Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo Delivers ALL The Feels at the Tribeca Film Festival
by Donnia Harrington
What happened to D’Angelo? The neo-soul artist was on top of the world in the early 2000s, with two successful albums and a few Grammys to boot. He was unstoppable, his fame unparalleled with an inevitable rise. And then he was gone, disappearing from the spotlight for over a decade. Devil’s Pie, named after a track from his critically acclaimed Voodoo album, chronicles his return to music after fourteen years, going on tour again to promote his third album Black Messiah.
When speaking of D’Angelo, his friends and touring band members praise him as a mysterious legend. Questlove believes that “He sounds like an entire band on the piano… he’s the last pure singer on Earth.” How did he reach such levels of greatness? Filmmaker Carine Bijlsma juxtaposes the past with the present, showing footage of a young Michael Archer—before he was D’Angelo—playing the piano during church, a skill that he taught himself. His talent was evident, with a voice and craft that extended beyond his upbringing in his childhood home of Richmond, Virginia.Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo Official Trailer
The emotional center of Devil’s Pie is D’Angelo’s struggle with accepting his own talent and fame while still being tied to his humble beginnings. Being a man of religion while creating songs that are metaphors for desire, songs that his family would disapprove of. His grandmother and father were the only ones who reassured him of his talent, while his mother claimed that he would be playing the “devil’s music.” Despite her warning, he still pursued his craft. When his hit song Untitled (How Does It Feel) was released, he was instantly deemed a sex symbol.
Women at his concerts would do anything they could to grab, pull or touch him during his performances. While showing the behind-the-scenes process of his 2015 Second Coming Tour, the documentary compares his life now with then, his Voodoo World Tour from 2000 being a huge success but also the catalyst to him disappearing from the public eye for years.
Bijlsma chooses not to focus on D’Angelo’s personal relationships or his children, but instead how he still struggles to find that balance of being an artist, of not giving so much of yourself that you have nothing left. “On that stage, you get so high… then you back and you’re you.” D’Angelo is only D’Angelo when he’s on the stage, but off stage he’s Michael. He’s a man who still considers disappearing again, that possibility always lingering in the minds of his colleagues.
D’Angelo’s creative process with his band members is a unique one, each instrumentalist bringing their own talent to mesh into his vision of music. Questlove says of his creative process, “[He’ll want you to] play like a drunken eleven-year-old, but make it art.” Art is always the focal point of D’Angelo’s music and that’s also the cause of his visible stress and anxiety. There’s always a pressure that he feels when he’s performing and that pressure never lets up.
Although D’Angelo is an icon, there’s still a mystery that shrouds him. Even when the documentary digs into his arrests and stints with rehab during his musical hiatus, the full picture isn’t really there. But at the end of the day, D’Angelo is about music and just the fact that he’s finally back and creating new work is revolutionary in itself. There’s a scene in the documentary that features an Erykah Badu interview where a fan asks if she knew when he would come back. The footage perfectly sums up D’Angelo’s lasting impact and why, despite his struggles, he would return: while she states that she doesn’t know exactly when, she says in a certain voice that when he does “you’re gonna shit on yourselves.”
Donnia Harrington has been writing critically about film for over three years. Her work has been published on FlickSided, Audiences Everywhere and ComicBook Debate. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys foreign cinema, female-centered video games, Korean music and Scandinavian crime novels. Check out some of her other contributions to soulhead.