By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
There’s a real joy and playfulness in Amplified’s grooves, the giddiness of exploring possibilities. As disappointing as it is to hear Q-Tip rhyme about Prada, banging bush and battling weak MCs, there’s no denying the seductiveness of the tracks, the shine in his voice (one of the sexiest in hip-hop). But the balance of elements is off. Though he’s clearly having a good time in the videos and on the CD, he’s been awful in live performances (The Chris Rock Show, the Grammys), detached from his own material and deeply ill at ease — he seems as suspicious of his new image as fans are. That makes the trappings — the fur coats, the video ho’s — seem even more garish, even more fraudulent. He doesn’t own them.
It’s ironic: On the CD, Q-Tip’s in complete command of this ghetto-fab party mode; he makes it seem completely natural. But he gives himself away when it comes time to hawk the stuff. Watching him in public appearances or reading recent interviews is to glimpse a man who’s clearly going through some shit that’s deeper and darker than the rhymes he spits on his latest record. (And tabloid reports of trouble on the set of his upcoming movie, along with his recent run-ins with the law, seem to bear that out.)
Like D’Angelo, Q-Tip was trying to fuck with his image, to dismantle the armor of iconic status by coming out with music and a video that turned his artistic history on its head. He wanted to carve out wiggle room between the quotation marks, but got slammed instead.
D’Angelo’s Voodoo, similarly, was meant to deflate, meet and exceed expectations all at once, but D’Angelo dived deeper into his shit to achieve that goal. D’Angelo’s video discomfort reads as the tremble of someone who is literally and figuratively nude, who has stripped away the accouterments that Q-Tip has pulled on. His unease, finally, comes across as an honesty that underscores his musical message rather than negates it. Tellingly, his concerts in support of Voodoo have been nothing short of spectacular. His command of both his material and the stage bespeak a man who got the balance right, who can shirk the contrived image but stand confidently behind the content of his music.
Where Voodooinitially seems rather slight, repeated listens reveal its heft, and black pride is at its core. Formless jams slowly take shape; distinct but subtle melodies rise from the morass of mumbled words and funk-based grooves. “Devil’s Pie” explicitly decries the materialism and shallowness that Q-Tip is trying so hard to wallow in, while tracks like “One Mo’ Gin,” “The Root” and a cover of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” are the sensuous workouts we used to routinely get from Prince. The craftsmanship of the album, from the production to the songwriting to the singing, marks D’Angelo as one of the very few chart-topping R&B acts clearly serious about the music.
You can hear in D’Angelo’s voice that he’s connected to something higher, something grander. He took an ice pick to his former persona in order to get closer to that thing, to bring fans along with him. The beefcake poses and softcore video were his tools; ultimately, they didn’t require him to fake himself out.
D’Angelo appears at Universal Amphitheater, Friday–Saturday, April 7-8.