Questlove remembers the moment he called D'Angelo and asked him to make his first U.S. concert appearance in 12 years on June 9th, for the drummer's late-night Super Jam at Bonnaroo. "I said, 'It will be a whole night doing what we used to do at Electric Lady in the Nineties,'" Questlove tells Rolling Stone. "'Playing the Funkadelic catalog and seeing what we get, the Prince catalog, Hendrix, the Meters.' He said, 'Go ahead.' And once he said, 'Go ahead,' I was like, 'I got you now.'"
During the live jam session, D'Angelo surprised the crowd by grooving with Funkadelic singer Kendra Foster during a funky cover of the Beatles' "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and shredding guitar on Jimi Hendrix's "Power of Soul."
"He's elated," Questlove says. "He was just amazed. I wanted him to see how loved he really is, because he really doesn't get it. He seriously doesn't watch television. He's not on a computer at all. He's still listening to vinyl, cassettes and a Discman."
The Roots drummer hopes the appearance will convince D'Angelo to finally release his first LP since 2000's Voodoo. Questlove says roughly 30 tracks have been recorded over the last few years, with many sessions taking place at Electric Lady in New York, where the singer cut Voodoo. "He is about to take a radical 180 turn with this record," says Questlove. "It's going to throw people off the same way that Prince's Dirty Mind threw his R&B fanbase off. In the past few years, he's discovered Bowie and Zeppelin, the Beatles, Pet Sounds, Captain Beefheart and Zappa.
"My whole reasoning for doing [Bonnaroo]," Questlove says, "was to show him who his real audience is."
On the upcoming album, fans will also hear a new side of the singer: as a guitarist. "I saw a guitar in the studio and I was like, 'What the hell's this?'" Questlove remembers. "One night, when he didn't know I was watching, he took a dinner break from recording. Suddenly, I heard [Funkadelic's] 'Maggot Brain' playing. I realized he was in the studio room matching it note-for-note. For the last 12 years, he's been strumming the guitar … He is so painfully shy about it. I think in his head, if he doesn't surpass Eddie Hazel, Santana, James Blood Ulmer and Frank Zappa as an axeman, he doesn't want to share it with the world."
D'Angelo has also been creating his own keyboard sounds for the album. "He's very particular about his patches," Questlove adds. "I've never heard these sounds before. He'll take an ordinary sound and he'll filter it through a guitar processor. He'll take that particular sound and put some wave envelope noise on it, and he'll put it back in the keyboard and that's his sound. There's song we worked on called 'The Charade.' There's this symphonic trombone sound, which normally would be a cheesy sound Swizz Beatz uses. But he'll take that sound and then put it through a guitar filter and put it back in the keyboard and then put it through another filter. It's totally unique."
Fans should expect to hear some of the new songs during an appearance at New Orleans Essence Festival on July 6th. Questlove says the goal is to release the LP around August. "Nothing is official – it is year 12," he laughs. "I'm just hoping that this was enough fire to really make him do that. Because we spoke the day after [Bonnaroo] and he said, 'I'm so happy.' I said, 'Now you just turn in your damn record. Just finish. Just turn it in. Let your children go already."