An Open Letter to D’Angelo – insideplaya

An Open Letter to D’Angelo – insideplaya

Recently my friend Gary Harris, who happens to be a former EMI A&R exec, has been criticized and bashed by several fans and other outlets on the web.  One who introduced me to the music of D’Angelo back in 1992 prior to it’s release while I was at WBLS, he wrote an open letter to the artist, expressing a personal point of view.

Complex writer David Drake @somanyshrimp and other sites have written stories expressing their view on the letter.  They point out how Gary refers to D’Angelo as “a charlatan and a pimp—disguised as a soul man—who has gamed the system out of millions.”  The open letter was written from a place of passion and reaction to an interview conducted by Nelson George last week ala npr radio.  The session took place in Brooklyn, compliments of Red Bull, engineered via their business dealings with Amir ?uestlove Thompson of The Roots.  How do I KNOW this?  Amir is D’Angelo’s connection to the outside world and within the music community.  He was the go between for D and I when I kicked it with him, for the promotion of his “Voodoo” CD.  They’ve been down for years.

opendangelofeatrure

Gary also stated that D’Angelo is a “butt naked emperor,” and that he and his collaborators are “attempting to promote a hoax on the public” in his letter.  He makes this statement based on the fact that while our beloved D’Angelo has made a few public appearances over the past couple of years, he hasn’t unfortunately produced an album.  All artists and people are not alike, the process of producing a record, a song, a sentence is different for every human being.  However, in D’Angelo’s case, one would be very hard pressed to site another artist throughout history, in any genre, that continues to maintain a presence, on the precipice of dropping a new CD.  Based on the photo above and the context of  the interview, one might think that George is a longtime advocate of D’Angelo’s music.  The fact of the matter is, Nelson told Gray at the inception of his first project, “I don’t think this guy can write a grocery list, let alone a song.”  Fans are constantly waiting with baited breath, myself included, for a new D’Angelo release.  My wife expressed, it may have taken every ounce of creative energy he had to produce the two albums that he did.  While that may be so, the appearances and periodic forays into the limelight have always given the air of new music, with yet nothing to be had http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2013/07/29/dangelos-funkin-doing-shows/.  As I write that last sentence, I’m reminded of my longing of new music from Dr. Dre, but the dynamics are not the same.  Whereas Dre. has been consumed with making money elsewhere, D’Angelo has been unfortunately plagued with struggle and misfortune.

Drake says that “Harris is in his attempt to de-mystify the process behind the legacy of an artist widely celebrated as a genius of R&B.”  While D’Angelo is absolutely widely celebrated, even by this writer http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2012/01/27/funkin-dangelo-and-van-hunt-are-they-back/— as I posted the interview w/ George on my FB page the day after it took place.  I was happy to see him engaging, and with Nelson — I’ve interviewed both of them.  Thinking ‘if Nelson is talking to him, maybe this time it’s real, perhaps D’s about to drop some new music,’ but he never even asked him about any.  Now let’s define “genius,” and then point out a few — according to the dictionary, a genius is: “an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc…” “Stevie Wonder is a musical genius,” Eddie Murphy once said while giving him props and making fun of the love fans, like himself, have for him.  It’s true, he is a musical genius, as is or was Will.I.Am, Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West, Marvin Gaye, Maxwell, Donny Hathaway, Richard Pryor, Prince, Sly Stone and Michael Jackson, just to name a few.  Through battles of corporate politics, substance abuse, changes in how music is marketed, personal, emotional, sexual and spiritual conflict, all these men still produced.  They still kept their preverbal noses to the grindstone and released music.  They honor themselves and the desire of their friends and fans to deliver new music.  To move in the same light as a genius, and be referred to as such, one has to BE one.  This is merely the pinnacle of what Harris’… my friend Gary’s open letter was all about.  The terms “genius” and “icon” are constantly being abused and mis-used.  The bestowment of these titles require actual proof, a body of work that substantiates it as well as a presence in any given profession or craft.  While we as music lovers all LOVE D’Angelo, and want some new music from him, let’s call a spade a spade at this juncture.  Now Gary, more than any writer; fan or outside observer, was there at the inception of Michael “D’Angelo” Archer’s career.  He was the corporate establishment that was EMI, as D’Angelo refers to him throughout his interview with Nelson.  He was “inside” — Gary’s blog site is called “insideplaya.”  This is not a name for a blog to be taken lightly, for Gary has truly been inside of EMI and several other labels throughout his career in music.  The open letter he wrote was from an “inside” perspective of what and how things really are and how it is with D’Angelo – He Knows.  His words are not from the perception of a fan or a new jack writer that believes he’s all knowing about music because he’s gotten items in VIBE or the Village Voice.  His knowledge is not from the outside looking in, so pretty much any other story you read regarding the truth behind the interview or Gary’s position on D’Angelo, will be one of limited to no actual knowledge of what it really is.  It’s like the secret society that runs the world, people know it exists, but not how it truly operates.  Gary has spoken to D’Angelo as recent as two months ago, D’Angelo reached out to him asking him to co-manage him with Kevin Liles.  Then at last week’s interview, he never points out any aspects of how he’s supported his career?

Brown Sugar/ D'AngeloComplex says that Gary professes that he “allegedly included approving the money from EMI to get D’Angelo moved out of his mother’s place when most of D’Angelo’s family—according to Harris—was set against him becoming a musician.”  Up yours, if Gary says that’s what it was, then that’s what it was.  He may have not included that bit of information if he had sat on his blog for a minute before sending it out, but he didn’t, because Gary is the truth.  The piece wasn’t written seeking glory.  Gary and D’Angelo have referred to each other as, and consider themselves to be friends, they’ve watched and gone to basketball games together and talk b-ball til’ this day.  “Harris also hints at a strong personal relationship with D’Angelo—he describes recent drunken late night phone calls from D’Angelo asking for career help, and mentions making calls to D’Angelo when the singer was in the hospital,” says the Complex item.  “Bitch shut the f**k up,” Gary didn’t say this to score points for being sympathetic or write that to fabricate some BS that isn’t true.  You’re not “inside” and you sho’ nuff ain’t a playa that really knows who’s who, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking out the side of your neck.  Your perception is far from reality, as Gary wasn’t expecting to gain anything from the open letter.  When someone said to him, “Be prepared for the backlash,” he responded, “what backlash, who cares what I say, I’m not a public figure.”  Gary has been writing his blog since 2008, he had no idea his open letter to “Mike” would have people up in arms, for one we all hold to heart as one of the few that we hope will Bring the FUNK.  The feedback and hits he got for the item is the most traffic his site has gotten in six years.  

“A brutal attempt at giving the public another perspective on the artist,” is another sentence Drake suggests.  It’s not such a ‘brutal attempt’ on the artist, as it was a closer look as to what has transpired.  In the open letter, it reads “In light of the recent and deeply flawed funk documentary that he (Nelson) produced for VH-1 where you were claimed to be the future of the funk, I have some thoughts on that too: I grew up on funk, danced to it, bought tickets to shows and collected the records. You are not that funky, your records do not recall the hey day of James Brown, George Clinton and Sly. They are deeply soulful, but not deeply funky.”  Gary talks about how he had refused to open up D’Angelo’s budget until the songwriting was up to par: “You didn’t like it,” he expresses directed to D’Angelo, “but you never like it when solid business decisions interfere with your agenda.”  Working at a record label is about the BUSINESS of music.  Artists are the creators, we don’t get music without them, but the business has to be handled once an artist is signed.  Gary signed D’Angelo, and “Brown Sugar” was the result.  Consider the gap for D’Angelo’s follow-up record “Voodoo,” that resulted in years of waiting, that D’Angelo points out himself while working at Electric Lady in the interview.  During the production of “Voodoo,” Harris was no longer directly involved from a business standpoint.  The business of music has always conflicted with the creative process.  It’s a record company’s job to produce.  I mentioned in my recent blog about MJ’s new CD “Xscape”, that it’s all about the bottom line http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2014/05/24/xscape-the-funkin-posthumous-michael-jackson-album/

Gary has gotten several calls from other former record executives that were active during the time D’Angelo was on the rise, as well as from some musicians that were developing before, during and after D’Angelo came into the fold — several other INSIDERS agree.  The science Gary was dropping, although it was personally skewed, was knowledge no fan or writer can buy.  The truth hurts — the open letter was not written to draw attention to himself — but to tell the truth.  Gary, who has since taken the blog down from his site due to excessive hate mail and accusations that he’s bashing D’Angelo, wasn’t trying to slam him.  He was venting, and had no idea of the response that would transpire in this modern day of the Internet.  I asked Gary to send me the letter so I could re-post it on this site in it’s entirety, he declined.  I wanted to post it because it’s FUNKY, because it does present a different perspective than the all glowing one that the masses have about D’Angelo, mine included.  I LOVE D’Angelo, but I LOVE Gary Harris too.  I actually KNOW that what he speaks is the truth.  How? one may be asking — when I spoke to Gary yesterday, he shared with me that he has since been in communication with both Nelson and D’Angelo.  “Bull”, some one reading this may think, he not only relayed the correspondence of the text messages, he played me an apology that D’Angelo left on his voicemail.  So, to anyone that may be thinking that Gary was out of line or wrong for feeling a certain way, D’Angelo apologized to him for using poor judgement in his regard.  He expressed that he had no malicious intent in not mentioning his name, however, whenever he refers to EMI… he’s speaking of Gary.Voodoo/ D'angelo

WHERE THE OPEN LETTER ONCE LIVED, NOW READS: “Nelson George and D’Angelo – Thank you for showing the good taste that you have in coming to this blog. I truly appreciate your interest in my writing. Sorry if you have come to see something that is no longer here, but indeed it had already served its purpose and then some. Please feel free to peruse and enjoy other writings and posts. thank you, insideplaya.”  Hence, Gary means no ill intent towards D’Angelo, but was simply getting something off his chest.  That’s what blogs are for, aren’t they — and yes, people have the right to respond  accordingly — but, when speaking on what you don’t KNOW, the trail of bu**shit just gets longer and longer.  This ain’t no bu**shit, Gary nor I have time to engage in such meaningless acts of frenzy.  We are men who have accomplished goals to our satisfaction when it comes to the business of music.  It’s too late in the day for bu**shit.  Gary writing his open letter, me writing this blog to truly clarify and weed through bu**shit that now lives on the Internet instead of his letter, are acts of passion.  He and I genuinely feel obligated to convey the truth, whether you choose to accept it as truth or not, is your choice.  Our respective records (no pun intended) and contributions speak for themselves, we have actual proof.  “D’Angelo has only released two albums in the past 22-years,” Harris said in his letter.  Again, all people are different and have various means of applying themselves, in any given profession.  But ask yourself, have you produced more than the equivalent of two albums over the past 22 years.  You can’t put a time frame on creativity, but you can damn sure put a price on it, as millions have been devoted to his artistry.  Even if you have not been alive or in the work force for 22 years, could you continue to retain a job, a career, a life or a certain level of self respect — If you curve the efforts of your work and efforts, over that span of time?  I (as well as Gary) only wish the best for D’Angelo and that he does make another album, if not more.

In FUNK We Trust – I’m done

c-dub

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  1. Bigg Monty
    May 30, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Poor Gary and EMI.i feel sorry for the vampires sucking and owning the creative blood what an artist creates. Then turns around gives pennies on the dollar to that artist and keeps the rest for their soulless corporate endeavors while not playing or singing or writing one note.Sounds like Gary helped him along the way, I doubt that he did any of this from a loving place in his heart. More than likely the sounds of cash registers ringing for him and EMI was the main motivation. How many people realize that 99.99999% of the artist out there do not own the music THEY created. The vast majority of artists have no say what happens to THEIR music. Corporations own the rights and do with it what they please.I’m like most people,I would love to hear the new D’Angelo record but if he says he is not through with it and decides not to put it out then so be it.It came from him ,not EMI. How many millions has EMI made off of D’Angelo’s past albums, I bet a pretty penny.

  2. yoknapatawphakid
    May 30, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you for this great follow-up, Bigg Monty! Based on your discussions with Gary, do you think D is close to finally releasing his album?

    • yoknapatawphakid
      May 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      My apologize, c-dub – I’m now seeing that you were the rightful author of the post ;).

  3. May 30, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Hey Mike, Earlier this week, I caught your chat on NPR with Nelson George, you seemed in good spirits and health. Certainly better than, recently, when I have taken drunken late night calls, from you, asking for help finishing your record, or to co-manage you along with Kevin Liles, or to reach out for James Mtume, to convince him to assist you on recording vocals – despite having run through still further millions, and not turned anything in to your record company. Better than when you were complaining about the record company and Dominique Trenier, the manager you worked with during the Voodoo period, or when Alan Leeds – the legendary former collaborator of James Brown, Prince and Maxwell – who I first made aware of your music while at a conference in ’92, was your manager. Better than when, earlier this year, I heard you were in the hospital with Pancreatitis, and I called to assure you that I’d had it once, as a young man too, and that it was hardly incurable, but that you’d have to slow up on the oil. I was happy to hear you speak, joke and relate to people so easily – I know that isn’t always easy for you. You seemed comfortable in your skin while you regaled your fans with insights into your process and highlights from your career. And I was happy to hear those insights too, as I am proud to have been involved in some small but important way with your origins. But, I do have to take exception with your obvious omission of my participation in the events that gave you your shot – since I heard your demo, signed you to your first record deal, supervised the writing and approved EMI’s money that was spent to get you out of your mother’s house, and into the record business – you know, when I put you on. I know about your issues, and I won’t recount them here, but the revisionist approach to telling your tale has become more than I can tolerate. You know why? Because I can recall that no one in your family thought that you had talent, and that they felt you needed to stop pursuing a music career and continue with school. I can recall going to your house in Richmond, meeting your mother, your uncle, your cousins and what appeared to be every kid from miles around and experiencing the warmth of Southern hospitality, fellowship and fried chicken – your mom was strong with the chicken game. Of course, my people originating from North Carolina prepared me well for the occasion. I can remember leaving the house that was filled with all of that hope and aspiration, and taking you to whichever the current Van Damme movie was at the time, and discussing your dreams with you. I remember Jocelyn Cooper coming to my office in May of ’92, and saying, “I think I heard something I like today.” Along with your demo. She brought two VHS recordings (remember them?) and played two performances, of yours, for me; one that featured you, as a teenager, with a live band, playing a Teddy Riley joint and dancing like Bobby Brown, and another one that captured you as an eight year old, at the local VFW, on an upright piano, in a talent show where you played the chords from “Thriller” and then, stopped dramatically, grabbed the mike and sang the chorus while you impersonated The King of Pop’s dance moves. I thought that I’d hit the lottery. I remember listening to the demo, and being excited about “You Will Know” the song that you, and your brother Luther wrote – that you decided to contribute to the soundtrack of the movie “Jason’s Lyric” – and that the song “Smooth,” which was also on the demo, was the thing that made me want to get into business with you. Because you see Mike, not only was I steeped in the Jazz/Soul/Fusion era of my youth – the period that you referenced with every note on your demo – but I’d studied the then recent success of both A Tribe Called Quest, and Jodeci, and I saw your music as a synthesis of those two directions – Jazz influenced Hip Hop with secularized Gospel singing over the top. It was new and exciting. Of course my upbringing in the Black church, and singing in choirs, and my deep immersion in the business of the golden era of Hip Hop, prepared me to understand where you were coming from. I can remember introducing you to your first girlfriend in New York, taking you to Nell’s for the first time, and introducing you to Russell Simmons and Jam Master Jay. I can remember taking you to Nile Rodgers’ home and sitting in all of that opulence while we waited for my old friend to come and join us in his living room. I was happy to be able to show you what the comfort derived from true creative success and hit making could look like – I wanted you to feel what a star’s home felt like, because I knew you had star quality. I remember your insistence that you be allowed to record before you had all of the songs written for the “Brown Sugar” record, and how “Get On The Dance Floor” felt so much like a warm Marvin Gaye meets Curtis Mayfield track – but you’ve never recorded it. I remember approving eight of the ten tracks that finally made the “Brown Sugar” record including; the title track, “Lady”, “Smooth”, and “Higher”. And I remember refusing to open a studio budget until I was satisfied with the writing. You didn’t like it, but you never like it when solid business decisions interfere with your agenda. I remember you hitting, not just mid charting, but hitting it way out of the park. Must have been ’95 or ’96. By then, bullshit politics had gotten me fired from EMI, so I wasn’t able to take the victory lap with you – but hey, that’s how the game is played from time to time. But my brother, Brian Koppelman, had juice, and used it well. He and I had worked together in the A&R department of Irving Azoff’s Giant/Warner Brothers Records, and he’d seen how hard I’d worked to put the “New Jack City” soundtrack together – and how my efforts went unrewarded – so he introduced me to his father, Charles. Charles was an operator, he’d parlayed the success of records he’d released, on his own SBK imprint, by Wilson Phillips and Vanilla Ice into the presidency of a reconfigured EMI Recordings Group. I was installed as the senior A&R exec at EMI Records, and not long after, Jocelyn came by with your demo. After I was fired, while I was figuring out my next move, EMI fired a few senior guys, and Brian was renamed head of A&R for the label. Earlier, before the release of “Brown Sugar” he fought to have me properly credited on the project, and then later, brought me back under a consultation agreement that made me whole, based on my contribution to your success – such a mensch. Unlike you, I am forever grateful. Because I remember when you won your first Soul Train Awards, and you didn’t thank me. I’ve read press you’ve done, and you haven’t thanked me and I heard you on NPR, and you didn’t mention me. I find all of this to be somewhat odd given the fact that in the end of 2005, you were on the verge of signing a $3million deal to join Clive Davis’ J Records, and that unbeknownst to me, as a negotiating point, you were telling them that you’d never take any other A&R input from anyone other than me. Word made it’s way back to me, and things looked like they might go well, and then, you got in your own way. You flipped your Hummer over, and got pinched on a DUI without a current license. J took the deal off the table. Your mug shot was frightening. So then, you did what you do when in trouble; no one was fucking with you, not Alan, not Jocelyn, not Dom, not ?uestlove – nobody. You were in a starter mansion in Richmond, drowning in the bottom of a bottle, and you called me, “I think I need to go away,” you said. I responded quickly. Eric Clapton knew your struggle, and he’d made arrangements to hold a bed for you at Crossroads – the rehab he’d founded in Antigua that serviced high net worth junkies. $40K for a month’s stay, and you didn’t have it. So I went to Irving Azoff and got him to agree to put up the money. As has often been the case during it’s history in the United States, Virgin Records (the label you were then signed to) was a mess. Jason Flom was heading the whole shebang and Jermaine Dupree was the senior Black Music guy. It took a while to interest Virgin in meeting with you, but I got it done. And then what did you do? When asked if you needed me to move forward with recording, you said, “No.” Imagine my surprise. After reintroducing you to the record business, again, I got the cold shoulder from you. The responsibility for sharing all of these facts, with your fan base, during your NPR stream, does not strictly fall on your shoulders. In fact, I can see why sharing them might reflect poorly on you, and how omitting them might be prudent. But Nelson George, the host and moderator for the evening is someone I’ve known for over 30 years. Our good mutual friend Russell Simmons and he share a mentor. I’ve gone to Knicks games with the guy, double dated girls who knew each other from elementary school with him, while at Giant, I attempted to sign his first screenplay, “CB4″ – that he co-wrote with Chris Rock – through Irving’s deal at WB Movies, played basketball with him and had his book on basketball dedicated to me. Since he purports to be a journalist/historian, it was really up to him to tell the truth about how you were discovered and signed. But then, Nelson may not have wanted it known that at the time of the release of “Brown Sugar” he told me that you’re songwriting sucked. In light of the recent and deeply flawed funk documentary that he produced for VH-1 where you were claimed to be the future of the funk, I have some thoughts on that too: I grew up on funk, danced to it, bought tickets to shows and collected the records. You are not that funky, your records do not recall the hey day of James Brown, George Clinton and Sly. They are deeply soulful, but not deeply funky. You, and your collaborators are attempting to promote a hoax on the public. Nelson is so co-opted by the bullshit, that he never even asked you, when will you put a new record out? Nor did he inquire about what you’ve been doing for the fifteen years since your last release. I guess, based on the remaining and unused footage from the doc, he needs your cooperation to do a complete doc on you. When asked, by one of his partners, if I’d produce it with them, I declined. I signed you in November of 1992, since then, you have released two full length albums of new music in twenty-two years. You are not an eccentric genius, a son of funk waiting to lead the revolution, or a bluesman trying to overthrow the system, you are a charlatan and a pimp – disguised as a soul man – who has gamed the system out of millions. You are a butt naked emperor. Tell the truth about something. I hope you’re well.

  4. VoodooBlu
    June 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I wonder how Gary would have felt if D’Angelo put him on blast for getting caught with that underage hooker? Gary would have called him foul for that. That open letter was nothing more than a self serving, disingenuous post that only made Gary look like a bitter and scorned lover rather than ex manager. He’s mdad he didn’t get a shout out? And instead of calling Mikke about it, he decides to post his feelings on the Internet?

  5. Frank
    June 21, 2014 at 4:26 am

    No love for Gary from my side of the planet.He sounds like someone who is a has been and would sell his soul for a bit of attention.Just because he was involved with A&R in the D project for roughly a month doesn’t entitle him for anything.Wasn’t he payed while working for D ?! Geez all these people that think the world owes them something.Gary seems to be the opposite of a professional – maybe he should go on a “Music Business Ex” TV show or something where he can wash his dirty laundry that no one wants to know.

  6. insideplaya LOVES D'Angelo | The Museum Of UnCut Funk

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