class at Virginia Commonwealth University. The audition went well, but Marsalis wound up returning to New Orleans and leaving VCU for a time, and D was never a student. He also spoke on first meeting longtime bassist Pino Palladino; shortly after Johnny “Guitar” Watson died in 1996, D went into the studio with B.B. King to record their collaboration for King’s Deuces Wild album, “Ain’t Nobody Home.” He’d been looking for a bass player who could do for him what James Jamerson did for the countless sessions he was a part of as a member of Motown’s legendary house band, and Palladino happened to be at the King session. D and Pino have worked together ever since.

But amidst all the reminiscing, a few details emerged about the new musical direction D’s been going in with his new band The Vanguard; he described them as looser than his previous band The Soultronics, with a louder and harder sound with more guitars and a more rock feel to it. As Quest said, the hype is that it will be very different from Voodoo and his 1995 debut Brown Sugar; whether it will actually come out is another story. But here’s hoping there’s another chapter to D’Angelo’s musical history somewhere around the bend. The world could use it. —Dan Rys