Raphael Saadiq: Good Man Standing
Soul music has been enduring a rough period for some time now. While other music genres somehow managed to reinvent themselves from time to time, soul seems to be stuck in some sort of dead angle where artists look for the adequate approach to deliver their art form. The intention to balance out innovations with classic influences has become a hard task for more than just a few R&B acts.
Raphael Saadiq, however, seems to be one of the very few artists that remained true to their style and outlived the regular life span of a recording artist. Hailing from the musically-rich Oakland, Calfornia, the crooner has proven to stay relevant for almost three decades in the music business without subduing his craft to short-lived trends and neglected to jump any seductive bandwagons. The former frontman of Tony! Toni! Toné! is currently readying his studio album Stone Rollin', which marks a testimony to the notion of staying true to oneself. Its ten songs are reminiscent of soul’s golden era when Detroit’s Motown Records dominated the global charts. We sat down with the artist and talked to him about how his time-tested music will feed modern ears.
Can you tell us a little about your new album Stone Rollin'? What is the theme and how does it differ from your previous efforts?
Stone Rollin' is set up with ten records. It conveys more aggression transcended through bluesy rock influences. It also offers some Motown-driven inspirations as you can hear by my single “Good Man” for instance. Basically you will hear lots of upper tones coupled with a soulful sound. Stone Rollin' means “Shooting the Dice.” That’s how I felt when I made this record. Lots of things are happening in the music industry nowadays with all these trends and fast living music careers. I tried to put the music as an essential component to the foreground. It feels pretty much like gambling to me since I really don’t try to sell a product which is created by market demands, but my personal art.
Your vintage sound evokes memories from soul's great era during the '60s and '70s. How do you think the younger generation will appreciate your art?
As a musician I really don’t think I have to adapt to their taste of music but rather to my own way of expression. If they are willing to accept my mature sound and quality music itself, then they should easily qualify to be able to listen to my music.
What is your own formula to attain longevity in a such a complicated industry like the music business?
Honestly, I can be all that I am. Staying true to myself and my art form. As a musician there are always periods in your life when you fell burnt out by all the pressure from the audience and your label. I am aware of the fact that the industry around me is constantly changing but that has never affected me. I am only bothering to what I can deliver and not what people around me are telling me.
You recently performed with living rock legend Mick Jagger during this year's Grammy Awards. How do you evaluate this experience and can you draw any parallels with him?
Sharing the stage with an icon like Mick Jagger was not only a great honor but also a confirmation for my music really. I can relate to him due to his so-called American period. His love for rhythm and blues, country blues and Chicago blues impressed me. His love for Muddy Waters, whom I respect, is well known. His appreciation for these type of sounds is an indicator that music is a universal language. No matter who you are and what you are, if you open up yourself towards
the music, it can easily become a linking element in your life.
I always refer to the musical family tree with numerous small branches of distinct music genres and sounds. Apparently, we love the same type of music so we are nestled in similar if not the same musical branches. At the end of the day it all comes down to the appreciation of music. Given his impressive music catalog, I feel blessed that he and I share the same passion for this art.
This is quite a fitting event since he is the frontman of the Rolling Stones, and your album is called Stone Rollin'.
(Laughs) That really was a coincidence but pretty welcomed one I must admit. Like the title of my LP already indicates, I was throwing the dice and got rewarded by performing with one of the few living legends in today’s music.
Can you tell us a little bit about the storytelling in your new single "Good Man"?
The concept behind this song is a tragic one. It is based on a true story that a close friend of mine had to endure. It was a case of domestic abuse. He and his partner struggled with lust and longing, while entering the touchy fields of social climbing and humility. He got sucked down by his occupation, lifestyle and wrong friends, which caused his blackout. But when she was in real afterwards he was there for her. He had his two jobs, gathered all this money to give it to his woman. The song intends to put today’s men in a good light. Being a man today is far from easy, but I guess we also deserve some recognition since there are men in this world that are really trying hard to take care of the people close to them – despite personal mistakes or setbacks.
Do you plan to work with some of the members of The Ummah again?
As for the Ummah, we remain friends, but when J Dilla died we decided to breakup since he really was the mastermind behind it all. It would not be right to continue working without him.
Are there any chances that we see reunions from Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl?
No, I don’t have plans whatsoever to reunite with any of my previous groups. Neither Tony! Toni! Toné! nor Lucy Pearl.
Any last words?
I really look forward to performing this album in front of a live audience. I can’t wait to see all of you soon.