Today we get our final song from D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album, Brown Sugar. There are ten tracks on Brown Sugar, so I’m probably typing this for the tenth time, but it’s always worth noting: “When We Get By” was composed, written, arranged, produced, and performed by D’Angelo. Everything on the album was, although there are a few tracks that have co-writers or co-producers. That’s a phenomenal feat for anyone, much less a 21-year-old. Very Prince-esque.
“When We Get By” is the ideal “new love” song. I hear this song and I think of a young couple in that exciting new phase when everything is starry-eyed and rose colored. The tempo is upbeat, the bass line takes a leisurely walk, and “everything, everything, everything is OK.” It’s a lovely track. Enjoyable from start to finish.
However, this is one of those early D’Angelo songs that I’d love to hear him re-make post-Soultronics. “When We Get By” doesn’t stray far from a formula. The beat and bass line are steady and reliable. They’re on a consistent loop and never veer away from the ordinary. I wonder what it would sound like after D’Angelo’s late-90s residency at Electric Lady Studio with the Soultronics. Give me this track with Pino on bass, Spanky on guitar, Questlove on drums, and Roy Hargrove on trumpet. Fortunately, such a thing exists…sort of.
D’Angelo played Essence Festival in 1998 and a recording of a rehearsal before that performance has made its way around the internet. I’m surprised that “When We Get By” was part of the performance as I don’t believe that was ever in regular rotation during his tours, but you can hear it for yourself on YouTube. I can’t confirm the entire roster, but Pino, Questlove, Spanky, and Hargrove are there as well as Anthony Hamilton, among others. This is just a rehearsal and is justifiably subdued, but you get a taste of what the song could sound like with that roster. I especially like what they do during the second half of the performance when Hargrove improvises a trumpet solo and Pino and Questlove get an opportunity to explore the track as well. I dig what they did with the track and would love to get my hands on a copy of the actual Essence Fest performance.
Brown Sugar ranks among my favorite albums, but when compared to D’Angelo’s other two albums it sounds relatively simple and somewhat dated. It feels formulaic by comparison, but if you put yourself back in 1995, it was a transformative album at the time. It ushered in the neo-soul era. As I’ve mentioned here ad nauseam, I know that’s a term that many dislike including artists that were involved. However, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, and all others involved in whatever they want to call that movement should be proud of the work they did at that time. R&B had been taken over by hip hop by the mid-90s, and while I liked a lot of that music as well, neo-soul was a necessary counter to the R. Kellification of the genre. The late-90s emergence of neo-soul and underground hip hop produced my favorite music ever made. Love or hate the term neo-soul, it brings a smile to my face and reminds me of a movement in music that I look back on fondly. Neo-soul was the soundtrack to some of the best times of my life.
D would shed the neo-soul label and step into his own creating genre defying music on his following albums, but Brown Sugar was a brilliant start and is rightfully held in high regard by those who were there in 1995. If you want to revisit any of the past Brown Sugar D’aily posts, here’s the tracklist:
- Brown Sugar
- Jonz In My Bonz
- Me and Those Dreamin’ Eyes of Mine
- Shit, Damn, Motherfucker
- When We Get By
Tomorrow we have the last of the D’Angelo duets and talk about saving the best for last…wow. It’s the most popular D’Angelo track on Apple Music and it’s not even on a D’Angelo album. Duets get no better than this. If you know D’Angelo, you already know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you’ll be giving thanks to me on Thanksgiving for introducing you to this work of art. As always, thanks for reading and have an amazing Tuesday. Back tomorrow with a track that will melt your heart.