D'Angelo, Maxwell and Bilal are R&B's Holy Trinity of cocktease.
D'Angelo, Maxwell and Bilal: If ever there were a trio of cockteasing R&B singers, it would be these three. Practically the Holy Trinity of male, one-named, neo-soul troubadours, these three men regenerated R&B music in the mid- to late '90s and early '00s. But over the last few years they've been nonexistent. And you know what else? It's breaking my goddamn heart.
D'Angelo--the man who started this neo-soul gold rush with his 1995 debut Brown Sugar--hasn't dropped an album since his 2000 follow-up Voodoo. Maxwell's 1996 album Urban Hang Suite made him the sexiest soul man to ever slink around on the floor in music videos since Prince, and he hasn't been heard of since his third album Now in 2001. Philly's own R&B wildman Bilal has released only one album, 2001's 1st Born Second.
What the hell have they been doing all this time? In D'Angelo's case, he's been fucking up. When I pondered D'Angelo's whereabouts this time last year, I mentioned how his frequent drug use, weight gain and run-ins with the law have reportedly halted "R&B Jesus," as Robert Christgau once dubbed him, from working on his long-awaited third album.
Maxwell finally promised fans last year he was coming back with a vengeance with Black Summers' Night, a trilogy of albums that would be released over the course of three years. But that trilogy was also supposed to kick off last year.
And poor Bilal--he had a brilliant second album Love for Sale ready for release a few years back. But it got leaked on the Internet, shelving it indefinitely.
For the past year or so the threesome have tossed crumbs to appease hungry fans. D'Angelo was the first to break one off when the track "Really Love" leaked on the Web early last year. With the way the man warbled through the lo-fi tune, barely staying audible, it was hardly the gift from the heavens we were expecting.
Maxwell did produce a more palatable offering, a snippet of the song "Pretty Wings," on his MySpace page recently. And Bilal gave us a brand-new bit of something with the naughty/nice, 88 Keys-produced "MILF."
Of the three, Bilal remains the most visible. While D'Angelo and Maxwell have become virtual recluses, Bilal has done guest work on albums by Jay-Z, Clipse and Erykah Badu, as well as electric live performances that can easily be found on YouTube.
And yet, all of this still doesn't satisfy listeners' cravings for more full-length work. I can't help thinking their lack of original material can be attributed to good ol' performance anxiety. After all, I can only assume being known as the saviors of soul music must be something of a burden. The three of them collectively released some of the most influential, enjoyable R&B music of the past 15 years. So it's understandable they could feel pressure and frustration in coming up with something that could top their earlier work. But keeping people dangling like this for so long borders on sadism.
But wait--there's hope on the horizon. While the chances of a new D'Angelo album are becoming peace-in-the-Middle-East/Chinese Democracy slim, Maxwell keeps dropping hints all over his MySpace that the first chapter in his Night trilogy will be ready soon. And I have it on good authority that Bilal will finally release a full-length this year as the frontman for ?uestlove and James Poyser's Randy Watson Experience side project.
So it looks like we shouldn't give up on these teases just yet--even if they don't know how to respect the cock ... and by cock I mean our faith and affection in their work and a belief in their talents.