R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn, also known as the “Love King of R&B,” is no stranger to making conscious music that’s also perfect for your after-dark playlist. With his latest album, What A Time To Be In Love, released last November, the 45-year-old intertwines social justice issues, like the brutal police killing of George Floyd, with an intimate celebration of Black love.
ESSENCE spoke to DeVaughn about his most recent album and why it’s so important for him to use his platform to uplift his community.
Congratulations on your new album, What A Time Time To Be In Love. Our favorite songs are the ones that you co-wrote, including “Marvin Used to Say” and “Lawd Help Me.” You sing about the racial climate in this country, which is a topic that plenty of singers shy away from. Why did you decide to address social justice issues on an album that’s primarily about love?
RAHEEM DEVAUGHN: I’ve always been a socially conscious artist. So I’ve always used my platform to bring awareness to things I don’t agree with—not only in my community, but just the planet. My new album is no different. I wanted to create something with album number eight that spoke to the signs of the times, that could be [put in a time capsule]. It’s intentional with the gift and the wordplay and the message. That’s always been really important to me.
Let’s talk about your song “Marvin Used To Say.” You seem to be encouraging leaders like Alicia Garza, Angela Rye, David Banner and others to keep pushing on in spite of the fatigue they might be feeling. Why did you feel it was important to send them this message?
DEVAUGHN: I mean, it wasn’t only meant to be encouragement, but it was also to acknowledge them. It was my way of saying thank you. It’s such a crucial time in the middle of a pandemic where you go out and risk your life to fight for our rights and fight for our lives and to see justice for lives that have been lost. Breonna Taylor, for example. The amount of time that was spent in that state, they become our “superheroes” [for tending] to the families and to the community. That’s why it’s important for me to mention them on the record. It would be no different than Marvin [Gaye] speaking about Malcom X or Martin Luther King during that time period. Music is the heartbeat of our people. It’s just another way to tap in and communicate.
You said, “I’m not your n****, I was born a king,” in your song “Lawd Help Me.” That’s really powerful. Let’s talk about how important it is to know our worth as black people, even if other people refuse to see it.
DEVAUGHN: The simple reality is iron sharpens iron. So that’s my attempt to sharpen the iron, to let our people know, just as you are a reflection of me, I am a reflection of you. I too have come from humble beginnings, so it’s about continuous celebration. We’ve been through so much in real time, [but] we have to remind ourselves the world is a beautiful place. We are a resilient beautiful race of people and in fact maybe that’s why we receive the hate that we do. What A Time To Be In Love is a celebration of Blackness. Black love, intimacy, the awakening, the manifestation that can happen. It embodies all of that.
When did you first realize that singing is your calling?
DEVAUGHN: Probably 1984 [during] Motown 25. I remember seeing Mike [Michael Jackson] across the stage and being drawn to that and having that moment where I was like, I’m going to do that. I remember the lightbulb going off at that time. Mike [Michael Jackson], Marvin Gaye, the death of Marvin Gaye, just remember that hitting me and me feeling some kind of way about that. When I made my new single, “Mr. Midnight,” I wanted to make something that reminded me of [Marvin Gaye’s] “Sexual Healing.” When “Sexual Healing” would come on, it hit women. They moved different for that three or four minutes when the record played. So “Mr. Midnight” definitely has a mood to it, a mystic that reminds me of that record.
What’s the one thing you want your fans to take away from this album?
DEVAUGHN: The rich legacy of R&B and Soul music is forever. Our blackness is forever. A level of consciousness and intimacy can be intertwined with what we do as artists. Great music is here to stay.