Hell yes, y’all. Happy Monday morning and welcome to the D’aily. Let’s get after it. My D’aily song randomizer blessed me with a good one for the first day. This track has a lot of meat on the bone so I’m not wasting any time.
Let’s start with the facts: “Sugah Daddy” is the fourth track on D’s third and most recent album, 2014’s Black Messiah. Lyrics written by D’Angelo, Q-Tip, and Kendra Foster. Music by D’Angelo, bassist Pino Palladino, and James Gadson. To properly put my experience with “Sugah Daddy” in perspective, allow me to take you back two decades.
When D’Angelo released his second album Voodoo in 2000 I knew immediately that it was the best album I’d ever heard. It was and still is my favorite album of all-time. It has never left my rotation. When I’m looking for an album to listen to and it takes me more than ten seconds to decide I choose Voodoo by default. I have three different pressings of Voodoo on vinyl and if I find more I will buy them as well. I have that much love and admiration for the greatest musical masterpiece of my lifetime.
With five years between his first two albums D’Angelo established early on that he wasn’t going to be the kind of guy that let out an album every year or two. I was mentally prepared for Voodoo to be the last I’d hear from D until at least 2004. But 2004 and 2005 passed and there was no new album. The wait was officially longer than expected. In 2007 Roots drummer and frequent D’Angelo collaborator Questlove leaked an unfinished D track online (an early version of “Really Love”) that rekindled hope. It was the lone beacon in an otherwise dark time for fans. There were rumors of drug addiction. A car accident that nearly took his life. A mug shot. THE mug shot. Hopes of D’Angelo returning to the stage anytime soon were dashed.
Rumors of a new album titled James River persisted, but they never progressed past rumor. Then, in early-2012 a tour through Europe called “The D-Tour.” Finally, on July 1, 2012 D’Angelo performed at the BET Awards. I had seen a lot of grainy footage of The D-Tour online, but had no idea what he was about to do with his first TV performance in over a decade. Here’s what happened:
D strolled up to a microphone on a dark stage and began a performance of his 2000 classic “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” “Untitled” is one of the best songs of my lifetime, but I can’t express the disappointment I felt. He sounded like he never left, but we all knew this song. After all this time he wasn’t giving us something new? Despite everything that had happened he looked great. He wasn’t the chiseled, lean machine he was 12 years earlier, but who is? He looked healthy, and I found relief in that. I couldn’t shake the disappointment that he chose this time to perform an oldie but goodie. Then, at the start of the second verse he sang the lyrics, “I wanna stop,” and he did just that. He stopped. The music stopped. He walked back to a piano and delivered exactly what I was looking for.
Pino Palladino laid down a funky bass groove and his band, The Vanguard, was officially off and running. They introduced us to a song called “Sugah Daddy” that I had only seen up until then via crappy cell phone footage on the internet. It didn’t take more than a minute or two to see that The Vanguard would easily take the baton from the Soultronics (his band from the 2000 Voodoo Tour) and continue running with it. D’Angelo delivered a complicated solo with so little effort he looked like he was laughing. Mid-song I was introduced to guitar phenom Isaiah Sharkey with an insanely funky solo. D’s previous guitarist, Chalmers “Spanky” Alford had passed away and Sharkey was more than able to fill his large shoes. Pino did what he always does. The further the song progressed, the funkier it got. Beyonce was on her feet throughout. Kanye West and Jamie Foxx looked on with laser like focus while absorbing the performance. The audience reactions were nearly as enjoyable as the song. With one six-and-a-half minute performance D’Angelo had triumphantly announced his return. I was ready for James River any day. Then…more silence.
Another 18 months of rumors and leaks. On Friday, December 12, 2014 this happened:
I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember this: I signed up for something at some point that got me a link to access a new D’Angelo song early. I think Red Bull was involved, which is ironic because I find that beverage and their F1 racing team repulsive. Starting at 2:00 AM on Sunday, December 14, I was able to hear a new track. After nearly 15 years of waiting I was in “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode. I sat awake until 2:00 AM, and when the clock struck 2 I hammered on that refresh button. Then I got it. New D’Angelo. “Sugah Daddy” was here.
I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that as I sat in front of my iMac with my Bose headphones and took in the studio version of a song that I had listened to live at least 200 times I wept. Tears streamed down my face. D’Angelo isn’t just music. There’s a reason it’s called “soul” music. He feeds my soul. His music hits me like no other musician or songwriter.
I never gave up hope for 14 years that we would hear more from D’Angelo. I did occasionally fear that whatever we got would be released posthumously, and that would’ve been a devastating shame. I also feared that after so many years he would’ve lost his fastball. That couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only was D’Angelo back, the quality of his music remained at its peak from a decade-and-a-half earlier. I will never forget crying tears of joy listening to “Sugah Daddy” in the middle of that December night in 2014.
If I was able to decipher the lyrics during that first listen my reaction may have been different. Still happy, of course, but combined with occasional cringing and discomfort. If we rank cringeworthy lyrics on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “Happy Birthday” and 10 being “Sister” by Prince, I would give “Sugah Daddy” a solid 8 for sure. The first few minutes are littered with uncomfortable lines like, “this is the way I pat my baby on the butt,” and “I fill my baby’s crib with all the lovin’ daddy wants to give.” Ick. The pièce de résistance comes in the final line of the song when D sings, “I hit it so I made the pussy fart. She said, ‘it’s talkin’ to ya talkin’ to ya, daddy.'” Oof. The final 75 seconds are filled with Pino Palladino’s funky ass bass line, James Gadson’s lap drumming, and lots of queefing. Too early on a Monday morning for a queef reference? I get what D was going for on this track and I’m OK with it. He was going for some cheeky shit. I could do without it, personally, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who digs the queefing song about patting his baby’s butt in the crib or whatever. To each his own.
The questionable inclusion of excessive “pussy farts” and borderline pedophilia somehow don’t overshadow everything good happening on this track. It’s like funk infused prohibition-era jazz. D’Angelo’s vocals are on some Betty Boop shit, as layered and trippy as ever. His work on the keys stands out as well as Pino Palladino’s bass. However, it’s the performance on the late, great Roy Hargrove on trumpet that steals the show on this track. I’m not accustomed to hearing so many effects on a trumpet player. The unpredictable way the trumpet hits throughout “Sugah Daddy” pushes this track from simply cool to great. There really isn’t anything in recent popular music that sounds remotely like “Sugah Daddy.”
My final observation on this track is that you get a completely different experience listening to it live. The studio track’s vocals are so layered that it’s difficult to make out the lyrics. Many of the instruments and vocals sound they’re run through a wah wah pedal that’s being stepped on at random. Despite all of that the entire performance feels restrained. Like it could explode at any moment, but it never really does. It simmers. The live performance is the opposite. Without all of the studio trickery to lean on, “Sugah Daddy” live becomes a 14-minute funk jam session. D starts behind the keys then goes true James Brown-esque frontman, screaming, dancing, and directing while The Vanguard flexes. It’s one of those patented D’Angelo live jams that lasts well over ten minutes, but could go for an hour and nobody would mind because it’s just so damned funky.
Bottom line: “Sugah Daddy” slaps whether live or on Memorex. It’s a funky start to your week…just try to ignore the sound effects in the final minute. I’ve got nothing else today. Just glad to get this project started. One down, 48 to go. Back tomorrow with more D’Angelo greatness. Have a lovely Monday.