He was born Michael Eugene Archer in Richmond, Virginia, to a father who was a Pentecostal preacher. His parents divorced while he was young, and he lived with his mother.
Before D'Angelo, no one ever heard of "neo soul," a genre that blends R&B and traditional soul music with elements of jazz, funk, pop, hip hop and African music. His 1995 album, Brown Sugar, has been hailed by music critics as the birth of the new style, whose purveyors would include Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Maxwell and, later, John Legend.
He wrote and recorded the demo tracks for Brown Sugar in his bedroom. He was 19 years old when he was signed to EMI Records and first started work on the album.
The first two songs he learned to play on the piano as a child were Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff
" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland
There was a 14-year gap between his second and third albums, Voodoo and Black Messiah, while he was struggling with depression and problems with drugs and alcohol.
At 12 years old, D'Angelo's biggest influence was Prince, and he studied his songs diligently. "Everything he did was the bomb," he said. "And, he could do it all himself. I was one of those kids reading the album credits. I knew back then that I wanted to do that type of s--t."
He has a son, Michael Jr., with soul singer Angie Stone.
He was considered for the role of Romeo in the 2002 comedy Juwanna Mann, but R&B singer Ginuwine got the part.