Raphael Saadiq Interview
|Label:||Columbia Records/Pookie Ent.|
|Next Project:||The Way I See It (9/16)|
|Twitter:||Raphael Saadiq on Twitter|
|Website:||Raphael Saadiq's Website|
Nearly six years ago, long-time record producer and performer Raphael Saadiq released his solo debut, Instant Vintage. Similarly to his work with Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl, the project received rave reviews and earned the Oakland native five Grammy nominations. Since then, Saadiq has spent time working behind the scenes with A-list artists like Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg and Q-Tip, among others.
On September 16, Saadiq will release his third studio album, The Way I See It, courtesy of Columbia Records and his independent label, Pookie Entertainment. Led by the Temptations-influenced single, Love That Girl, the album’s inspiration was drawn from the soulful atmosphere and organic sound of tropical vacation spots like Costa Rica and the Bahamas. Known to fully immerse himself in his work, the multi-talented musician is solely responsible for writing, producing, arranging and performing the entire project.
In an exclusive interview with DJBooth’s DJ “Z,” Raphael steps inside the booth to talk about his musical progression as a solo artist, why the sub-genre “neo-soul” belongs in a trash can, how Kanye West has influenced his sound, and what he is planning to do with Q-Tip and D’Angelo in the near future.
Listen to the Interview
Raphael Saadiq Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy ‘Z,’ doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a long-time industry producer and performer whose talents have spawned greatness in the form of Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl, in addition to the work of Mary J. Blige, the Roots, John Legend, and many more. Set to release his brand new solo album on September 16th, please welcome Raphael Saadiq – how you doin’?
Raphael Saadiq: What’s goin’ on, Z?
DJ Booth: Not much. You sound a little tired. You were talkin’ [in the pre-interview] about how you just got off the red eye, I just got off a long flight myself, comin’ back from Israel. I cannot stand planes. In fact, I’m sick of planes. If I never see a plane again, I’ll be very happy.
Raphael Saadiq: [laughs] No, I’m actually good. I guess I do sound a little tired, but I like feelin’ like this. I’m relaxing.
DJ Booth: Are you someone who’s able to sleep on a plane?
Raphael Saadiq: Oh yeah, I slept the whole time.
DJ Booth: Now, is that all-natural sleep?
Raphael Saadiq: With a little help.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Okay. Everybody needs a little help now and then. But how are you? You’ve gotta be happy; you’ve got a new album coming out.
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah, I’m excited. I’m happy to have some new music added to [my catalog], and to give people something different to listen to from me, and hopefully you all can enjoy it together and have some fun.
DJ Booth: Isn’t that the truth. You dropped your solo debut, Instant Vintage, in ‘02, so how have you changed as a solo artist since then?
Raphael Saadiq: I have more time to work with people, work with different artists, watch the climate of the industry completely change, and just see what was goin’ on and what was needed. It just gave me time to process everything, work with a lot of different artists in between, and kind of get back and be focused when it was time to do another record.
DJ Booth: The title of the forthcoming project is The Way I See It. So, how do you see it?
Raphael Saadiq: I see it that people don’t wanna be played with or joked with; people really want something they can gravitate to, and have somewhere to go at night, and talk about it on the way there, and enjoy it while they’re there, and when they leave, have something to talk about and go tell more people about.
DJ Booth: Well, what someone’s certainly going to be talking about is this new album in their hands, once it’s released on September 16th. What I really am happy about, though, is that it’s soul music, and I think that its been lost in the R&B world over the last few years. The current music environment, as you could agree or disagree with me, seems to breed cross-pollination, if you will, between genres – nothing is itself anymore. So, how important was it for you to deliver a pure soul record?
Raphael Saadiq: Well, I kinda thought [I was] puttin’ together a popular record, not just a soul record, even though I’ll never get away from soul, because that’s exactly where it comes from. But I just saw people that were very soulful, instead of just being soulful they put out good records – some records that were just soulful, but there were a lot of records that were soulful and very popular records, and I wanted to make that marriage happen again, with this record.
DJ Booth: What are your feelings on [contemporary R&B artists], who are marketed as neo-soul artists? Is that a fad that’s gonna die away?
Raphael Saadiq: That’s a fad that should be in the trash can two years ago. I mean, it was a nice try, and I think any of the people that were under that umbrella, they didn’t have a choice because they were receiving a check. I don’t think they had anything to do with it, actually. It stifles you as an artist. As much as they wanted to make me a part of it, I was way before it; we came out in ‘87, so this was way before neo-soul even happened. I just think, who wants new soul? I want my soul to be the same as Otis Redding, I don’t wanna have a new one.
DJ Booth: Exactly. With no samples, a totally live instrumental feel, and that retro sound, Raphael, is it appropriate to call this project a throwback?
Raphael Saadiq: Honestly, I can’t really put my hands on it. There’s so many smart people out there that’s going to call it whatever they feel like they should call it. Urban radio wants to say that it’s retro, so I’m like, would you call the Four Tops retro, or would you call it just the music you grew up on? Would you call it a throwback? Of course there’s a lot of throwback in it – it’s not a bad word. Honestly, I just wanna get it to people, and, whatever they wanna call it, I’m happy. But I call it my downtown sound, meaning when you go downtown these are the things you heard as a kid.
DJ Booth: I’m sure as long as people are playing it and people are listening to it, you don’t really care what they’re calling it.
Raphael Saadiq: They can call it what they want. [laughs]
DJ Booth: You’re accompanied by the legendary Stevie Wonder on Never Give You Up, so, two-part question. Part one, can you also play a mean harmonica?
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah, I play a mean harmonica, except the harmonica wouldn’t be in my hand, it would be in my mouth makin’ sounds.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Okay, part two, what would be the hardest thing for you in this world to give up forever?
Raphael Saadiq: Wow… It would be to never pick up a guitar ever again.
DJ Booth: The press release for this album claims that you were influenced by various regional sounds in the soul field. It named four cities in particular: Detroit, Memphis, Chicago, and Philadelphia. I’d love for you to name one artist from each of these cities whose work can be heard in your current sound. Let’s start off with Detroit.
Raphael Saadiq: Eddie Kendricks.
DJ Booth: Okay, what about Eddie’s sound?
Raphael Saadiq: Some of his falsetto. I got to mix, I can’t do one artist – I have to say David Ruffin, too. Their approach to playing a bass line on guitar.
DJ Booth: Okay, how about Memphis?
Raphael Saadiq: Memphis, I would have to say Booker T & The M.G.s.
DJ Booth: What about their work shines through?
Raphael Saadiq: Guitars, drums, the snap they would have on their drum rolls.
DJ Booth: What about my city, Chicago?
Raphael Saadiq: I would say Howlin’ Wolf and Kanye, because Howlin’ Wolf had that same type of attitude that Kanye [has], to me – you know, really aggressive, he’s Howlin’. I was amazed by him. Also, I have a lot of family in Chicago, and they all seem the same; they got that champion feel, they have that pride and confidence. If you don’t have that kind of confidence in yourself, who else is gonna have that confidence?
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree more. That’s the heart of the Midwest right there.
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah.
DJ Booth: And, lastly, Philadelphia.
Raphael Saadiq: Philly, it’ll have to be Thom Bell, and Gamble and Huff.
DJ Booth: A month ago, you held a listening session for the new album, but it was a female-only invite. So, is this a creative marketing move, or a deliberate ploy based on the direction of your new material?
Raphael Saadiq: Well, I didn’t have anything to do with that. It was just one of those things that happened. It was cool – it was all women, but some of the ladies brought their boyfriends, and they all asked questions. It sounds like it was a huge, sexist type of thing, but it was really kinda different for me, ‘cause people listened to the record very closely, and they asked questions about each record. They asked about what I was talkin’ about, who was I talkin’ about, how did come up with this sound, what made [me] do this; they asked really profound questions.
DJ Booth: In addition to the work that you’ve been doing for this brand new album, your work is also going to be found on the new Q-Tip album, Renaissance, as well as D’Angelo’s long-awaited new studio album. So as a collaborator, behind the boards and inside the booth, what does Raphael Saadiq bring to an artist’s project?
Raphael Saadiq: Friendship, man, harmony, and leadership – pushin’ people, just givin’ people that push, like I would expect them to do for me, they’d do the same for me in return.
DJ Booth: Would you say that in the current day and age, with Email and ProTools, that some of the qualities you just named have been lost in collaboration?
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah, a little bit. But if it’s good friends… like, Q-Tip and D’Angelo are really good friends of mine; we’re talkin’ about doin’ a group together called Lynwood Rose, all three of us at some point. So we’re always definitely pushin’ each other. And, to answer the question, Email doesn’t really get in between real musicians and real friends. We’ll go to each other.
DJ Booth: Well, that’s how true collaboration is fostered. Raphael, go ahead, give everyone a website or a MySpace page, so they can find out more about what you got goin’ on. Of course, the brand new album in stores September 16th, The Way I See It.
Raphael Saadiq: The MySpace is myspace.com/raphaelsaadiq.
DJ Booth: I wish you nothing but the best of luck, and I thank you so much for joinin’ me inside the DJ Booth. It was a pleasure to have you.
Raphael Saadiq: Thank you, Z.