Tavis Smiley Gets D’Angelo’s First TV Interview in 10 Years and It’s Masterful (Video)

On September 2 and 3, the incomparable D’Angelo sat down with Tavis Smiley for the singer’s first long-format television interview in over a decade. The conversation spilled over into two episodes of Smiley’s PBS show, which is not surprising considering the magnitude of the subject at hand. In the first half of their two-part discussion, Smiley and D’Angelo weave in and out of topics, both scintillating and quotidian, giving viewers a rare glimpse into the mind and soul behind one of Soul music’s most powerful contemporary voices, both inside and outside the realm of entertainment. On September 2’s episode, the two touch upon everything from Curtis Mayfield’s influence, their shared experience with Pentecostal faith, the singer’s grandmother, his foray into playing more guitar, and more. The true strengths of the interview however, lie in the more abstract, conceptual realms, where the two touch upon artistic integrity and creative freedoms, particularly in D’Angelo’s personal experiences.

The nearly 30-minute conversation inevitably led to a talk about the artistry behind D’Angelo and, in particular, freedom. Smiley refers to the singer’s stage presence and the seemingly untethered freedom with which he performs on stage. “The flip side of freedom, one could argue, I think, is doubt and that doubt leads to fear and then you end up being frozen by your fears. Artistically, have you ever had self-doubt? And if so, what were you doubting yourself about?,” Smiley asks. With poise and incredible self-awareness, D’Angelo responds “I think shortly after I got signed, it just started to dawn on me that I had something to say and that Yahweh put something in my heart to share with the world. Once you have conviction, then the fear don’t mean nothing. It’s just a thing.”

It’s that conviction which has contributed to the singer’s recent return to the stage from which he has been largely absent since releasing 2000’s Voodoo, a cornerstone of an album if there ever was one. His influence on the cultivation of a distinctly Neo-Soul trend in popular music is not lost on anyone, and a triumphant return in the form of this year’s Black Messiah has given a weight and power to the 15 years in between that could have easily taken the proverbial wind out of his sails. That conviction is also what allowed him to face the challenges of the sometimes suffocating hand of his record company. At one point in the conversation, Smiley makes a statement that brings forth an analysis of the struggle between artist and industry. “The challenge to that is–you know this better than I do because you’re the artist, I’m not–the challenge to that is that artistically you want to grow, but your fan base wants more of the same. And not just your fan base, but the record company really don’t want you to grow,” he says. D’Angelo agrees, sharing a powerful bit of advice. “You got to stay true to your heart and just not be afraid. It takes courage because, when you’re doing something different, it was funny because when I first dropped Voodoo, a lot of people didn’t like it initially because it was different than Brown Sugar. You just have to walk with that conviction.”

Check out the first half of their extended interview here, and stay tuned for Part Two.

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