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To some, it’s known simply as “the Video.”

Released in late 1999, the music video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?),” the third single from R&B recording artist D’Angelo’s album, Voodoo, featured the Richmond, Virginia-born singer performing the song seemingly without any clothes on. The video instantly went viral—not that people used that word then—playing nonstop on BET and MTV, and helped to make Voodoo a hit. “It was about doing a video with just me and the song,” D’Angelo said at the time.

Voodoo debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart upon release in January of 2000, and ended up earning two Grammys: one for best R&B album and another for Best Male R&B Performance for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” The video was key to launching the album, says filmmaker and writer Faith Pennick (A.B. 1990), whose new book recounts its history. But there was some tension between the pop culture omnipresence of the video and the avant-garde elements of the album, Pennick says, the latter pushing musical boundaries and challenging the definition of R&B.

D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Pennick’s new book, is part of the influential “33 1/3 Series”—a series that unpacks and explores a single album over the course of a book-length text. Individual volumes have included elements of memoir, music theory, cultural criticism, and even fiction, and covered albums such as James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

Pennick’s book combines musical genealogy; the military and political history of Richmond; her personal reflections; and a ton of other information, including a track-by-track digest of the writing, recording, and reception of every song on Voodoo. Pennick wanted the scope of the book to do justice to the ambition of the album itself.

“I was trying to immerse myself in as much information and as many ideas as I could, even if they weren’t 100 percent on point, to help me start thinking of Voodoo in a different way,” Pennick says. “When I went into writing the book, my goal was to be part journalist, part fangirl, part researcher,” she continues. “I was trying to capture what D’Angelo was doing, how he was really trying to go for something that the music industry wasn’t ready for. I’m not even sure how certain he was of it. There’s a certain level of him really stepping out and doing some new things, of going out on a limb.”

Pennick hoped all of the stories, information, and context she gathered would give her readers a new insight into an album with such a devoted fanbase.

“It’s an album I love very much, and I didn’t want the book to just be about me and my feelings,” she says.

To some, it’s known simply as “the Video.”

Released in late 1999, the music video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?),” the third single from R&B recording artist D’Angelo’s album, Voodoo, featured the Richmond, Virginia-born singer performing the song seemingly without any clothes on. The video instantly went viral—not that people used that word then—playing nonstop on BET and MTV, and helped to make Voodoo a hit. “It was about doing a video with just me and the song,” D’Angelo said at the time.

Voodoo debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart upon release in January of 2000, and ended up earning two Grammys: one for best R&B album and another for Best Male R&B Performance for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” The video was key to launching the album, says filmmaker and writer Faith Pennick (A.B. 1990), whose new book recounts its history. But there was some tension between the pop culture omnipresence of the video and the avant-garde elements of the album, Pennick says, the latter pushing musical boundaries and challenging the definition of R&B.

D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Pennick’s new book, is part of the influential “33 1/3 Series”—a series that unpacks and explores a single album over the course of a book-length text. Individual volumes have included elements of memoir, music theory, cultural criticism, and even fiction, and covered albums such as James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

Pennick’s book combines musical genealogy; the military and political history of Richmond; her personal reflections; and a ton of other information, including a track-by-track digest of the writing, recording, and reception of every song on Voodoo. Pennick wanted the scope of the book to do justice to the ambition of the album itself.

“I was trying to immerse myself in as much information and as many ideas as I could, even if they weren’t 100 percent on point, to help me start thinking of Voodoo in a different way,” Pennick says. “When I went into writing the book, my goal was to be part journalist, part fangirl, part researcher,” she continues. “I was trying to capture what D’Angelo was doing, how he was really trying to go for something that the music industry wasn’t ready for. I’m not even sure how certain he was of it. There’s a certain level of him really stepping out and doing some new things, of going out on a limb.”

Pennick hoped all of the stories, information, and context she gathered would give her readers a new insight into an album with such a devoted fanbase.

“It’s an album I love very much, and I didn’t want the book to just be about me and my feelings,” she says.

After graduating from U-M with a double major in communications and sociology, Pennick worked for a radio station in her hometown of Chicago. But in 1995, her life and career shifted after she saw the documentary, Hoop Dreams.

“That movie changed my life,” Pennick says. “I was really blown away by it.”

After graduating from U-M with a double major in communications and sociology, Pennick worked for a radio station in her hometown of Chicago. But in 1995, her life and career shifted after she saw the documentary, Hoop Dreams.

“That movie changed my life,” Pennick says. “I was really blown away by it.”



Inspired by Hoop Dreams and by the work of filmmakers such as Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch, Pennick, then living in New York City, went to graduate school for film production and media management intending to become a producer. But the director’s chair called to her.

“I had my own ideas for films,” Pennick says, “and I knew that if I didn't direct them, I would likely never see those ideas on screen.” Since finishing her film degree, Pennick has directed multiple narrative short films and two documentaries, Silent Choices and Weightless. (She is currently developing her first dramatic fiction feature.)

In 2016, she was on vacation in Mexico with her family when the topic of the 33 1/3 Series came up, and Pennick’s sister suggested she pitch them a book on Voodoo. Later that summer, when the series had an open call for new projects, Pennick went for it.

“I had zero expectations, so if they accepted it, then great!” Pennick says. “To my surprise and delight, the 33 1/3 editorial board gave the go-ahead, so I got to work.

“In some ways, writing a book was harder than making a film, which is crazy,” Pennick says. “Film is longer hours, you need a crew, you need to go to different locations. There’s more work with film, but with a book, it’s just you and the words.

“This is the first book I’ve ever written, and it just took up so much of my emotional bandwidth.”

But even as she moves her focus to developing new screen projects, writing scripts for television, and developing her first feature-length dramatic film, Pennick has found that the book has changed the way she listens to Voodoo. It helped her understand more about its inspiration and construction, which in turn helps her think differently about her own creative work. But it’s still about the music.

Voodoo doesn’t have the sort of being-hit-by-a-truck impact that it did the very first time I heard it,” Pennick says. “But it’s still a pretty otherworldly experience listening to that album.”

 

Images by Julia Lubas

 

Inspired by Hoop Dreams and by the work of filmmakers such as Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch, Pennick, then living in New York City, went to graduate school for film production and media management intending to become a producer. But the director’s chair called to her.

“I had my own ideas for films,” Pennick says, “and I knew that if I didn't direct them, I would likely never see those ideas on screen.” Since finishing her film degree, Pennick has directed multiple narrative short films and two documentaries, Silent Choices and Weightless. (She is currently developing her first dramatic fiction feature.)

In 2016, she was on vacation in Mexico with her family when the topic of the 33 1/3 Series came up, and Pennick’s sister suggested she pitch them a book on Voodoo. Later that summer, when the series had an open call for new projects, Pennick went for it.

“I had zero expectations, so if they accepted it, then great!” Pennick says. “To my surprise and delight, the 33 1/3 editorial board gave the go-ahead, so I got to work.

“In some ways, writing a book was harder than making a film, which is crazy,” Pennick says. “Film is longer hours, you need a crew, you need to go to different locations. There’s more work with film, but with a book, it’s just you and the words.

“This is the first book I’ve ever written, and it just took up so much of my emotional bandwidth.”

But even as she moves her focus to developing new screen projects, writing scripts for television, and developing her first feature-length dramatic film, Pennick has found that the book has changed the way she listens to Voodoo. It helped her understand more about its inspiration and construction, which in turn helps her think differently about her own creative work. But it’s still about the music.

Voodoo doesn’t have the sort of being-hit-by-a-truck impact that it did the very first time I heard it,” Pennick says. “But it’s still a pretty otherworldly experience listening to that album.”

 

Images by Julia Lubas

 

 


 


 

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Starting college looks a lot different this year for first-year students like J.J., with many courses and activities meeting online. The LSA Annual Fund provides support for tuition, room, and board, as well as the technology and tools necessary to connect to classes and campus. Your support means LSA students won’t miss a beat.


 

 

 

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Release Date: 10/26/2020
Category: Alumni
Tags: LSA; Sociology; LSA Magazine; Brian Short; Social Sciences; Julia Lubas