D’Angelo’s Age of “Soulquarius” – Part One

Faith Pennick, author of D’Angelo’s Voodoo, on the role that astrology plays in making music

Some people dismiss astrology—the analysis of personality and human behavior based on the “sun sign” under which a person is born. But in the late 1990s, a group of striving, nonconforming musicians came together to share ideas and push each other to higher heights. Christened the Soulquarians, this unofficial collective bore enduring music as its fruit, including D’Angelo’s Voodoo, of which I wrote about for the “33 1/3” series. The Soulquarians were formed by D’Angelo, drummer/co-songwriter Ahmir Thompson— better known as Questlove—and other consummate Black male artists delivered under the same astrological sign: Aquarius (January 20-February 19).

Other Soulquarian charter members and Voodoo contributors include keyboardist and songwriter James Poyser, and the late J Dilla of Slum Village, the trailblazing hip-hop producer and arranger. Non-Aquarian recording artists such as Pisceans Erykah Badu and Common were also welcomed into the club.  As an amateur astrology nerd (Libra, if you’re wondering what my sign is), I was curious how being a water bearer may have impacted D’Angelo’s artistry, and how his friendship with other Aquarians, Questlove in particular, helped to shape how unusual and passionate Voodoo is.

To flesh this out, Newark, N.J.-based astrologer and self-described “Aquarian sympathizer” Samuel Reynolds contributed his starry-eyed thoughts about D’Angelo, Questlove, and the creative drive of the zodiac’s eleventh sign.

[NOTE: this post does not claim that Aquarians are more creative than other sun signs, or that only Aquarians are creative. The rest of the zodiac is cool and may have some or all of the qualities mentioned in this piece. Also, only the sun sign of Aquarius is discussed; not Aquarius moon, rising, or in other houses. Now that we got that out of the way….]

“[Aquarians] have demonstrated that they are innovators,” Reynolds said. He describes them as “people who look to take or incorporate what’s on the margins, what’s on the perimeter, and bring it more toward the center.” He cited a Nobel Prize-winning author to make his point.

“One brilliant example of that is Toni Morrison, who took the people on the margins of canonical Western literature and made them a central focus.”

Listening to Voodoo, you hear back-in-the-day muses like R&B, funk, and traditional gospel music, as well as Caribbean and African inspirations. D’Angelo and his “co-pilot” Questlove wanted to get down and dirty. They bought vintage records to play and watched old performances from Soul Train secured by Questlove. Often, they and other session players would jam for hours before writing a note.

Reynolds said being heavily influenced by earlier artists and trends is definitely part of the Aquarius aesthete.

“They may not have been born say, like in the era of funk, but they’re not afraid to kind of go way back,” he said, “to go get out their old parents’ or grandparents’ albums and listen to them and try to go for the old sounds instead of keeping up with the hip. An Aquarian is going to be honest, and look at the tributaries and influences.”

Faith Pennick’s “D’Angelo’s Age of ‘Soulquarius’ : part two” will be posted tomorrow, February 28th. D’Angelo’s Voodoo comes out on March 5th, 2020. Pre-order your copy here!

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