- Personnel: D'Angelo (vocals, various instruments); Rafael Saadiq (guitar, bass); Mark Whitfield, Bob Power (guitar); Laura Vivino (flute, piccolo); Bob "Bassy" Brockman (trumpet); Tim Christian (piano); Larry Grenadier, Will Lee (bass); Gene Lake, Ralph Rolle (drums); Ali Shaheed Muhammad (drum programming).
- Producers: D'Angelo, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Bob Power, Rafael Saadiq.
- Engineers: Bob Power, G-Spot, Darrin Harris.
- Recorded at Pookie Lab, Sacramento, California; Battery Studios and RPM Studios, New York.
- The single "Brown Sugar" was nominated for 1996 Grammy Awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song, and the album was nominated for Best R&B Album.
- "Lady" was nominated for a 1997 Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
- All the new jacks who talk about molding the forces of classic R&B's style, hip-hop's modernism, and jazz's flexibility into a sleek, soulful package should take a good close look at D'Angelo's debut. BROWN SUGAR is audacious enough to succeed on aesthetics alone. Instead of stilted, synthetic textures, there is the constant warmth of a Fender Rhodes electric piano (evoking Stevie and Marvin's mid-'70s records), and rather than filling the air with shrieking castrato vocals, there are four-part harmonies peeking out from behind every corner. In short, BROWN SUGAR is an honest-to-goodness soul record without the hollow bluster of modern soul.
- Some of the credit for this must go to the 21-year-old's choice of collaborators--or the absence of. Rather than hand his talents over to any of the uber-producers who rule modern R&B, D'Angelo handles most tasks himself--from writing and producing to arranging and playing (including all vocals and most of the instrumentation). When he does turn for help, D'Angelo takes on musicians with distinctive feels--Tribe Called Quest DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Tony! Toni! Ton?!'s Rafael Saadiq--then works to their strengths. "Brown Sugar" percolates between Muhammad's breathy, organic jazz track, accented by a sleek snare and laid-back piano, and D'Angelo's playful, sexually-charged delivery. On "Lady," Saadiq's funky licks try to steal the song away from the melodious Four Tops-like chorus, playing to a wonderful draw. When alone, D'Angelo sculpts pieces as warmly innovative as "When We Get By," with its swingin' stride bass, and as traditionally uplifting as the gospel "Higher," on which D'Angelo's organ competes for the spotlight with a choir of his voices.
Rolling Stone (5/13/99, p.74) - Included in Rolling Stone's "Essential Recordings of the 90's."
Rolling Stone (9/7/95, pp.71-72) - 3.5 Stars (out of 5) - "...makes the nasty rhythms bubbling underneath his multilayered love songs seem old and new as the same time....a reminder of where R&B has been and, if the genre is to resurrect its creative relevance like a phoenix rising from the ashes, where it needs to go..."
Spin (10/95, p.116) - 8 (out of 10) - "...he applies the lesson of sampling --savoring essence while still messing with meaning--in the service of soul's integrationist spirit....the true inheritor of...'70s soul men...for a...substantial reason: he's proven himself...adept in the mysteries of the groove."
Entertainment Weekly (6/30-7/7/95, p.100) - "Love--both sugary sweet and delightfully nasty--is what D'Angelo's debut serves up....Husky bedroom oohs and ahhs segue effortlessly into airy, retro-styled ballads, suggesting late nights and dimmed lights." - Rating: A
Vibe (8/95, p.125) - "...determined to give pre-hip hop forms like blues, soul, gospel, and jazz a mid-'90s vibe....inhabits his songs from odd angles, without non-stop Vandross-style aural showmanship....Most of this important debut is a joy to listen to..."
Village Voice (2/20/96) - Ranked #21 in Village Voice's 1995 Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll.
Mojo (Publisher) (p.54) - Ranked #97 in Mojo's "100 Modern Classics" -- "BROWN SUGAR is a deep, dope-fuelled meditation on love, sex and betrayal..."
NME (Magazine) (7/22/95, p.50) - 9 (out of 10) - "...D'Angelo's downbeat world blurs the borders..., kicking over the traces of the genre game and shrugging, demanding that you...just absorb the sultry atmosphere he sets up with his little-more-than-nothing beats and Russian doll vocals....a major, major record..."