First Listen: D’Angelo – Unshaken (Game Version)
D’Angelo‘s ‘Unshaken’ is a total surprise in all senses of the term. A best kept secret as a matter of fact. Not only by Rockstar Games. That is to say the producers of the famous Red Dead Redemption video game, the part 2 of which has been released on Oct. 26, 2018. The latter takin’ good care of omitting to let us know about its presence as a part of its soundtrack. But also by D’Angelo himself who hadn’t dropped any new music since his ‘Black Messiah’ album by the end of 2014. And I’m not even talkin’ about the concept of ‘Unshaken’, quite distant from what we’d known as the man’s universe so far…
One of the definitive highlights of the hotly anticipated PS4 and XBox One game, ‘Unshaken’ in a standout atmospheric song. With production work courtesy of Grammy Award-winner Daniel Lanois, himself remembered for his collabs with Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan, ‘Unshaken’ is more of a Bluesy ode to the final days of America’s outlaw era. Somehow bringin’ back to the souvenir of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’. In other words, the Bob Dylan‘s absolute masterpiece from the soundtrack of the 1973 film, ‘Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid’.
Quite a change for D’Angelo as a matter of fact. Although pretty much worth the listen at the end.
A native of Richmond, VA, Michael Eugene Archer was raised in a Pentecostal family. His older brother, Luther, eventually discovered his appetency for music when he was 3. This most likely being of a help considering the man plays so many differents instruments. From keys to guitars (rhythmic and bass). But also drums, percussion and saxophone in addition to singing. Thus pretty much helping him to perpetuate the concept of the R&B author. On the heels of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and Prince who stand among his absolute references.
He had a brief affiliation with Hip-Hop group I.D.U. (Intelligent, Deadly but Unique) before signing a publishing deal with EMI back in 1991. Then, two years after, he signed a record deal as an artist. With manager Kedar Massenburg helpin’ him to negotiate its terms.
D’Angelo‘s first significant success came the year after with the hit single ‘U Will Know’. A firing gem which he co-wrote and produced for B.M.U. (Black Men United). A R&B supergroup featuring luminaries such as Raphael Saadiq, R. Kelly, Usher and Brian McKnight among others. A cut which initially appeared as a part of the ‘Jason’s Lyric’ OST. In addition to this, he also wrote and produced ‘Overjoyed’ for the Boys Choir Of Harlem that same year.
‘Brown Sugar’, his debut-album, hit the streets in June 1995, selling an average 35,000 to 40,000 copies a week during the 6 months that followed its release. With thanks to its memorable singles such as its title cut, ‘Cruisin” and ‘Lady’.
Strangely enough, it took five years to see D’Angelo returning with a new album. First because he’d spent two years to promote ‘Brown Sugar’ while touring. But also because he came to experience what all those who’re creating are fearing. In other words, the writer’s block! Speakin’ of this period of creative paralysis, D’Angelo had the following words in Entertainment Weekly… “The thing about writer’s block is that you want to write so fµ**ing bad. But the songs don’t come out that way. They come from life. So you’ve got to live to write…”
Missing inspiration for himself, he eventually worked on a bunch of cover versions. And he also came to contribute to other artists’ projects as a musician. From Faith Evans‘ ‘You Used To Love Me’. To The Roots‘ ‘The Hypnotic’ from their ‘Illadelph Halflife’ album. Joinin’ J Dilla under The Ummah umbrella on his remix of Janet Jackson‘s ‘Got ‘Til It’s Gone’ featuring Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell. Then doin’ the same on ‘Nothing Even Matters’ from Lauryn Hill‘s ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ album. Eventually co-writing the mesmerizing ‘Everyday’ for Angie Stone, from her ‘Black Diamond’ album. And heavily contributing to the production of Common‘s 2000 ‘Like Water For Chocolate’. Then appearing among others on keyboards on ‘Time Travelin’ (A Tribute To Fela)’ featuring Femi Kuti and Vinia Mojica along with Roy Hargrove on trumpet.
A member of the Soulquarians, an informed Neo-Soul and Hip-Hop collective, brought him to collaborate with many of its protagonists. From Common to Q-Tip, Pino Palladino and Q-Tip. Not to mention the late J Dilla. Remember his version of ‘So Far To Go’ along with Common on Dilla‘s posthumously released ‘The Shining’ album on UK label BBE.
The much delayed ‘Voodoo’ finally saw the light to critical acclaim by the end of January 2000. An album which spanned 5 singles. Beginning with ‘Devil’s Pie’ which he co-produced along with DJ Premier. Then ‘Left & Right’ featuring Method Man and Redman. But also ‘Send It On’, co-written by Angie Stone and his brother, Luther. Not to mention his cover version of Roberta Flack‘s classic ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’.
And the list would be incomplete without a mention of ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’, the third single from the album. A song which he co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq as a tribute to Prince. Something you could definitely tell when listening to it. Meanwhile its kinda provocative video would have a considerable impact on D’Angelo recording career. Most likely engendering an image of him as a sex icon which he deeply disliked. Leading him to take his distance from the music scene for ages. And eventually goin’ thru a long period of struggles of all sorts.
We had to wait until 2011 and a European tour to see D’Angelo premiering a bunch of new songs. However, his third studio album – ‘Black Messiah’ (officially credited to D’Angelo & The Vanguard) – didn’t see the light before the end of 2014. Thus bringin’ an end to a 14-year hiatus.
Its first offshot – Really Love’ – appeared at the same time. Co-written with Vanguard member, Kendra Foster, it saw a contribution from Gina Figueroa who wrote and performed its Spanish spoken word segment. The whole over a sample of Curtis Mayfield‘s ‘We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue’. Meanwhile, ‘The Charade’ happened to be issued as a limited-edition seven-inch single for Record Store Day on May 01, 2015.
Another four years have gone since the release of the latter, and D’Angelo has resuraced with a new song – ‘Unshaken’ – as a part of the soundtrack of the ‘Red Dead Redemption II’ video game. With rumors circulating about the current recording of extra material that might explain the cancellation of an initially planned European tour.