“Devil’s Pie” is the second track from D’Angelo’s second album, 2000’s Voodoo. Produced by D’Angelo and DJ Premier. Programming by DJ Premier with all other instruments played by D’Angelo. I love “Devil’s Pie.” It’s essential D’Angelo. I love the lyrics and everything Premier touches is gritty east coast hip hop. “Devil’s Pie” doesn’t belong on Voodoo. Hear me out.
“Devil’s Pie” was also the second track on the 1998 soundtrack to the movie Belly. Belly was a gritty movie about drug dealers starring a lot of rappers (Nas, DMX, T-Boz, Method Man) and was written and directed by legendary hip hop video director Hype Williams. I can’t say I’ve seen Belly in the past 20 years, but here’s my memory of it: Good individual performances (I loved DMX and Method Man), outstanding soundtrack, flashy cinematography and sets much like every single Hype Williams video, but just not a good movie. Incoherent. Interestingly, the Rotten Tomatoes critic score for Belly is 16% and the audience score is 87%. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a greater discrepancy.
“Devil’s Pie” fits on the Belly soundtrack. It’s got a classic DJ Premier hip hop beat and a thumping bass line. Everything else on Voodoo sounds more analog. Organic. Live instrumentation. I’ll listen to Preemo beats all day, but it’s not what I’m looking for from Voodoo. My other problem with it appearing on Voodoo is that the song had already been released for over a year when Voodoo came out. It’s a 79 minute album. The maximum you could fit on a CD was 80 minutes. That 5:22 could’ve been used for other D’Angelo. His music is obviously at a premium. The more the better. I shouldn’t question an artist. D knows more about sequencing an album than I ever will, and he knows the quality of the other material that he had available at the time. He must’ve thought “Devil’s Pie” was the best fit for that spot on that album. I find myself wishing that since we already had “Devil’s Pie” anyway that valuable space could’ve been used for something else.
But enough of me second guessing one of the all-time greats. Ultimately “Devil’s Pie” is a great song and a cautionary tale of the lengths people will go for money, contradicting everything on the radio a time when every rapper and R&B singer seemed to be all about flexing at every opportunity. It fit well with the Belly story.
Where “Devil’s Pie” really shines is the live performances. I mentioned yesterday that when you see D’Angelo live you’re not just going to get a carbon copy the album versions of his music. He’s bringing more to it. “Devil’s Pie” might just be the best example of it. D’Angelo performed the song at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards for reasons I still don’t quite understand. He wasn’t nominated for any awards that I can tell, and “Devil’s Pie” came from a 1998 movie. It didn’t matter. D and The Soultronics put on what is literally my favorite musical performance on any awards show ever. Easily. The song simmers for the first two minutes. D’Angelo repeatedly waving middle fingers at the audience while singing about evil and excess. Pointing at the crowd while singing, “Everybody’s ho’ing out for all the loot and all the clout.” Then the stage bursts into flames literally as the song elevates to another level of intensity not found on the studio version. D is constantly being bleeped, yelling lines like, “I don’t give a fuck, y’all. I ain’t going out,” before erupting into an amazing series of gutteral screams. He throws his mic stand, headbangs with his backup singers for a few seconds, and they storm off while the music still plays. Shout out to the phenomenal Shelby J who has spent a good portion of her career singing backup for D’Angelo and Prince. She brought her A+ game to this performance and is a bit of a scene stealer. I wish I could find a higher quality version of this video, and one that lasts a few seconds longer. My recollection of the crowd’s reaction to this performance was mostly stunned silence. It’s fantastic. I could dig up my old VHS recording of it as proof because I know I still have it. I don’t have the know-how to convert it to something I can share with you, at least not on short notice. By the way, this post is taking me longer than it should because I just watched the video eight times in a row. It’s the best four minutes MTV has aired in the 21st century.
I strongly encourage you to set aside at least 30 minutes to watch the “Devil’s Pie” MTV Movie Awards performance. I know it’s only four minutes, but I challenge you to watch it just once. It’s impossible. It’s like Pringles chips. Once you start you can’t stop. You’re going to need at least 20 minutes to properly absorb and appreciate it, but probably more like 30-40. I’m out for today, y’all. Back tomorrow with more because I’m far from done. Fuck the slice. I want the pie.