It’s appropriate that today’s track is coming to us on a Monday since it reminds me of new beginnings. “Playa Playa” is the opening track from D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo. It was written by D’Angelo, Angie Stone, and Questlove. Produced and arranged by D’Angelo. All vocals by D’Angelo. Mike Campbell on guitar. Pino Palladino on bass. Roy Hargrove on horns. Questlove on Drums. D’Angelo on everything else.
Now let’s go back to January 2000. I had just dropped out of college for the second time, this time at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Unfortunately, the job I had and loved for the previous 18 months was also with the university and it was a job for students. I had no job, very little money, and rent due on a Milwaukee East Side flat on the first of every month. I was desperate for a paycheck until I could figure out my next move. I went to a temp agency and they wanted to test me on some office skills before they could place me at a job. My appointment was a late Tuesday morning, January 25, somewhere in the west Milwaukee suburbs. That was enough time to stop at Best Buy in Wauwatosa en route to the interview/skills test to pick up what was (and still is) my most anticipated album of my lifetime. I didn’t want my first Voodoo listen to take place on the mediocre stereo available in my snow white, late-1980s model Ford Festiva (nicknamed “The Mothership”) but I couldn’t wait until I got home. I had to listen immediately.
I arrived at Best Buy when the doors opened at 10:00 AM and secured my copy of Voodoo. I then made the short drive to wherever my skills test was. I was plenty early so I unwrapped my CD and popped it in the Discman. The Mothership was equipped with a cassette deck. However, Gen Xers will remember the little cassette device with the audio cable that plugged into a CD player that you could use to listen to CDs in a car without a disc player. That’s what I was rolling with. The cassette thing would pop out of the player at random as if the car stereo was rejecting it and it would piss me off every time. Every time I miss the old days I need to be reminded of how I had to velcro my Discman to my dashboard Wayne’s World style and plug it into that shitty cassette thing just to listen to a CD in The Mothership so I remember that things are pretty cool now, at least technologically.
When I pressed play on my Discman the first thing I heard was “Playa Playa.” Much like the first time I heard Brown Sugar, I knew within 60 seconds of “Playa Playa” that I was going to love Voodoo. That slow funk highlighted by Hargrove’s trumpet and Campbell’s wah wah guitar. It still gets me every time. I couldn’t believe how different it sounded from Brown Sugar, but how much I still loved it despite that. It’s more organic, which is not a word I would’ve used or even understood in 2000. The instrumentation and all-analog recording of Voodoo gives it a refreshing, warm sound unlike anything from that era. That came through even on The Mothership’s factory speakers.
Some of the “Playa Playa” lyrics were prescient given the situation. I was in a parking lot mentally preparing to take a skills test to prove that I was capable of performing a job for which I felt wildly overqualified. However, I understood that one still needs to prove him or herself in this situation. So, here I was waiting to take this test while listening to the lyrics, “We come here to rip shit. Make y’all scream and shout. Later for all y’all haters. We gon’ turn this mutha out.” That’s exactly what I did. Ripped shit. I aced their stupid ass test. Typed over 70 WPM because I’m gangster as fuck. They offered me a job before I left the building. I had some inkling that I wouldn’t like it, but I needed the cash.
Little did I know that I just accepted the worst job I’d ever have in my life. Giving out motorcycle insurance quotes over the phone. If you ever want to question every decision you’ve ever made try getting cussed out by some 19-year-old piece of shit with three speeding tickets and a DUI who’s pissed about the quote you gave him for the crotch rocket he wants to buy. At least I worked with some cool people there. There was a woman named Cassandra there who occasionally bummed rides from me because her car was less reliable than The Mothership. Say what you want about the old Ford Festiva, but do not call her unreliable. That car was unstoppable. Anyway, I kept trying to convince Cassandra to buy Voodoo, but for some reason she wasn’t having it. One day I gave her a ride home and forced her to listen to Voodoo on the way. When I dropped her off in front of her apartment after a 30-minute ride I asked her what she thought and she said she loved it. I asked if she was going to buy it and she said no. When I asked why she gave an answer I’ll remember until the day I die: “The only CD I’ll buy without listening to the whole thing first is Mary.” She said she’d have someone else rip Voodoo for her. I’m not sure if I ever saw Cassandra again after that. I left that job shortly after Cassandra’s unforgettable show of loyalty to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. They were actually so happy with my work that they offered me a full-time position. The thought of that being my career was so repulsive that I quit immediately. I did learn something vitally important during my 90 days as an over-the-phone motorcycle insurance quote guy, though. Something that I’ve remembered for over 20 years: Give Mary her respect. She’s the only person whose CDs Cassandra would pay for. And apparently they’re on a first name basis.
And with that I bid you adieu on this November Monday. My advice for today, as with every other day, is to steal some Halloween candy from your kids and listen to Voodoo. We’ll be back tomorrow with a track that I always consider the spiritual sibling of another D’Angelo song that we covered here earlier, “Spanish Joint.” Check back tomorrow for that. Have a good Monday.