Commentary: 10 Sweetest Things About D'Angelo's Brown Sugar

Commentary: 10 Sweetest Things About D'Angelo's Brown Sugar

The neo-soul pioneer's debut album turns 20.

Published July 4, 2015

Twenty years ago this Independence Day weekend, neo-soul was born. And it's creator's name: D'Angelo.

When the Virginia-bred singer dropped his debut album, Brown Sugar, he both carried forward the tradition of soul that came before him — Marvin Gaye and Prince are just a couple of the icons he's been compared to — and unwittingly invented a new subgenre of music. To celebrate this seminal album, here are the 10 sweetest things about Brown Sugar.

| NUMBERS ON THE BOARD: MUSIC STARS FROM VIRGINIA |

It reminds us of our first crush.
Brown Sugar is the kind of soundtrack that plays behind every shy glance, every first kiss and every awkward slow dance we went through as pre-teens. The album teaches us about love, emotion, intimacy, and maybe a little bit about sex. Five years later, Voodoo would complete the coming-of-age journey, but Brown Sugar's PG-13 sweetness got us there.

Proved R&B can be free of autotune.
Amid the slick productions of R&B and New Jack Swing, D'Angelo showed us a world outside of autotune and overproduction. And with every crack of his voice, we became more hooked.

Introduced the world to a once-in-a-generation talent.
At a time when producers and artists were pairing off like newlyweds and one song could employ a team of writers, beatmakers and engineers, Brown Sugar clearly had only one visionary behind it. D’Angelo produced or co-produced every song on the album, and he wrote or co-wrote every song except for one: the cover of Smokey Robinson's “Cruisin'”.

D'Angelo follows in Prince's footsteps as a musician.
Oh, and he played most of the instruments and did arrangements, too. Along with Prince, D'Angelo is one of only a handful or artists who still knows how to make music with actual instruments.

Brown Sugar was a standout, even in music's biggest year.
'95 was a banner year for rock — Radiohead's The Bends and Garbage's debut album are just two of the many "important" records to come out that year — and, with Brown Sugar, D'Angelo helped R&B represent on Best of the Year lists.

It's not about what you think it's about.
D'Angelo's song "Brown Sugar" is not an ode to a dark-skinned woman — though it would make sense, considering the singer's girlfriend at the time was Angie Stone. Rather, he sings about his love of another muse: marijuana.

The album basically invented neo-soul.
Brown Sugar was one of the most influential records of the ’90s, ushering in artlists like Maxwell, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott and adding a shake of emo to R&B. The new sub-genre that would ultimately come to define the Black generation X may have never come to be were it not the success of this record.

He shows us how covers are done.
D'Angelo's rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'" didn't just pay homage to the original, it revitalized it with new rhythm. The track is an underrated summer jam, and one that we're putting on repeat this long weekend.

It's still a classic.
Twenty years after Brown Sugar first bowed, there is virtually nothing that dates it back to 1995. The album feels as fresh and relevant today as it did two decades ago, maybe more so considering the over-produced direction pop and R&B has taken in recent years. D'Angelo made his mark with this album, took his time with the follow ups and holds himself to a higher standard than nearly any other artist working today. In honor of Brown Sugar's anniversary, we're putting it in the canon of our generation's best music.

Watch Tori Kelly, Robin Thicke and Ne-Yo salute Smokey Robinson at the 2015 BET Awards in the exclusive video below.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo: EMI)

Written by Evelyn Diaz

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