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D’Angelo’s Return: 5 Surprising Revelations From GQ’s Profile

D'Angelo / Photo by Getty Images

After a decade-plus absence from the public eye that was far from drama-free, D’Angelo reappeared in January to perform his first live show in 12 years in Stockholm. Now we know that a week after returning to the stage, the R&B singer also gave a lengthy interview to GQ. This year is one of rebirth for the artist born Michael Archer, and in the 7,300-word profile, writer Amy Wallace traces exactly how much work it’s taken for him to get here. Refresh yourself on D’Angelo’s mysterious disappearance in our “What the Hell Happened?” story from 2008, then check out these key revelations from GQ’s fascinating (and long!) story:

1. Madonna was all up on D’Angelo his first time around.
“When Madonna turned 39, she asked him to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ at her party. One press report had her sitting on his lap and French-kissing him. In fact, two sources say that ultimately D rebuffed her advances at another gathering not long after. At that event, the sources say, Madonna walked over and told a woman sitting next to D, ‘I think you’re in my seat.’ The woman got up. Madonna sat down and told him, ‘I’d like to know what you’re thinking.’ To which D replied, ‘I’m thinking you’re rude.’ ”

2. The infamous naked video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” is not what you think it’s about, you pervert.
“Paul Hunter, the director hired to make the video, says his work was misunderstood: ‘Most people think the ‘Untitled’ video was about sex, but my direction was completely opposite of that. It was about his grandmother’s cooking… When I used to sing in the choir, after the rehearsal, you go in to eat. I remembered seeing the preacher looking at a lady’s skirt one week and then, the next Sunday, talking about how fornication is wrong.’ Such mixed messages about the pleasures of the flesh were intertwined with the pleasures of the palate — part of the same sensual stew. ‘So I was like, “Think of your grandmother’s greens, how it smelled in the kitchen. What did the yams and fried chicken taste like? That’s what I want you to express.”‘ ” The (delicious?) video in question:

3. Speaking of “Untitled,” don’t yell at D’Angelo to “take it off” at his upcoming shows; he might just never come back.
“D’Angelo felt tortured, Questlove says, by the pressure to give the audience what it wanted. Worried that he didn’t look as cut as he did in the video, he’d delay shows to do stomach crunches. He’d often give in, peeling off his shirt, but he resented being reduced to that. Wasn’t he an artist? Couldn’t the audience hear the power of his music and value him for that? He would explode, Questlove recalls, and throw things. Sometimes he’d have to be coaxed not to cancel shows altogether.”

4. A non-D’Angelo-related revelation: ?uestlove was this close to being one of the last people his “Skype buddy” Amy Winehouse ever spoke to before she died.
Summer 2011: “Questlove and D were back in touch [after a falling out in 2007, when Quest leaked a track from the unfinished album on Australian radio], but the drummer admits he kept D’Angelo at arm’s length. For a while it seemed they’d only talk after someone died. Michael Jackson’s passing had them on the phone in 2009. Then, in 2011, just hours after Questlove missed a call from Amy Winehouse on Skype, she, too, exited the stage. ‘D’s the first person I called,’ Questlove recalls. ‘And I was just honest, like, “Look, man, I’m sorry. I know you’re thinking I’m avoiding you like the plague.” I just said plain and simple, “Man, there was a period in which it seemed like you were hell-bent on following the footsteps of our idols, and the one thing you have yet to follow them in was death.” He told D that if he’d gotten that news, it would have destroyed him. ‘That was probably the most emotional man-to-man talk that D and I had ever had.’ ”

5. If you caught a glimpse, but convinced yourself you’d seen a spectre, your eyes weren’t deceiving you: D’Angelo was, in fact, at one of Björk’s Roseland Ballroom shows with ?uestlove.
“Late in February, after he and D go to see Björk together, Questlove addresses a tweet to the Icelandic artist, saying, ‘amazing job last night. even d’angelo was mind blown & he leaves the house for NOBODY.'”

On a more serious note, the story’s exploration of race and genius might be reason enough to get through the 7,300-word (did we mention it was long?) piece on your own. “Black stardom is rough, dude,” Chris Rock, who hung out in-studio with D while he was mixing Voodoo, told Wallace. “I always say Tom Hanks is an amazing actor and Denzel Washington is a god to his people. If you’re a black ballerina, you represent the race, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your art. How dare you just be excellent?” Later, Rock adds, “D’Angelo. Chris Tucker. Dave Chappelle. Lauryn Hill. They all hang out on the same island. The island of What Do We Do with All This Talent? It frustrates me.” Even D himself weighed in: “Just because you’re black, he adds, doesn’t mean you have to look or sound a certain way, ‘or, you know, act ignorant or what have you, whatever the fucking gatekeepers have us doing because they think that that’s the formula to make money. And a lot of motherfuckers, they just fall right into line.’ D has a term for artists like this: ‘minstrelsy.’ If he’s learned nothing, he’s learned this: He’s no minstrel.”