With an unmistakable voice and an apparently innate ability to modernize the rich Black musical traditions that preceded him, D'Angelo birthed the neo-soul movement and became one of the definitive musicians of the '90s and 2000s. Michael Eugene Archer (born in 1974) grew up in Richmond, Virginia as the son of a Pentecostal minister, sprouting musical roots from playing piano as a child and winning three consecutive talent shows at Harlem's Apollo Theater as a teen. His demo tape and an impromptu piano recital for an exec earned him a deal at EMI, under which he released his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar. The album—a mesh of earthy, vinyl-crackling soul evoking Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and the edgy swagger of golden-era hip-hop—was the foundation for neo-soul, a subgenre that would continue to blossom with acts like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. Writer's block crippled D'Angelo's musical output in the following years, so he sparsely released cover songs until finding inspiration in his first child's birth. The result was 2000's Voodoo, a vulnerable meditation on love, fatherhood, sexuality, and spirituality, co-produced by the Soulquarians crew of musicians, known for crafting Black diasporic grooves that eschewed structure without sacrificing focus. The album heightened D’Angelo’s stardom, but at a cost: Fan reception of the steamy video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and the album’s accompanying tour made him feel oversexualized, and alcoholism and depression led to a hiatus of nearly 15 years. He returned in 2014 with Black Messiah, a stirring collection of soulful analog grooves and sociopolitical lyrics that reflected the then-budding Black Lives Matter movement. D'Angelo doesn't create on the usual industry timeline, but working on his own schedule has been more than enough to make history.
BORNFebruary 11, 1974