Time for a classic, chill vibe for your Wednesday. Today’s track “Smooth” is not to be mistaken for the Carlos Santana/Rob Thomas track of the same name that dominated the airwaves and Grammy awards in 1999. Nor should it be mistaken for the Wreckx-N-Effect track of the same name from their 1992 album Hard or Smooth. I’ll say it: That WNE album is a slept on classic. Everyone knows “Rump Shaker” but that whole album was my shit sophomore year of high school. It also should not be mistaken for Tha Dogg Pound banger with the same name. Today I’m writing about the sixth track from D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album Brown Sugar even though I’m currently bobbing my head to Tha Dogg Pound while I type.
D’Angelo composed, arranged, produced, and performed his version of the track. He also co-wrote the track along with his brother, Luther Archer. It’s difficult to stand out in the middle of Brown Sugar. “Smooth” is stuck on the album between “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker” and “Cruisin’“. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear this track is the maturity level. The entire Brown Sugar album showcases a precocious D’Angelo with skills and sensibility far beyond his years. While his R&B contemporaries were putting out music like “Bump N’ Grind” and “Freek’N You” D’Angelo was going a different direction. I look at it like those other cats were out to get girls and D’Angelo was getting grown ass women. Both approaches were no doubt effective, but I prefer D’Angelo’s.
The other thing that jumps out at me about “Smooth” is how the lyrics and story don’t necessarily fit the vibe. Instrumentally the song perfectly encapsulates its title. The lyrics are about how D’Angelo loses control when he’s around the subject of the song. She’s so smooth he can’t keep his cool. He sings, “You may think that I’m a pro, but I can never seem to keep my control.” You wouldn’t know it listening to the song because it’s cooler than James Bond. D alternates from full voice to falsetto flawlessly. The piano and bass line are jazzy and cool. Nothing about the vibe of this track indicates to me that it’s being performed by a guy who can’t contain himself. Quite the opposite. This is the coolest motherfucker alive. I guess the smooth vibe of the track is supposed to represent the woman he’s singing about. Could’ve fooled me.
One other thought: D’s is always on the keys in some way shape or form, but it’s rare that you get to hear him improvise on piano like he does on “Smooth.” Hearing this song leads me to believe he could release a jazz album and it would be phenomenal. Put D behind the piano on some hard bop like Horace Silver in the early-1960s and he’d tear it up. I’d love to hear that album, or better yet, be at that show.
I don’t have a whole lot else to say about this song, which kind of tells you everything you need to know about the genius of D’Angelo. If this song was on anyone else’s album it would be the highlight. On a D’Angelo album it kind of gets lost in the shuffle. D’s middle of the road stuff is brilliant by itself, but struggles to stand out surrounded by his other work.
Tomorrow we get a special treat. I’ve written about a lot of D’Angelo’s work on mid-90s soundtracks. I’ve also written a lot about his covers of legendary soul music. Thursday’s track is both of those, and to sweeten the deal it’s a duet with another singer on my personal Mount Rushmore. This is a straight up classic. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Have a great Wednesday, y’all.