Revered singer/multi-instrumentalist D’Angelo shows off his sultry, funky brand of Neo-Soul on the digital release, “Verzuz: D’Angelo x Friends.”
It was created in March 2020 by producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and is airing on Verzuz TV, an American webcast series that features two musicians “battling” in a three-hour session, highlighting 10 tracks from their discographies.
Breaking from this format, the R&B artist’s performance featured his return to Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre on Feb. 27, taking the stage as a solo performer with DJ Scratch, Redman and other guests. His set ebbed with extra reverence, considering that he won three consecutive amateur talent competitions there to kick-start his career in 1991.
Available on Apple Music and the Internet, DJ Scratch began the explicit 30-track set with a thunderous drumline-like scratch session on “ID1 (from Verzuz: D’Angelo x Friends live).” Succeeding that Hip-Hop inspired, hype intro, “Commentary” records D’Angelo getting in the zone, name-checking New York native Kamaal Ibn John Fareed better known as Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest) and welcoming his first collaborator of the evening, Keyon Harold (trumpeter) to the stage.
“ID2,” an original song debuting for this occasion, properly introduces this collection of sonic ear fare with the experimental artist’s airy vocals honoring love and deploying a delivery that morphs into a Prince-like funky twang. Meanwhile, Harold’s trumpeting prowess is front and center, complementing the song’s varied directions.
On an enticing cut, the 47-year-old honors R&B legend Smokey Robinson’s #2 hit, “Cruisin’” (1979). The cover, originally included on his debut, “Brown Sugar” (1995), brims with the characteristics that shot him to the top with: Gospel-evoking vocals, a lush string section and Hip-Hop drum beats.
All eras from his reclusive career are fair game. Songs from his second album, “Voodoo” (2000), like, “One Mo’Gin” and “The Root,” are as funky as their inspiration: The 1970s Detroit area’s R&B scene. The latter features dissonant-sounding guitar licks reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix (another influence).
“Left and Right (feat. Method Man & Redman)” brought the famous duo of the same name and the singer together again, on an unsurprisingly memorable take.
Not leaving out his adventurous side, D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s inclusion of “1,000 Deaths,” “Back to the Future (Part II),” “Sugah Daddy,” “Really Love and “Another Life,” from “Black Messiah” (2014) are familiar: Funky, tender and eclectic with great instrumentals.
Other highlights come near the end of the gig, like when D’Angelo greeted R&B artist H.E.R. on stage, for her part in “Best Part (feat. Daniel Caesar)” — with D’Angelo singing Caesar’s section.
They continue with Lauryn Hill’s, “Nothing Even Matters,” from “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998). He was featured on this song then and he still commanded his side of this duet powerhouse more than two decades later.