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Steppin' Into The Screen | Devil's Pie: D'Angelo

D’Angelo’s mantra is “To thy own self be true” and in this documentary, we witness the process behind constant internal workings of a man battling for his artistic integrity, staying true to his art being his first and foremost priority. We'll be screening 'Devil's Pie' on September 14th at Melkweg, Amsterdam. Tickets are up for grabs here !

This long awaited, highly anticipated documentary follows the man with a trajectory just like that. Why is this man so beloved and yet so unattainable to the public? Is it due to his humbling nature? Can he handle celebrity status? Had he reached his peak and known when to hit pause? I doubt it. Dutch Director, Carine Bijlsma, truly grapples with this tortured yet talented soul’s story, through concert footage, backstage reflections and interviews with loved ones. I don’t want to give too much away, you just need to come watch the film September 14th with our Steppin' fam instead. What I will do is share some beautiful quotes, give a little subjective insight and let you do the rest, because I know there are so many die-hard fans out there, I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers in the process.

D’Angelo definitely needs no introduction, he has become a pinnacle icon in the neo-soul movement and a pinnacle icon within all our sexy time playlists (we know you all have one). His voice truly is like brown sugar sprinkled on top of melted butter. Described by his band members like Pookie on keys as sounding “ an entire band on piano”, called "last pure singer on earth" by Questlove, detailed by Palladino on bass guitar “As soon as I hear his voice, I know what to play. Some singers are like that, you hear and it just makes it clear what you need to do on your instrument and that’s what I have with D” .

A multifaceted musician who could move mountains with his skillset, growing up in the church really escalated those skills to new altitudes. His father never wanted a drummer in the gospel band, so Michael Eugene Archer (D’Angelo) would try to emulate bass, guitar and drums with his hands and mouth, using his feet he would kick the bottom of the piano, beat boxed whilst also using his left hand to give that bass guitar sound. “That’s how my left hand got so nice”, he divulges in his ever-so humble way. This performer had his own stride in doing everything, Questlove continues

“I’ve never heard someone so blatantly disrespectful towards the rules of rhythm and melody and structure. He was just so beautifully, blatantly disrespectful about it, to the point where I realised: Who needs to be meticulous and quantised?!” -Questlove

When D’Angelo released Untitled, off the Voodoo album, it flooded many a basement globally, women would attend his concerts in a sexually-fused frenzy, hairstylist Roxane George Richardson tells us a solution for these sexy yet scary scenarios “They would pull so hard at him [his neck] they would choke him, so we decided we would put slits at the back of his t-shirt so when they pull him, it would come off easily and not choke him to death“. This stardom that was now rooted in physical desire became difficult for D’Angelo to handle. From the documentary, it's obvious that he is truly a creative soul struggling with the concept of celebrity versus artistic expression. It often feels like you are watching a psychological drama externalised on the screen “He really had to wrestle with the idea that he was in an industry where not only can that happen but it had happened to him” (Allen ‘Pops’ Leeds, Manager).

D’Angelo’s mantra is “To thy own self be true” and in the Devil's Pie documentary, we witness the constant internal workings of a man battling for his artistic integrity, trying to stay true to his art first and foremost. This documentary reveals this dual he is having within himself “It is a thin line between separating this guy right here who’s Michael, I’m Michael but y’know when I’m on the stage, I’m D’Angelo. To actually leave him there on the stage, it’s kind of hard”.

Many performers struggle with the double life and D'Angelo is no exception to the rule. We see him postulating between his characters, trying to make sure they don’t completely interconnect. Keeping boundaries between the two in order to keep himself grounded and you see it's so out of his hands at the same time. To be titled the "Black Messiah" by so many is a heavy burden on a perplexed man's mind.

Devil’s Pie is a fascinating documentary blending D’Angelo’s musical accolades and career accidents, giving a lot of answers to his disappearances from the limelight, yet it also reveals so many psychologically infused questions for performers. I’m rating this film as Near Mint (check the Film Condition Board below) because of the gonzo nature of Carine as a director, the hefty musical knowledge of Questlove as an interviewee (of course) and the perpetuating prestige that is D’Angelo.


James Brown
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