The Return of Ray Ray
by Abraham Kuranga
Raphael Saadiq is cool. Student Council president cool. Zach Morris cool. O.K. well, you get the point. Saadiq is also extremely focused. No stranger to success, Saadiq has reached both highs and lows, but mostly highs, with Tony! Toni! Toné! and later Lucy Pearl.
Saadiq was introduced to listeners via the Tony’s well received Little Walter debut. The snowball really started to build with the group’s next release, The Revival, fueled by the hits “It Never Rains (In Southern California)” and “Feels Good.”
As the highs could seem to get no higher, Saadiq decided to take his own path to the top. “I definitely enjoy being solo,” Saadiq says. “In a group, you are forced to write for three different people, different personalities,” he continues. Saadiq, though, is his own man.
Born and raised in Oakland, California as Raphael Wiggins, Saadiq has become one of the most respected singer/songwriter/producers in music today. He has performed with people like Prince, D’Angelo, Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu. He wrote hit singles like D’Angelo’s “Untitled” and Badu’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop).” Saadiq was introduced to listeners as a solo artist via a few hit soundtrack singles in the 90s, including “Ask of You” from the film Higher Learning and the Q-Tip collaboration “Get Involved” from the soundtrack of the animated Eddie Murphy TV series The P.J.s.
After the hit detour to super group Lucy Pearl (with Dawn Robinson from En Vogue and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest) in 2000, his solo debut album Instant Vintage did well in 2002, charting with the singles “Be Here” (with D’Angelo) and “Still Ray” and earning five Grammy Nominations.
Now, Saadiq has returned with a new arsenal entitled Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray. “Instant Vintage is like my Off the Wall,” Saadiq says, referencing Michael Jackson’s initial foray as a solo artist. He continues that he wanted the album to be more aggressive, more up-tempo than anything he’d done in the past.
That brings us to the name Ray Ray. “I was just bringing it back to Oakland,” says Saadiq. “All my boys from back home know me as Ray Ray, so it’s kinda like a nod to them,” Saadiq continues. It is his back home experiences that inspired Ray Ray. “When I was young, I would watch a lot of blaxploitation movies, with incredible story lines,” Saadiq says. “With this album, I wanted to put a story to music,” he continues. “We actually shot the album cover before recording the album so I would have a visual to work from.”
Ray Ray boasts an array of rock, soulful and hip hop cuts that go hand-in-hand with the blaxploitation theme. “Ray Ray’s Theme” is a funky, Shaft-inspired tune coupled with dramatic strings. Saadiq’s voice is just slick enough to take you back. The most gullible listener would think they were listening to some old school soul cat.
“This is the people’s record,” Saadiq says of Ray Ray. “I just want everyone to have a good time.” A good time is definitely the only thing to be had with this set. “Live Without You”, “Not A Game” featuring Babyface, and “I Want You Back” are standout tracks. All three tote groovy, laid back vibes typical of Saadiq and his music.
More than any other element, hip-hop is the dominant characteristic in Ray Ray. Asked if the influence was intentional, Saadiq says, “Not so much intentional, but it’s definitely a part of me.”
Ray Ray is being released by Saadiq’s own Pookie Entertainment label. After years of major label releases with past projects, Saadiq felt the time was right. “It was time to control my own destiny,” Saadiq explains. “The entrepreneur in me always wanted to do it.” Not that the major labels didn’t do a good job, but Saadiq feels that it’s his time to be in charge. “I learn more doing it myself,” he says. “I can see the vision.”
Raphael Saadiq definitely had vision. Call it divine inspiration or what have you. Saadiq has it and he wants everyone to know. “I just want people to remember me as a consistent artist,” Saadiq says. “One who took chances.” If his music is any indication, listening to Raphael Saadiq is a chance worth taking.
|#1 © 2004 Courtesy of Pookie Entertainment.|
|#2 © 2002 Courtesy of Universal Music Group.|
Copyright © 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 5, 2004.