By Jack Houston
He was the musclebound purveyor of bedroom jams, she, a fiery soul diva who drew inspiration from a wellspring of pain. Funny how a good decade can change just about everything. When Mary J. Blige and D’Angelo hit the stage at The Pearl at Palms on Sept. 7 as part of The Liberation Tour, it will mark a rare opportunity to catch two of the top voices in soul and R&B—one a perennial presence on TV, radio and award shows, the other a musical recluse just returning to prominence.
Blige, 41, is the reigning Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, a nine-time Grammy winner whose cathartic 2001 album No More Drama and subsequent marriage two years later were turning points in a career often marked by personal turbulence. Her most recent release, My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1), is more celebratory in nature, featuring a bold remake of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and legitimate club bangers in “Feel Inside” and “Next Level.” The album also serves as a showcase for the hip-hop side of Blige, with appearances by Drake, Rick Ross, Nas and Busta Rhymes.
When he appeared onstage at the BET Awards in July—his first televised performance since 2000—D’Angelo, 38, officially threw down the gauntlet on how soulful, old-school R&B is supposed to be crafted in the 21st century. His medley of his classic “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and a new song, “Sugar Daddy,” was easily the funkiest moment on TV this year. Plenty has been written over the years about D’Angelo’s fall from grace, but if his comeback set alongside Roots drummer Questlove at this year’s Bonnaroo is any indication, he’s ready to give up the funk again.