Questlove was frustrated. He was working on a new project with his fellow Aquarius D’angelo that challenged everything he knew about groove. “Play it drunker!” D’angelo encouraged, “Use the force!” Questlove hadn’t even seen Star Wars, and though his euphonious associate and he had agreed on calling their musical idols “Yodas,” he was still confused how to play behind the beat on a beat that was already behind the beat. Eventually, though, the two were able to find their own pocket, birthing one of the defining suites of the mid-Y2K neo-soul movement: D’Angelo’s Voodoo.
The two had started a movement within neo-soul, creating a collective of collaborators known as The Soulquarians. Beside the founders D’Angelo and Questlove, the legion of soul royalty included Erykah Badu, Common, J Dilla, Bilal, Roy Hargrove, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Pino Palladino, James Poyser, and Q-Tip. Why the name? Members Questlove, D’Angelo, Dilla, and James Poyser all share the same astrological sign: Aquarius. So, how did these members of soul royalty end up working together?
After taking a four year hiatus post-release of his massively successful debut Brown Sugar, and finding himself through studying the likes of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, D’Angelo was motivated to hit the studio again. He headed to New York and set up shop at Electric Ladyland Studios, the studio founded by Hendrix just before his death. Though the place at the time seemed to be dying, D’Angelo had a vision, and was enamored with the fact that he would be able to purvey Stevie Wonder playing the same keys used to record Music of My Mind and Talking Book on his own album.
D’Angelo had the entire studio booked, and with the help of Questlove, they slowly started to bring in each member of the Soulquarians to collaborate on three projects: D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate. According to Questlove, there was a healthy amount of collaboration and competition within the three studio spaces, three masterpieces ensuing as a result.