The Soul Seen: Raphael Saadiq

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find still resonate today.

From the original ISPYSOUL feature segment, IN FOCUS, 2003

RAPHAEL SAADIQ DO YOU REALLY KNOW

Depending upon with whom you speak, the name RAPHAEL SAADIQ will elicit various responses. The lion’s share of folks will no doubt place him as the thin-framed, lead voice of the ultra-funky, soul trio, TONY, TONI, TONÉ that garnered much love and success from the late 80’s through the 90’s. From Oakland, CA, Saadiq (né, Wiggins) along with brother, Dwayne and cousin, Timothy Christian, made an impact on the R&B scene with an organic, live sound that meshed their love and reverence for vintage funk and soul as well as gospel with a current day gleam, churning out top-ten hits like “Little Walter”, “The Blues”, “It Never Rains (In Southern California)” and “Anniversary” to name only a few. Others will site their connection to Saadiq as brainchild and member of the group, LUCY PEARL, that featured EN VOGUE alum, vocalist Dawn Robinson and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from standout hip-hop clique, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST. Their brief, but successful union spawned the Grammy® nominated hit, “Dance Tonight.” And still others will be familiar with his string of soundtrack efforts like the hit, “Get Involved” featuring rap luminary, Q-tip, from the PJ’s, “Ask of You” from Higher Learning or “Just Me and You” from Boyz In The Hood. But perhaps only the more savvy music mavens will realize the enormity of Saadiq’s work as writer and producer – An impressive string of hits that have filled Billboard charts and grabbed a host of awards, but have flowed from the lips and tracks of others. Tracks from artists like D’Angelo (“Untitled”, “Lady”), Erykah Badu (“Love Of My Life” featuring Common), Angie Stone (“Brotha”), Bilal (“Soul Sista”), Calvin Richardson (“She’s Got The Love”), Macy Gray, Whitney Houston, Kelly Price, The Roots, the Isley Brothers and so many, many more. The irony in all of this is that not until the 2002 release of his debut (that’s right, debut), INSTANT VINTAGE, could Saadiq truly be recognized by the masses as a solo artist.

“I think, more or less, that I was really trying to figure out and find out what was going on with the [music] business and learn it,” says Saadiq of the wait. “I could of have taken off when I was younger and done an album, but it really wasn’t about that for me – to be like a Bobby Brown or Usher and win BET (the network) all over, that really wasn’t me. I’m really like a band oriented person and I really love making music. There were some people who were saying, ’If you wait to late, you’re going to be too old to do an album.’ But, I was like, you know what, whatever happens and whatever comes to me, I’m [at least] enjoying producing at the same time and I can get off on being in the studio and just listening to [the music] myself.”

Lucky for us he shared his “Gospeldelic” sound, an ingenious concoction of his musical influences, and in the process, proved his choice to wait was the right one. The critically acclaimed Instant Vintage garnered three Grammy nominations – one for best R&B Album and two for the hit from it, “Be Here” featuring D’Angelo. Now, Saadiq is back with his follow-up, RAPHAEL SAADIQ: ALL HITS AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, a live two CD set that is a soul-stirring, good time ride through some of the illustrious stages of his career, past and present. It also celebrates and represents another first for him – the first release on his reactivated, Pookie Entertainment label, on which the Lucy Pearl project was put out, but that is now totally independent. According to Saadiq, starting with a live recording was very significant.

“The reason I decided to do my first record live was because that’s where it starts for me,” says Saadiq. “So when I was starting this label I wanted it to be how I started my life as a musician. I also had songs that you couldn’t get all at one time – stuff from the Boyz In The Hood soundtrack, Higher Learning, Baby Boy, “Get Involved” from The PJ’s – so I wanted to put all these things on one record along with some Tony songs, and some of the new stuff from Instant Vintage that people really didn’t get to hear. [Basically] I wanted to connect the dots before I really moved on to a new chapter.”

Indeed, the super gig recorded live at the House of Blues in Los Angeles wields an ultra-tight band backing up Saadiq as he rouses a sold-out crowd with an array of memorable tracks. But that only holds half the excitement. The other half comes from the guests who share the stage with him. Fellow Bay-area standouts Goapele and Ledisi lend their characteristic flair to the track, “Different Times,” while Leslie Wilson of the legendary soul/R&B group, New Birth (“Wildflower”), mesmerizes the crowd with soul–drenched and evocative old-school sway on “Uptown.” More surprises come as D’Angelo joins Saadiq for a fierce version of the hit, “Be Here” and the piece d’resistance, a reunion of the Tonies- Saadiq, Dwayne and Timothy- vibin’ like old times on some of their biggest hits like “Lay Your Head On My Pillow,” and “Whatever You Want.” Appearances from sexy siren, Joi, Devin The Dude on “Just A Man” and DJ Quik on the 3T smash, “Let’s Get Down”, round out the guest spots. Through it all, Saadiq punctuates the kaleidoscopic sound of bygone funk and soul, hip-hop and an infusion of spiritual joy, with an ardent tone – confident and sincere – serving as a clarion call for all to share fond memories and embrace the new. When you ask Raphael Saadiq about how he feels when he sees people respond to all the music he’s been a part of he responds with a contented lilt,.

“ I think I’m overwhelmed, like they are.” I think we both get the shock. I sing something and they scream and I’m feeling the exact way they are because we’re both finally seeing it in a full circle.” And he adds, “I just really appreciate knowing how much people really love the music. That makes me feel really good.” “Feels Good” – hmmm, sounds like a song to me!

Bert Caldwell

(C) ISPYSOUL

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