With New Jack Swing on the wane, R&B music was in search of the next big thing. Starting in the mid-90s, that new musical movement was called “neo-soul,” a sound best described as 1970s R&B combined with elements of the hip-hop and contemporary R&B. The last album by Tony! Toni! Toné!, House Of Music, is often cited as one of the first “neo-soul” albums, as well as the 1995 debut of D’Angelo, Brown Sugar.
For me, I looked at Tony! Toni! Toné!’s album as a continuation of work they began on their previous album, Sons Of Soul. When D’Angelo arrived on the scene, that’s what I felt was something new and different.Perhaps it really wasn’t that far removed from what was going on with House Of Music, but to my ears it was fresh, compared to what was on the radio in those days. I’ve chosen the title track and first single “Brown Sugar,” as today’s Morning Groove.
Written by D’Angelo and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest, “Brown Sugar” was instantly popular, landing in the top 5 of the R&B chart. Over twenty years later, the album is still seen as a pillar of the neo-soul genre. In the following years, artists like Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys & Angie Stone would all be classified as neo-soul artists. Many of those same artists disliked the term, calling it a marketing tool. Whether you called it neo-soul or just a new kind of R&B didn’t matter. The music was good, and that’s what mattered.
After D’Angelo released Voodoo in 1999, with its signature hit “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” (produced by none other than Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné!), he became something of a sex symbol. Once the video was released (and if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about) he took on another kind of fame. Very little was heard from him in the following years. Rumors came and went about new music being released, but very little was heard. Then there were the struggles with drug use, and with the fame he found after that video. Finally D’Angelo rewarded everyone late in 2014 with Black Messiah. It was considered a return to form of sorts, but with lyrics that were mostly unintelligible, who could tell?
I hope you enjoy “Brown Sugar,” and as always, thanks for reading and listening.