20-Year Gem: D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)”

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I chanced upon a video of R&B singer Brandy singing along spontaneously to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” while I was browsing my Twitter feed.ย I have caught myself being in the same situation a thousand times. Now it occurred to me that it is this year that the sexy track would celebrate its 20th anniversary, as well as D’Angelo’s seminal album, Voodoo.

D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel),” while being particularly mainstream (at least in the West), exemplified high art. With the Jedi Questlove behind the drums, D’Angelo would often say that Questlove working on Voodoo with him was sublime; it was like the acclaimed drummer was one with the force (as in Star Wars) while working. That shows why Voodoo would be one of the most celebrated albums in the 21st century.

The question to ask is, why did the Philippines miss out on this track and D’Angelo as a whole? I was a super-active 11-year-old MTV viewer in the same year that Voodoo album won R&B Album of the Year at the Grammy’s, and the controversial music video was nominated at the MTV music awards, plus a highly-anticipated performance from the then-heartthrob. However, Iย  discovered D’Angelo not until after my college years when I started to delve more into neo-soul.

Everyone's still Caught Up with D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does it Feel)" after 20 Years
D’Angelo while promoting Voodoo

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The talented multi-instrumentalist has been openly indebted to Prince, Curtis Mayfield, and Smokey Robinson for his musical sensitivities. That explains why neo-soul artists like Erykah Badu, Bilal, and The Roots have few followers in the Philippines. Experimental R&B has been quite a mystique in the country, and those I’ve mentioned above have little to zero name recall or awareness. For a country that prefers clear and amplified vocals compared to smooth pyrotechnics and dream-like, ethereal singing, it’s irrefutable why neo-soul wouldn’t sell out here. That is also why we never had shoegaze, lo-fi, and bedroom rock artists perform in the country.

Even way before the Untitled (How Does it Feel) phenomenon in the West, D’Angelo’s first album, Brown Sugar, has received critical praise. Who would’ve thought that someone as talented as him would need to be marketed as a sexual symbol? After the release of his provocative hit, girls from America, Canada, Europe, and some parts of Asia would swarm to his shows, asking to take his clothes off. That scene is unusual for every jazz music festival as it inevitably turned into a sexy boy band concert.

According to some news outlets, that is the reason why D’Angelo has succumbed to depression and alcoholism right after all his successful tours. Many people would watch him and his sexy body instead of going for his songs and musical performances. I might be one of these women, as I have been guiltlessly using the Adonis that is D’Angelo for my every carnal whim. The difference, however, is that I loved his songs, and I had already sung to some tunes off his first album way before I saw clips of the artist himself.

D’Angelo is known to refuse any sellout motives that come his way years after the Untitled craze. In 2015, he released Black Messiah, his third album, after 15 years. Black Messiah was an underground and political effort that, as expected, garnered praise from the industry and won him another Best R&B Album Grammy. During this time, D’Angelo had almost dismissed some songs on his past albums (especially the more popular ones). In one of his concerts legally uploaded on YouTube, he was irritated that the audience would continually ask him to play Brown Sugar, one of his most popular hits in the ’90s.

Despite all that, people can’t get over D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” innuendo. And honestly, even after gaining weight, D’Angelo is still the same seductive and highly attractive being. It wasn’t really about almost being naked on his music video; it’s about his top-notch talent paired with his deep-seated eyes and a mysterious demeanor that drives us to him.

So, Philippines, I introduce to you D’Angelo and one of his most severed hits, Untitled (How Does it Feel), which has also been used for the Asian-American hit Netflix film Always Be My Maybe and was made into a more radio-friendly rendition by Matt Bomer for the movie Magic Mike. If it suits your taste, support all of his songs as well.

Art by Jim Morada

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