When D'Angelo released his masterpiece Voodoo at the turn of the century (and five years after his debut, Brown Sugar), it was immediately clear he'd avoided the dreaded sophomore slump to evolve into a musician who was as concerned with honoring the past as he was with his artistic impulses, no matter where they took him. It was at once challenging and fulfilling, something new and something familiar. At the time, the neo-soul movement was an alternative to the steadily flashier edge of '90s hip-hop and R&B, and Voodoo was its apex. D'Angelo, though, has historically felt little connection to the term, much the way no artist wants to contend with the expectations and limitations of genre; when the singer first broke through, he'd pegged his sound as, simply, "black music," and there is perhaps no better descriptor for the record despite its associations. Voodoo is a gumbo of black innovation—blues, jazz, soul, funk, gospel even—peppered by a full spectrum of humanity, from despair to sheer ecstasy.
In 1998, D'Angelo, awed by the birth of his son, wrote the stirring "Send It On" in his honor, the new life signaling the creative explosion of what would become Voodoo. The grooves contained within the album are deep enough to swallow you, even and especially when they head past the six-minute mark. Take the most recognizable single, "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," and how its slow, deliberate pace is akin to seduction, or the opening track "Playa Playa," or "Feel Like Makin' Love," a cover of Roberta Flack's song of the same name—each one feels communal, as the instruments do as much heavy lifting as D'Angelo's electrifying falsetto. Everything feels perfectly in its place and yet unexpected and exciting. If Brown Sugar was a controlled burn, then Voodoo is a wildfire of ideas and experimentation, a balance between the improvised looseness of a jam session and the razor-sharp precision of a well-rehearsed genius.