D’aily 11/15/21: I Found My Smile Again

Remember that time D’Angelo contributed a song to a movie starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny? Yes, that actually happened. Long before LeBron James and the Looney Tunes battled his fictional son and an AI basketball team in Space Jam: A New Legacy, there was Michael Jordan and those same Looney Tunes (The Tune Squad) vs. The Monstars in the far superior Space Jam. I was 20 years old in 1996, but you best believe I was in the theater to see that movie regardless of whether I was in their target demographic. I grew up watching Looney Tunes on Saturday morning and I was (and still am) an avid NBA fan. You mean to tell me Michael Jordan, Larry Johnson, and Charles Barkley (among others) are going to star in a movie with Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam? Count me in all day every day.

The movie wasn’t particularly memorable for me. Again, I wasn’t exactly in the target audience. If I was 10 years younger I would’ve wanted every piece of Space Jam memorabilia in existence, but in 1996 I was far more interested in Friday or whatever Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler movie was out that year. The soundtrack, however, was a monster. When you think of big albums of the mid-1990s Space Jam probably doesn’t appear on your list, but check the resumé. The soundtrack went platinum six times and was Billboard’s #4 album of 1996. It was anchored by R. Kelly’s iconic anthem “I Believe I Can Fly” and also boasted Seal, Coolio, Salt-N-Pepa, Method Man, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and yes, D’Angelo. If you’re laughing at the inclusion of Coolio on that list, you weren’t there. Coolio could do no wrong in 1996. We obviously also didn’t know what we do now about R. Kelly.

D’Angelo’s contribution to Space Jam is a lovely mid-tempo track called “I Found My Smile Again.” The song was written, produced, and performed by D’Angelo. The track opens with an oddly ominous intro, but at the :50 mark it becomes a leisurely stroll with D singing about exactly what the title implies. D’Angelo was down and the subject of the song helped him find his smile again. Just a nice track that makes you feel good. A nondescript hip hop beat and a heavy bass line complemented by some nice blues guitar. It was never at the top of my list of favorite D’Angelo tracks, but I definitely dug it and kept it in rotation. Virgin Records, or whoever created the 2008 The Best So Far must’ve agreed because they included it on the album. Something else happened to the song in 2008, though.

In June, seemingly out of the blue, “I Found My Smile Again” appeared on iTunes and everywhere else. That seemed odd to me. Why would a relatively obscure D’Angelo song from Space Jam just show up out of the blue like it’s a new single? Of course I paid the 99 cents for it out of curiosity and pressed play expecting to hear what I always heard. Then, instead of the usual dark tones that greet you when you start the song I heard the crash of a cymbal and an open hi hat. A prominent guitar and acoustic drum set followed by D’s usual chorus, but in a different key. He’s singing the same words but the vocal performance is completely different. It’s like they took the original version of the song and blasted it with sunshine. It transformed from a subdued little R&B jam to a celebration. D’s vocals sound alive and the instrumental difference is like night and day. I couldn’t believe my ears. Why is this happening? The release of this new version coincided with the release of D’Angelo’s greatest hits (so far) compilation, but they’re not even the same version. The original Space Jam version is on the compilation. This made no sense. The rumors at the time were that it was a single to promote a new album that was coming in 2009. Strange choice. That obviously never happened, and you can just add that to the long list of D’Angelo rumors that never materialized. In the end, I still have no idea why this second version of “I Found My Smile Again” quietly came and went, but I’m thankful for it. It improves greatly on the original. Like a before and after, but I have no idea what happened in between to inspire it.

Now when I hear “I Found My Smile Again” I think of my kids. The new version of this song dropped when my oldest was a year old and my wife was pregnant with my second. While I doubt D’Angelo was singing about any kids when he wrote and performed the song, it was originally included in a family movie and there’s nothing in the lyrics to hint that he’s actually singing about a love interest. I can’t say that I ever lost my smile, so to imply that my kids helped me find it would be inaccurate. However, my kids did immediately help me find a different, better smile that I never knew existed and they still do every day. When I hear D’Angelo singing this song with so much love and conviction I can’t help but want it to be a part of my life’s soundtrack. When I’m dead and gone if someone makes a slide show of my life, when it comes to the part when I have kids please use “I Found My Smile Again” for the music. I’m a lucky dad of three amazing kids and D’Angelo reminds me of it every time I hear this wonderful song.

Now that I’ve presented this upbeat D’Angelo track for your Monday, I feel I’ve done my job. Since the universe decided that “I Found My Smile Again” has made me too happy today, the D’aily Random Song Generator figured that it was time to hit me with the last of the three songs that I’ve been referring to on the D’aily as the worst song from each of D’Angelo’s albums. If you’ve been following along you’ll know that I declared that I have a clear least favorite song from each of D’Angelo’s three albums. We’ve already covered the first two. The final one comes tomorrow, which figures because Tuesdays are the worst. If you’ve read about the first two songs you can use the process of elimination to determine the album from which tomorrow’s song comes. You can use the same process to figure out that there are only two songs left from that album, and here’s a fun fact: One of the remaining songs is my least favorite and the other is my favorite from that album. I’ll let you try to figure it out. Or you can just wait and I’ll tell you tomorrow. Happy Monday, everyone.

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