Raphael Saadiq brings it back to the past with his current release.
Full disclosure: I may very well be in love with Raphael Saadiq. I've actually interviewed him once before, when the former Tony! Toni! Ton�! frontman dropped his solo debut Instant Vintage in 2002. But time has passed between us, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Don't we, Raphael? Oh yes, we do.
I have mentioned quite a number of times in this column how this man's work--whether performed by himself or others--can put me in an continuous state of joy. When I see a Saadiq-produced track on somebody's album, I'm certain it'll be the best on the whole damn thing. And I'm usually right.
Saadiq, now in his early 40s, just released his new record The Way I See It on Columbia--his first release in four years. Saadiq worked on it for two years while creating singles for other performers. Like most of his music, it contains a sound reminiscent and respectful of the music he grew up listening to on the streets of Oakland.
"Well, it's just something I always touched on throughout my career," says Saadiq about old soul, talking from his Blakeslee Recording complex in North Hollywood, his quiet, hushed voice coming through the receiver and practically tickling the inside of my ear with such soothing and scintillating--uh, yeah, where were we?
He continues: "It was a very organic type of way to go. And anybody who knows me is probably not that surprised. But it's something I've always touched on. I just had more time to dedicate to it."
To say Way has a nostalgic feel would be underplaying it. It's certain to have listeners tripping back to the soul of the '60s, whether it came from Motown, Stax or the Philadelphia International days of Gamble and Huff. It's a shame Norman Whitfield recently died. (The day after Way's release, incidentally.) It would've made him beam with pride.
Saadiq insists he's not jumping on the old-school R&B revival bandwagon producer Mark Ronson (who Saadiq says is a good friend) and his trainwreck of a muse Amy Winehouse helped usher into the pop-music consciousness. But he admits he went to the music of Motown greats (Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin) and various Funk Brothers (James Jamerson, Jack Ashford) for inspiration.
"I wasn't going for anything but a great feeling, you know, like they did. They were going for what they could do best. And I kinda just went for what I could do best and what I could deliver.
"It's a lot of things that go into it, you know. It's wardrobe. It's the night. It's the mood, and the mood of the people around you. The attitudes. Whatever you went through that year. There's a lot more to it than copping or going for a type of feel."
Saadiq was certainly surrounded by some talented folk while making Way. The album includes guest shots from Joss Stone and Stevie Wonder. Jay-Z even lends his services for a bonus remix of one of the tracks.
If there's one thing Saadiq can't help sounding a bit cynical about, it's the chance his album will get mainstream radio play. His previous solo joints were more like acquired tastes, and Saadiq accepts that Way, delightful as it may be, could very well be categorized the same way.
"You never know what radio is loving or what they wanna play, especially urban radio," he says. "This music is very representative of black music. But sometimes you have to reeducate people on our music. And if you can do it in a way they can listen to it, I think they'll listen to it. It's already something that's inside them. And I think that was the saving grace for me--this [music] is already in you, whether you're black or white or whatever. But it was up to me to make my music to pull it outta them."
Saadiq isn't looking only to entertain audiences, but to enlighten them. To teach them--in order to fully appreciate current music--they shouldn't forget about the music of yesteryear. Because the music of the past can often bring more pleasure and exhilaration than the music of the present. And he knows you know this.
Yes, it's official: I love this man.