Raphael Saadiq: Still Ray

You can call Raphael Saadiq a lot of things: singer, songwriter, and producer are the first to come to mind. The former Tony Toni Toné lead singer has spent the better part of the last decade establishing himself as a one-man showcase for urban music, crafting hits for the likes of D’Angelo, Total, and, of […]

You can call Raphael Saadiq a lot of things: singer, songwriter, and producer are the first to come to mind. The former Tony Toni Toné lead singer has spent the better part of the last decade establishing himself as a one-man showcase for urban music, crafting hits for the likes of D’Angelo, Total, and, of course, himself.

Two years ago he released his solo debut, Instant Vintage, which resulted in Saadiq adding another title to his already impressive resume: executive. Regardless, don’t expect the Oakland native to lose his California cool as a label head.

While Pookie Entertainment has absolute autonomy after Saadiq parted ways with Universal Records, he doesn’t rule with an iron fist. Free-spirited artist Joi can be just as independent as she desires, whereas Truth [formerly Truth Hurts – see the AHHA interview https://staging.allhiphop.com/alternatives/index.asp?ID=55] chooses to work closely with Saadiq and Pookie. Now Raphael is back with his sophomore solo effort, Raphael Saadiq: As Ray Ray, and he’s keeping his mind humbly focused on success for himself and beyond.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives spoke with Raphael as he explained the indy hustle, his new project, and why R&B cats need to take a page from Pete Rock and CL Smooth.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: So how’s everything going with your label, Pookie Entertainment?

Raphael Saadiq: Everything’s going cool. Everything’s real settled.

AHHA: It seems most people associate going the independent route with Hip-Hop, with R&B do you find it to be a different perspective?

RS: Nope, it’s all the same. It’s all the struggle, it’s all the grind, and it’s all the hustle. You doing everything for yourself, and you making everything happen on your own. So, it’s very much like Hip-Hop.

AHHA: How has it been for you to move between being a collaborator with Truth or Joe and working with them as a businessman?

RS: Truth’s thing, we kind of run her whole thing – but Joi’s project is kind of being spun off by Joi. I’m like a partner with Joi, but she’s doing her own label, too. So it’s Pookie, we did the music with her, but she’s kind of running herself. I don’t really have to deal with that on a day-to-day. I really only got to deal with myself and Truth right now – on a day-to-day.

AHHA: The process of going independent seems like it would be a liberating thing for you, based on your expertise with different instruments and your songwriting skills.

RS: Yeah, it is exactly. It’s always a journey, you know? There’s always something to look forward to and to get a response from people, so it’s always an uplifting thing for me.

AHHA: Is your new album a continuation of the ‘Gospel-delic’ sound you dubbed your last offering?

RS: Partly it is, but it’s a lot looser than the last album. Meaning there’s more up-tempo. The beats are like more aggressive. It’s more like a Friday…Like, I call it a ‘weekend album’.

AHHA: With your label, are you looking for new talent or do you prefer to work with acts that already have an idea about their sound?

RS: Right now I’m working with people who have already established their sound and identity. But after you break one act, then you can start concentrating on new acts.

AHHA: Outside of Pookie-related projects, who else have you been working with?

RS: This year I worked on Jill Scott’s new album. Earth, Wind, & Fire’s new single, ‘Show Me The Way’ – I did that. Mainly, I’ve just been working on my project. I’m gonna get back in to that [outside work] when I get back off tour.

AHHA: Are you gonna do anymore work with D’Angelo?

RS: Yeah, we’ve been talking. Once I get back from Europe, I’ma go out to Virginia and work with him.

AHHA: Could you explain why this release isn’t in conjunction with Universal Records like Instant Vintage was?

RS: I had one more record with Universal leftover from the Toni project, and I always knew I wanted to put out myself. So it was an opportunity for me to put out myself. Universal was a great label, but you kind of want to be able to blame yourself if you do something, so that’s what I wanted to do – take a chance and go out there and start a label with myself. I’ve been wanting to do it for years, and finally got the chance to do it.

AHHA: If you didn’t have the one record left over with Universal, would you have put out a solo album?

RS: I would have, yeah.

AHHA: I’m sure people are always asking you, but when is there gonna be another Tony Toni Toné album?

RS: Yeah, we’re actually trying to put it together now.

AHHA: What was it like working with Babyface, because you are both usually in control of songwriting duties and the production?

RS: I actually wrote it and brought it to him, he just actually sings. We worked together before and I did the same thing for him. He’s like an idol of mine, a mentor. I kind of look up to Mr. Edmonds. People kind of say we brothers and stuff, they call me his little brother. So it’s like, ‘Big brother, it’s time to be on little brother’s album.’ He’s a great writer and for him to just get on my track and sing it meant a lot to me. Usually when you ask somebody to do something, people tend to be fake. He’s a real cat – he was down. He does stuff for me and I do stuff for him, and that’s how it should be. I can respect that.

AHHA: Your hometown is known for its political background in activism. What are your thoughts on the Hip-Hop political movement and a lot of the young rappers being more outspoken?

RS: I think they need to be. It’s gonna be the next generation’s world and somebody’s got to get into it, and the Hip-Hop voice is a really strong voice – people listen to entertainers, and actors, and Hip-Hop artists. It’ll be good for them to really know, and study, and to be up on today’s politics so that they can compete in today’s market talking to the kids.

AHHA: Do you think they should start to be just as outspoken on running businesses and creating their own jobs for people?

RS: Most definitely. It’ll resort to that, they’ll have to.

AHHA: You mean like everybody going the independent route?

RS: Right.

AHHA: Do you think that’s a result of technology?

RS: Part technology, because of all the bootlegging. You see somebody bootlegging you might as well start bootlegging yourself.

AHHA: Why’s there such a difference between Hip-Hop and R&B when it comes to bootlegging?

RS: Because we don’t be out there fighting them. That’s why. More Hip-Hop artists make more noise about it, ‘cause they known for getting in somebody’s a** about bootlegging. R&B cats wasn’t doing that; they needed to be doing that.