D and two cousins started a group and began tearing up local talent shows as Three of a Kind. Talent show after show they played covers off the radio and won or placed high. Luther and Rodney were local high school football heroes, on TV and in the newspaper every week, and Mike played a little, too, but no one in the family would come to his games: "'Cause they knew it was about music for me."
Luther did support his little brother's love of Prince. Their father is a preacher, as are an uncle and a grandfather, so they couldn't just bop into the house with Lovesexy in hand, but the boys found ways to sneak the music in. "My love for Prince was definitely influenced by my older brother," D says. "We always had every new album the first day, and we would dissect that shit and study it, and after we listened to it, we'd have a discussion about it. We always did that."
"We used to get in my car," Luther says, "and we'd ride around the city with nothing to do and listen to Prince tapes. It was a red Ford Probe with a nice system in it. We'd hang out and listen to the music real loud."
Mike was sixteen when he got a slot on Amateur Night at the Apollo. He sang "Feel the Fire" by Peabo Bryson, but the audience could see his fear before the song started: "They booed before I even came onstage." He placed fourth.
The next year he went back to the Apollo. "I did 'Rub You the Right Way' by Johnny Gill, and I came out dancin', doin' splits and shit. I had mad energy. I wasn't intimidated.
"When they said I won, I went off," he continues. "I'd been doin' talent shows forever, and that was, like, the talent show. I went off, my family went off, my brother was runnin' down the aisle, my cousins were jumpin' up and down. We got back on the bus and went right back to Richmond. Everybody went to sleep; I stayed up the whole time. I was smoking cigarettes. That's when I started. I was sneakin' cigarettes, and I had the window cracked, and I was lookin' out the window just thinkin' about everything. I got a check for $500, bought a four-track and started writing. I wanted to make an album." He went into his little music room, and wrote and recorded most of the songs that would, make up Brown Sugar. Two years later he had a record deal.
At five past midnight in L.A., the crowd begins screaming in unison: "Take! It! Off! Take! It! Off!" D resists, but around quarter past, the tight black tank top comes off and he's onstage in nothing but his very low-slung black leather pants and his boots. No drawers, no boxers, no briefs, no belt. He's singing "Untitled" on the lip of delicious obscenity, giving you more than a sliver of his ass crack, his bare hips, his waist, his pubic bush, and the deep grooves separating his torso from his thighs, grooves that have come to be known as the D'Angelo Knuckles. A solid wall of soprano screams rises up. It's the most electric moment of the show, but D is not happy.
"It feels good, actually, when I do it," D says later. "But I don't want it to turn into a thing where that's what it's all about. I don't want it to turn things away from the music and what we doin' up there." He says that once or twice women had thrown dollar bills and embarrassed him. He says that he was a chubby kid in middle school who lost thirty-five pounds in ninth grade, a kid who got chubby again during the Brown Sugar tour. He's worked hard over the past four years to transform his body and has made a video that incited audiences to demand nudity, but the artist in him takes little joy in showing off his body, and he struggles with the meanings of being a musician and an entertainer.
"He does it 'cause women want it," ?uestlove says, "but he really doesn't wanna do it. We do all this preparation to give a balanced show, and he goes out and gets treated like women get treated every day – like a piece of meat." D concurs. "Sometimes, you know, I feel uncomfortable. To be onstage and tryin' to do your music and people goin', 'Take it off! Take it off!' 'Cause I'm not no stripper. I'm up there doin' somethin' I strongly believe in."
It's almost 12:30. The band keeps on carving out the rock-tight groove, and at center stage the struggle between artist and entertainer – for D, it is like good and evil – reaches an apex: It is almost impossible to look at him, nearly naked, and not somehow think about that. The band keeps on carving. And D keeps on dancing, a single silver button the only thing keeping him from nudity. The most nahstay tease since Prince stripped to his Dirty Mind bikini.
This story is from the May 11th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.
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