D’Angelo boldly asks, “What feeds your soul?” a simple question perhaps to some and to others, too complicated to contemplate an answer. For a soul—you understand—is the part that no human being can snatch from another.
In the new documentary “Devil’s Pie: D’Angelo,” the film about the R&B performer that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival— D’Angelo answers the question for himself making it clear that what feeds his soul is God.
In his 14-year-long hiatus from the recording industry at the height of his career now, looking back, the question burned bright inside his core.
Directed by Carine Bijlsma “Devils Pie-D’Angelo” is an intimate portrait of an artist that many consider mysterious. His rise to this stature began with his debut album Brown Sugar (1995) and the successful follow-up, Voodoo (2000) and then he took a moment to reflect not releasing another music project until 2014.
In Bijlsma’s work, D’Angelo doesn’t appear on the screen until almost 20 minutes into the documentary with the director choosing to have those closest to him speaking about him and for him.
According to press materials, this device was an intentional choice by the director. Questlove says, in the doc, that D’Angelo was the “most pure singer on earth” high praise indeed since Questlove had a significant collaborative hand in Voodoo, along with Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Raphael Saadiq, and others as part of a collective known as the Soulquarians.
Hats off to Bijlsma for allowing the audience to listen to some of the most prolific musicians working today talk about music, the very thing what unites them. There are also impacting clips from key historical figures like comedian Dave Chappelle and Black Panther Party co-founder, Bobby Seale.
This director knows how to get to the truth hiding, tangled at the root of it all, closer to showing us who D’Angelo is. Who is he? Some in his camp calls him “The Chosen One” and since the man himself asked about the state of our soul it’s only right that the documentary strips down to his soul.
Some say that life is about embracing the journey and with being allowed a sliver of a peek of D’Angelo’s journey you can (if you look carefully) see his destiny if not a large chunk of his soul.
In the beginning …
Bijlsma goes back to Richmond, Va., where D’Angelo played the piano and sang during worship at his local Pentecostal church. Here the question about the state of the soul is properly illuminated and accented by priceless footage of his grandmother (now deceased) praising God, full shout, in a way that every single Black person who’s ever stepped inside a Church would intimately understand.
It was in church that D’Angelo shared how he learned to connect with the music. To really feel life. Expressing himself through his music became his way of connecting to the people who [almost] worshipped him for it.
Plus—let’s face it—D’Angelo ‘s easy on the eyes. A handsome man, now, forever young with is neat cornrows and his chiseled physique.
D’Angelo had to come to terms with mega super-fame which transformed him into an international sex symbol. But fame was expensive and it took its toll on him.
He went down the road of self-medicating like so many before him taking drugs, getting arrested, crashing cars; losing himself in the entanglement of fame. The artist, D’Angelo was gone and then, fourteen years later, in 2014 he delivered the critically acclaimed “Black Messiah.”
Director Bijlsma follows D’Angelo and his band, The Vanguard, featuring keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” Sample, guitarists Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey, drummer Chris “Daddy” Dave, bassist Pino Palladino, and vocalist Kendra Foster—on tour riding the Black Messiah tour bus while shooting the documentary.
This access provided her work with great intimacy providing details that a fan—which she was before making the film—would relish like D’Angelo’s hair-braiding ritual and showing how he connects with his fans in the front row.
It’s clear that “Devil’s Pie: D’Angelo” was made with love. It ends with a shot of D’Angelo, his voice screaming in a cadence that reminds the listener of stepping into a church. Then a caption appears teasing that there is much more of D’Angelo forthcoming: a new album is on the horizon, though the release date is as yet unknown—but we all know it will be worth the wait.