With 1995's Brown Sugar, D'Angelo introduced himself as perhaps the greatest hope for R&B since the heyday of Prince. Fortunately, the vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist had the fortitude to back up that formidable reputation, and his commercial success helped usher in a new era of hip-hop soul. In the last five years, such likeminded singers as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, and former D'Angelo squeeze Angie Stone have embraced his blend of old school and new school, while his friends in The Roots have entrenched themselves on the front lines of hip-hop's latest battle for purity and growth. But where has D'Angelo been while this war was being fought? Intent on doing something different, he was holed up in Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios for three years, fiddling about, laying low, and perfecting his follow-up to Brown Sugar. The new Voodoo has had so many release dates that the album at one point seemed like it might never surface, and now that it's finally available, its quiet qualities run the risk of being subsumed by hype. Subdued almost to the point of being subliminal, Voodoo is a raw slab of slo-mo funk built on a solid foundation of great grooves and slinky ballads that drift and moan rather than stomp and shout. Despite an impressive line-up of cross-genre friends—DJ Premier, Tony Toni Toné's Raphael Saadiq, Redman and Method Man (whose misogynist cameo on "Left & Right" is out of place), horn player Roy Hargrove, guitarist Charlie Hunter, and the MVP pair of studio bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Ahmir Thompson of The Roots—D'Angelo still keeps things spare, even downright ghostly. He could be accused of drawing too much inspiration from past R&B greats, but no one could accuse him of being fashionable: Voodoo often recalls the muddier bits of Sly Stone's later works on tracks like "Greatdayndamornin'" and the much-missed balladry of prime Prince on "Untitled" and "One Mo'Gin." Yet D'Angelo's mellow strategy frequently pays off: Where so many artists obnoxiously clamor for the listener's attention, D'Angelo keeps his cool, ironically making the ultra-relaxed (79 minutes!) disc a brave antidote to current pop and hip-hop trends. It's telling that a cover of Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love" fits seamlessly into the sonic tapestry that D'Angelo has woven, as he, too, is intent on killing you softly with his song.

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