It’s hot take time! I’m going to say something, then give me a second to duck so I can avoid the virtual rotten tomatoes and eggs that will be thrown at my head. Ready? “Lady” is overrated.
I’ll give you a moment to process your anger.
Let me explain. It’s not that I don’t dig “Lady” or that I think it’s bad. There is no such thing as a bad D’Angelo song. That’s not hyperbole, it’s truth. I don’t think it deserves the pedestal on which it’s been placed in comparison to D’Angelo’s other music. “Lady” was the ninth track on D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album Brown Sugar. It was the third of four singles released from the album. “Lady” was D’Angelo’s only song ever to make the Billboard Top 10, reaching #10 in March of 1996. Easily the closest thing that he has ever had to a hit. It might not have the lasting cultural impact that the video for “Untitled” did or that “Brown Sugar” did, but the numbers don’t lie. Those songs peaked at #25 and #27, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. If I were to rank my favorite songs from Brown Sugar it wouldn’t make the top five and there are only ten songs on the album. People love “Lady” and my best guess is that it’s simply his most pop radio-friendly, accessible song. Here’s my problem:
I don’t listen to D’Angelo to hear the same shit I hear on the radio.
Compared to contemporary R&B – which I still dug in 1995/1996 – “Lady” was the best thing out there. It was nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammys that year. The competition was Luther Vandross, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, and Tony Rich Project. This was 1996, by the way, not 1976. Luther Vandross somehow won. No disrespect to Luther, but he wasn’t on D’Angelo’s level at that time. The top R&B artists on the chart that year were Mariah Carey, TLC, R. Kelly, Toni Braxton, and Brandy to name a few. With the exception of R. Kelly, that’s all pop music. None of them were making soul music like D’Angelo was.
D’Angelo was making…dare I say it…*whispers*…neo-soul. I know, that word has become the label that everyone hates, but I don’t know what else to call it. Actually, I know exactly what to call it: soul music. That’s what it was. But anyway, there was a group of artists in the mid-90s led by D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell that brought back that 70s soul vibe with some hip hop sensibility. It was labeled neo-soul, and until relatively recently I did not realize that it was a label hated by most who received it. Raphael Saadiq – who helped birth the movement with the Tony Toni Toné album Sons of Soul – explained it well on a recent episode of Questlove Supreme. I’m paraphrasing, but they way I understand it, he hates it because it was a lazy term used by record company executives to take every black artist that wasn’t making hop hop or pop/R&B and put them in a box. If you were black and you could sing and you didn’t make music that sounded like R. Kelly or SWV you were considered alternative, or neo-soul.
“Lady” is arguably the most beloved hit of the neo-soul movement. Maybe it’s Badu’s “On & On” or Maxwell’s “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” To me it’s “Brown Sugar” but that’s just my opinion. It doesn’t matter. The soul music that these artists were putting out was beloved, but by a smaller base than their more pop radio friendly competition…like Mariah Carey and R. Kelly. “Lady” was the closest D’Angelo ever came to that pop radio fame. That might explain why it’s his most beloved song, and not one of my favorites, despite the fact that I love it as well.
I have one other minor issue with “Lady” and it has to do with the video, not the song. The song is all about every other guy wanting to get with D’Angelo’s lady and him marking his territory. You’re MY lady. The video is actually uncomfortable because everywhere his lady goes every single guy that sees her immediately turns into a predator. They stare her down and look like they’re ready to pounce on her at any given moment like the hyenas stalking little Simba and Naala in The Lion King. D’Angelo can’t even pick her up from her job because “every guy in the parking lot wants to rob me of my girl.” I get what he’s saying, but when you watch the video it’s uncomfortable. At one point D is walking through a house party with his lady in what looks like the middle of the afternoon, which is strange, and he’s literally having to fight with guys who are pursuing her. It makes me sad for that poor woman who apparently can’t go anywhere without the threat of sexual assault looming. He keeps singing, “I can tell they’re looking at us,” but I didn’t know that he literally meant everyone. I hope she’s worth the trouble. Maybe D needs to find a new lady because I’m afraid for his life.
Anyway, despite everything I just said, “Lady” is a dope track and a 90s soul classic. I just prefer other songs from that album. I’m gonna leave you today with another live treat from the 2000 Voodoo tour.
This is D’Angelo and The Soultronics performing “Lady” in Stockholm. I prefer this version as it’s more uptempo and Pino Palladino’s bass work is funky as hell. The live horns are a cool touch. Speaking of live horns, tomorrow’s track is the first one on my list that’s actually not from a D’Angelo album. He’s the vocalist on one of his horn players’ albums, and if you have not heard this track you are in for a treat because this song is the shit. If you haven’t figured it out, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the reveal. That’s a wrap for today. We’ll close out week 4 of the D’aily tomorrow. Enjoy your Thursday.