A New Documentary Explains D’Angelo’s 14-Year Absence From The Music Scene (Video)

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Despite being one of the most acclaimed vocalists, musicians, and producers of the last 25 years, D’Angelo has released only three studio albums during his career. The 45-year-old Grammy Award-winning singer born Michael Archer debuted with 1995’s Brown Sugar, before 1998’s Voodoo, before taking 14 years to follow up with 2014’s The Black Messiah.

That third LP is also credited to his band, The Vanguard, comprised of drummer Chris “Daddy” Dave, bassist Pino Palladino, guitarists Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey, vocalist Kendra Foster and keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” Sample.

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In between the platinum #1 1998 LP and The Black Messiah, the Richmond, Virginia native experienced a tumultuous personal life. Things shifted during the Voodoo Tour. Plans for a Soultronics live album, which was slated to involve the singer’s band, including The Roots’ Questlove, James Poyser, late trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Jr., and others were halted. The SoulQuarians member disassociated himself with longtime management, including Alan Leeds. The singer also parted ways with Virgin Records, who had merged with EMI, the label that D’Angelo had been a recording artist at for more than a decade.

In April of 2005, D’Angelo was stopped for speeding in his hometown. Upon inspection of the driver and his vehicle, the singer was found in possession of marijuana and cocaine and eventually charged with being intoxicated while driving. He eventually pleaded no contest and was given a three-year suspended sentence and did not serve jail time. A week after sentencing, on September 19, 2005, D’Angelo survived a major car accident while driving on Virginia’s Route 711. Although he was ejected from his Hummer on impact, following a medical analysis, the singer reportedly left the scene of impact with only bruised ribs. A year later, reportedly seeking an introduction through Rock legend Eric Clapton, D’Angelo sought out rehabilitation treatment at Antigua’s Crossroads. However, the troubles continue, with a 2010 arrest for allegedly soliciting a sexual act from an undercover police officer. During this period, between the early 2000s until the early 2010s, D’Angelo refrained from performing, apart from appearances in church.

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A new film is examining D’Angelo’s life and career, especially this period of hiatus between 2000 and 2014. Directed by Carine Bijlsma, Devil’s Pie: D’Angelo premiered at last weekend’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film includes rare interviews, studio and rehearsal footage, plus interviews with close associates and collaborators, including Questlove.

In the newly-released trailer, Questlove notes, “This [music], you feel it in your soul. But he tends to hide.” In another clip, Quest’ notes, “I think he has fears of being the chosen one.” The fellow Grammy Award-winner admits he was once “living with a sense of dread,” surrounding a potential death of his collaborator. The two worked on Black Messiah, after the hiatus. The film also appears to unpack some of the personal losses in D’Angelo’s life, which include SoulQuarians members J Dilla and Roy Hargrove, Jr.

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Previously, Carine Bijlsma has made documentaries on Classical musicians including cellist Anner Bijlsma, composer Luigi Boccherini, and composer Louis Andriessen.