It's been so long, with so many false alarms, you start to lose track. D'Angelo's long-awaited follow-up to his classic 2000 album "Voodoo" was supposed to come out in 2007. Then 2009. Then 2010. Then he started touring, for the first time in 10 years, in 2011 and into 2012, airing four solid new songs: "Ain't That Easy," "The Charade," "In Another Life," and "Sugar Daddy."
Last year, he played some shows as a duo with longtime friend and collaborator ?uestlove as "Brothers in Arms." He performed the electrifying encore at Michael Dorf's "Music of Prince" tribute at Carnegie Hall, along with ?uestlove and members of the Roots and the Revolution, around the same time. He turned up at Bonnaroo last weekend, playing covers. He even gave an underwhelming 75-minute-long talk, moderated by veteran journalist (and Billboard alum) Nelson George, last month at the Brooklyn Museum as part of the Red Bull Music Academy, which provided some entertaining anecdotes but not much in the way of actual news. The album was clearly a taboo topic: ?uestlove, called onstage to join in the talk a couple of times, was the only one who dared to bring it up, and the chat ended immediately afterward.
Yet D'Angelo's manager, Kevin Liles of KWL Management and a longtime label and branding exec, told Billboard last week that the wait for the world's most long-awaited album apart from Dr. Dre's "Detox" is almost over. Now, that's nothing we haven't heard before: ?uestlove said in December of 2011 that the album was "pretty much 97 percent done," and in January of 2013, he told Billboard that it was "99 percent done."
In March of 2013, Liles told Billboard, "We're trying to finish the album. Right now we have 13 songs done, trying to think about the sequence of the album, mastering and mixing within the next two weeks, and release the thing. Ain't no question it's coming."
Judging by that tectonic pace, the album actually should be just about approximately almost 100 percent done right about now. Here's what Liles said:
"Here's the thing: with D'Angelo it was a process. He didn't perform for 10 years and he's been working on an album for the past 12 years. I actually got him to go out and do 30 shows [in 2011-2012], and then we did some 'Brothers in Arms' shows. I said, 'We have to get motivated around what people want to hear from you, and what does it mean to come back to that space?' He very bluntly put it, 'Kev, the studio and the stage: that's my lifeblood. Now that I've touched it again, now that I see it again, I wanna be sure that the baby I'm about to have -- the album -- that I take it to the point where it's all it can be.'
"There'll be an album this year: there's 14 records so far, we might have a couple of bonus records, but all the recording is basically done and we're mixing and mastering now. Definitely, he'll be back.
"We'll probably start an international tour in October, we'll come back [to the States]. We're doing a James Brown tribute in August [at the Hollywood Bowl] and some one-off things. But the touring will probably start in October and 2015."
Billboard: What's the album like?
Liles: "To limit it to soul is not the case, because there is a rock influence. But at the same time, it's very melodic and there's an influence of all the things he loves: there's James Brown, there's Prince, and everything people grew up loving D'Angelo for, from 'Brown Sugar' to 'Voodoo.' It's a mixture and an evolution of where he is right now. And you have to think that when you have the opportunity to work 10 years on an album, that album's truly gonna be what you want it to be. Is it limited to the kind of sound that he did with the earlier records? No, it's not."
BB: Does it have a name yet?
KL: "There is a potential name, but I don't wanna give you a potential name and then change it."
BB: And it's definitely coming in 2014?
KL: "Yep. Sooner than later!"