Raphael Saadiq can't help but keep it funky. As the former frontman for the eclectic band Tony! Toni! Toné!, Saadiq's unwavering allegiance to his brand of soul–syncopated beats and rhythms of jazz, blues, hip-hop, pop and salsa–is what has endeared him to those who have an affinity for gritty grooves smoothed out with his gentle vocals. Now, the fashion-forward crooner revives his distinct sound with his latest effort, "The Way I See It", a melodic journal revealing his innermost thoughts and experiences. ESSENCE.COM chatted with Saadiq about his point of view, teaming up with D'Angelo and his relationship with Joss Stone.
ESSENCE.COM: Mr. Saadiq, we've missed you! Judging by the title of your album, what is your musical perspective?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: It's a culmination of a few things based on the climate of this music industry. I try to keep in mind that people really want to have a good time and hear music that sounds familiar to them. Whenever I write or create music, it's important for me to feel like I can walk out and feel proud as a songwriter, producer and artist. I want to make sure that I give people more than just a six-piece record or generic throwback.
ESSENCE.COM: As a music veteran, do you ever feel a need to keep up with the Joneses of today's younger artists?
SAADIQ: First of all, I don't think any artist should ever try to do what another does. I've never tried to appeal to a younger generation. When Tony! Toni! Toné! came out we were already playing music that was ahead of the times. Now, I don't know if the young heads are going to get it and truly understand my music without doing the research to understand where my influences come from. There's a huge difference from when I was growing up and today's kids who are sitting home watching Barney. When I was seven years old I was already playing bass, gigging and loving the Temptations, Al Green and Sly & the Family Stone. Musically, I was pretty much educated before I ever had a record deal.
ESSENCE.COM: Music appreciation is often the best music education one can receive. Your material has always been relatable. On your last album, "Instant Vintage", you wrote about some intensely personal experiences in your life. Was it difficult to relive them through your music?
SAADIQ: I had never really talked about my family tragedies, and it's funny because it didn't really hit me until some years later because when you're in the moment you're still experiencing it and piecing everything together. When I began recording it was therapeutic in a sense and it had me thinking, Wow, all these things really happened.
ESSENCE.COM: There are few who can enjoy success as a solo artist and as part of a group the way you did with Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl. Would you ever join another group?
SAADIQ: Ideally, I'd love to do the group thang with D'Angelo, who is busy working on his own album for J Records in my studio, and Kamal [Q-Tip]. I would definitely work with them.
ESSENCE.COM: You all would definitely make beautiful music together. Also, you have a knack for collaborating with fresh talent like Joss Stone, whose last album you executive-produced and whom you've been romantically linked to. Have you ever overestimated someone's talent?
SAADIQ: Joss and I are cool and are close friends–strictly platonic. That's a rumor that we were in a relationship. Although I have a knack for talent, I am not always great at recognizing the people who are not good for me to be around. It always takes me a minute to figure out the company I might be keeping isn't always the best, but I'm working on that. I got the music down, but I'm definitely working on becoming a better private investigator.
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