He is a standard bearer for what folks call ‘old school’ music, a contemporary artist continuing a time-honored tradition that goes back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. From his early days as a member of the groundbreaking ‘80s group Tony! Toni! Toné! through his work as an award-winning producer of such artists as Joss Stone, The Roots, Snoop Dogg, John Legend among many others and his own solo albums, the multi-talented Raphael Saadiq has kept the faith. “Every record I’ve ever made has had those influences…The Temptations, Al Green, The Four Tops and so on,” Raphael explains from the L.A. studio where he recorded his latest illustrious work. This album is the culmination of a life time of experiences informed by the music i grew up on."
Indeed. Listening to The Way I See It, it’s immediately obvious that it could have been recorded thirty years ago. Musically cohesive in the same way that soul music albums were recorded back in the day, Raphael’s third solo album and first for Sony BMG is not merely a throwback: it is as close to the kind of record made in Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Miami or New York by any number of super R&B hit makers to anything recorded since. While other contemporary artists may attempt to emulate the sound and flavor of ‘70s soul music, Raphael Saadiq brings real emotion, real feeling and production values that are simply (to borrow a popular phrase from back then), right on.
The inspiration for singer/songwriter/musician/producer and arranger Raphael’s follow up to 2004’s critically-acclaimed “Ray Ray” set came from an unlikely destination. “I was out of the country, cooling out, in Costa Rica and The Bahamas. I was surfing and ran into people from all kinds of places…and I noticed everybody was listening to this classic soul music and when I came back home and the music for this album flowed organically, naturally. Since I have my own studio, I was able to perfect it, take my time to make it right. I was able to live with it, day after day and I think that had a lot to do with how the album turned out. In all, it took about four months to put it all together.”
The result is that The Way I See It has the kind of smooth musical flow associated with great records made by pioneering producers at famous R&B companies like Motown, Invictus and Brunswick. From the foot-tapping opening track, “Sure Hope You Mean It” to the head-shaking reflective closer “Sometimes,” Raphael delivers a present day potent ode to a bygone era. Talking about the songs, he notes, “The first track shows my deep connection to The Temptations. The vocal has a David Ruffin ‘feel’: I pictured how it was when Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and the guys in the Temps were first introduced to the world. I looked at a lot of their album covers so I could immerse myself in the characters. I think of the track as vintage Motown with a Stax guitar line factored in…it’s like a melting pot of the two sounds…”
Loyal Tony! Toni! Toné! fans will particularly appreciate “100 Yard Dash,” which Raphael describes as “a juke joint, Booker T.-type groove. I reflected back to my first T!T!T! albums when I was singing in a high tenor voice.” British R&B fans – specifically ‘Northern Soul’ lovers – will dig “Keep Marching” with its insistent driving beat and Raphael notes, “That’s the kind of song that can drive people crazy at my live shows…it’s a performance piece.” Cognizant of the strong respect and appreciation that UK audiences have for authentic soul music, Raphael adds, “I can’t wait to get to Europe to perform the songs on this album!”
Speaking of the love Brits have for old school R&B, Grammy-winning Joss Stone (with whom Raphael worked on the best-selling 2007 set “Introducing Joss Stone”) is a special guest on the Smokey Robinson-inspired “Just One Kiss,” which also invokes memories of The Temps’ “Just My Imagination.” Says Raphael, “The track reminds me of early ‘70s soul songs and getting Joss to sing on it wasn’t hard because she has a profound appreciation for great classic music.”
That same love for real music is exactly what has created a solid and loyal audience for traditional soul sounds among a whole generation of Latino concert-goers and record buyers: “Callin,’” with its Spanish language lines and pronounced doo-wop flavor is, Raphael notes, “a jump back to the music of the ‘50s. I wanted to make a track that would get the low riders. People talk about the division between Latinos and blacks but we all grew up together loving the same music. This song is a reminder of how we do when we get together…”
Hearkening back to the Hot Wax and Invictus records made in Detroit by Holland-Dozier-Holland (soul music buffs, think Freda Payne and The Honeycone), “Staying In Love” is a nifty dance floor gem: “It reminds me of a Jackson 5 record, with that James Jamerson bass line, the kind of energy folks love from those Motown tracks.” And the lyrics? “I wrote it with my ex in mind…some of it is fabricated and some of it is true to life!” Raphael doesn’t fess up about the lyrics for the catchy “Let’s Talk A Walk” (opening line,
“This place is crowded/Don’t know bout’ you/I need some sex/Some sex with you…”) only commenting that it’s “self explanatory!”
As self-explanatory is the fact that Raphael Saadiq would make an album so satisfying for both old school heads and today’s hip music buyers: his background as a musician, singer and songwriter is steeped in a love for R&B married with a commitment to making his own brand of expressive soul music. Born and raised in Oakland, California learned to play guitar, drums, and bass at the age of six, making the bass his preferred instrument. Singing with a professional gospel group by the time he was nine, Raphael’s musical education encompassed classical music, ‘40’s spirituals, hymns, jazz and, of course, R&B. Shortly after high school, Saadiq won a chance to join Prince and Sheila E. on their 1984 “Parade” world tour.
As the lead vocalist and bass player with late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s group Tony! Toni! Toné!, Raphael experienced his first taste of mega-success, kicking off with the hit single, "Little Walter" in 1988 through the now-classic slow jam “It Never Rains (In Southern California)" and the club/dance party of "Feels Good," resulting in total sales of over six million copies for the band.
After leaving the group, Raphael recorded two singles for hit movies (1995's "Ask of You" from “Higher Learning” and "Me & You" from “Boyz in the Hood”). In 2000, he created the supergroup Lucy Pearl (with En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad) and the team’s much-appreciated sole self-titled album received Grammy, American Music Awards and Soul Train Music Awards nominations.
Production credits for artists like Macy Gray, TLC and the Roots followed: in 2000, Raphael won a Grammy for the song "Untitled" from D'Angelo’s “Voodoo” and in 2002, he released his much-anticipated first solo album. Released on his own Pookie Entertainment imprint, the soul-infused “Instant Vintage” made history when Raphael became the first artist nominated for no less than five Grammy Awards without having a major record label deal.
In 2003, Raphael released the live CD, “All Hits at the House of Blues” following it in 2004 with “Ray Ray.” In demand as a producer, songwriter and musician, Raphael’s impressive list of credits includes Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Anthony Hamilton, Devin the Dude, Kelis, Q-Tip, Lil' Skeeter, Ludacris, The Bee Gees, Nappy Roots, T-Boz from TLC, Young Bellz, Earth, Wind & Fire and many others: in 2006, he was the main producer and co-writer of seven songs for the “Introducing Joss Stone” project.
Now comes The Way I See It, a masterful collection of new material that speaks to Raphael Saadiq’s deep love for rhythm and blues. “While I was making the album, I watched videos by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Al Green, The Four Tops…and fused them all together,” Raphael says speaking of the further inspiration he found for creating the album, which truly showcases the rich diversity of funky grooves and smooth balladry that is Saadiq’s calling card.
The standout “Oh Girl” (not the Chi-Lites classic but an original Saadiq composition) stirs up images of famed Philly soul harmony groups like The Delfonics and The Stylistics: “I love the ballads by those groups, they’re among my favorite songs. When I listen to them, I wonder where did that sound come from. “Oh Girl” is like the kind of slow jam (director) Quentin Tarantino has use in his movies…” Another director, Spike Lee provided the impetus for the fast-moving “Big Easy,” with its notable New Orleans flavor: “I watched Spike’s DVD on the Katrina disaster and watching the people stay in the water for three days, man, wow …”
Raphael grins when talking about the hypnotic “Love That Girl”: “Man, that’s all about the swing…the way girls swing their hips! It’s the type of song that will make people move and that shuffle beat reminds me of those ladies I used to see playing drums in church!” With its Motown-flavored tambourine-featured beat, “Never Give You Up” is what Raphael calls “my three generations song. It includes C.J., this youngster from Baltimore that I’m working with and Stevie Wonder. When we first did the track, I had this spot where we said, ‘Please invite Mr. Stevie Wonder to my album’ the way Stevie did with Dizzy Gillespie on one of his records. Originally, Stevie wasn’t on it but I felt like he should be there. I ended up calling him and he came over to the studio in an hour! I still can’t used to Stevie Wonder being my friend.”
The Way I See It ends appropriately with the Sam Cooke-influenced “Sometimes” which Raphael explains is “the story of my mother and my grandmother who have always been such an inspiration to me through this journey. It felt right to close out the record this way.”
Concluding, Raphael Saadiq – whose most recent studio excursions have included work with Keisha Cole, Snoop Dogg, The Grouch and Dave Young – says his latest album was “harder to make than “Instant Vintage.” Once I got into this, I got almost stuck ‘in character,’ the character of the old school singers I listened to. But I’m happy and excited it’s done. I put in a lot of work and I feel like I achieved something really great.” As longtime R&B historian and expert David Nathan of Soul Music.com says, “Raphael Saadiq’s latest album is the closest I’ve heard to a genuine, feel good R&B record since the ‘70s! Unlike others who copy or attempt to recreate the sound of soul from those days, Raphael Saadiq delivers the real thing.” ‘Nuff said.