D’aily 11/22/21: Left & Right

Welcome to the final week of the D’aily. I can’t believe it’s almost over. Today’s track is the one I see taking the most criticism online and I struggle to figure out why. I have a theory, and we’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s unpack.

“Left & Right” is the third track from D’Angelo’s 2000 masterpiece Voodoo. It was also the lead single from the album unless you count “Devil’s Pie” which was included on the Belly soundtrack more than a year earlier. I think of “Devil’s Pie” as a single from Belly, not Voodoo, so in my opinion “Left & Right” was the first single. “Left & Right” was released in October of 1999, just over three months before Voodoo dropped. The single was not a success, peaking at #70 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. It was ultimately outdone by its B-side, the incredible “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” Radio stations started playing “Untitled” instead of “Left & Right,” D’Angelo shot the legendary video, and the rest is history. I’m not here to say that I think “Left & Right” is a better song than “Untitled.” You know where I stand on “Untitled” already because I wrote about it months ago. I think it’s one of the best songs of this century. I think the success of “Untitled” has happened at the expense of “Left & Right.” Just because one is better than the other doesn’t make one bad.

“Left & Right” is funky and sexy. That Questlove drum beat is perfectly sloppy and the guitar lays nicely over the top of it. D’Angelo opens the verses in full voice before switching to his falsetto to sing about slapping ass and pulling hair. I just dig the vibe of everything D’Angelo is doing. It’s laid back funk. Then there’s Redman and Method Man and what I believe to be the root of people’s problem with this song.

I once debated my brother when he stated that “Left & Right” is the one song that he feels doesn’t fit on Voodoo, mainly because of the presence of Meth and Red. The original version of this song included a verse by Q-Tip. To quote Questlove, “The song was cool but nobody was feeling Tip’s verse.” D’Angelo’s manager Dominique Trenier was more blunt and just straight up called the verse wack. Man, I find that incredibly difficult to believe. Q-Tip is never wack. He was replaced on the track by Method Man and Redman. I heard stories back in the day that they weren’t completely satisfied with their verses either, but they went ahead with it anyway. First, why wasn’t I consulted? I’d like a say in this. I love all three of those rappers and I think I could’ve figured this out. However, I have to trust that people like D’Angelo and Questlove might actually have a more informed opinion than I do on this topic, so I can understand why they didn’t reach out. I think I could’ve brought a different point of view, but whatever. I’m not mad. Water under the bridge.

I do have an easy solution to this conundrum: eliminate the rap verse. It’s not necessary and the track is better without it. Was there something in the contract that said D’Angelo had to include a rapper on that album? This also solves my brother’s problem with “Left & Right” not fitting on the album. Without the rap verses I think the song fits the overall vibe of the album better. There’s a version without rap on the single so you don’t have to imagine what it would sound like. I would’ve gone with that and moved on. See, they should’ve consulted me.

I love Method Man and Redman, but their services aren’t necessary here, even if Meth at one point says, “young miss, filet-o-fish, saltwater trout.” No rap features necessary on Voodoo. A minor misstep that doesn’t detract from the brilliant album, in my opinion. I still love the track, though. If I was having a party that’s the only track from Voodoo that I’d consider spinning.

I’m done trying to convince you. If you dig funky shit, you’ve gotta dig “Left & Right” and I’ll leave it at that. I’m right and the people are wrong. I wanna hit one other topic before I get out of here. I’ve been following a DJ/Producer for a while by the name of Amerigo Gazaway. He releases all kinds of music, but my favorite thing he does is mashups of legendary artists. He famously made two albums combining the music of Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Marvin Gaye which he, of course, had to call Yasiin Gaye. He did the same with Fela Kuti and De La Soul (Fela Soul), Common and Stevie Wonder (Common Wonder) and many others. In January 2020 he released Variations of Voodoo: A Tribute to D’Angelo. The album contains seven tracks remixed by Gazaway. The results vary, and as always I prefer D’Angelo’s originals over any remixes, but Gazaway sheds a unique light on these songs. The catchiest is his gospel remix of “Devil’s Pie” but don’t sleep on his mellow “Left & Right” remix. I couldn’t post about 49 different D’Angelo songs without mentioning Gazaway’s remixes, but I waited for “Left & Right” because that’s my favorite of the bunch.

With that, I’ve actually completed the entire Voodoo album. I’ve somehow written about every song from my favorite album of all-time. If you want to go back and catch up on anything you missed, here’s the Voodoo track listing with links to my posts:

  1. Playa Playa
  2. Devil’s Pie
  3. Left & Right
  4. The Line
  5. Send it On
  6. Chicken Grease
  7. One Mo’Gin
  8. The Root
  9. Spanish Joint
  10. Feel Like Makin’ Love
  11. Greatdayndamornin’/Booty
  12. Untitled (How Does It Feel)
  13. Africa

Tomorrow we complete another of D’Angelo’s three brilliant albums with a breezy track that will have you tapping your toes throughout your Tuesday (alliteration unintended). Download that version of “Left & Right” without the rap verse, listen to it on your way to work, and I guarantee a damn good Monday. Back again tomorrow with more.

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