Raphael Saadiq talked about his new album; the five most impactful records of his career; the lesson Stevie Wonder taught him; and the impact of Solange’s A Seat at the Table two years later.
And yet, we haven’t missed Raphael Saadiq. The legendary singer has been a crucial figure in contemporary music. In 2016, he served as executive producer of one of the defining albums of the decade: Solange’s masterpiece A Seat at the Table. (He produced on eight of the album’s 21 tracks, including the brilliant “Cranes in the Sky.”) And, he is the music composer on HBO’s Insecure, a show that weekly displays some of the best up-and-coming musical talent.
Add that to the fact that, last month, John Legend released the Christmas album A Legendary Christmas, an album Saadiq executive produced.
So he’s been busy; but not busy enough to return with solo music. In 2019, Saadiq will release his sixth studio album, Jimmy Lee. It’s an album that Saadiq has been teasing for months now. The album will be deeply personal; Jimmy Lee is about Saadiq’s older brother, who died of a drug overdose.
At 52 years old, and 30 years in the game, the singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-talented instrumentalist continues to be an influence. Okayplayer was able to sit down with Saadiq recently. We talked about his new album; the five most impactful records of his career; the lesson Stevie Wonder taught him; and the impact of Solange’s A Seat at the Table album.
You’re gearing up to release your fifth studio album, Jimmy Lee, which is dedicated to your brother who passed away from a drug addiction. What does the title mean to you?
Jimmy Lee, that’s my brother’s name, of course. It just never dawned on me that I never really realized my brother’s situation, or how fatal it was. I started thinking about it, and I just wanted to make an album about it. I have a lot of friends who have similar issues as my brother. He was a really good friend, so I thought maybe it’s time for me to deal with the subject a little bit.
What can fans expect from the album?
Some of the same things. Different chords. It’s a little darker in storytelling. Not really fast, but it’s a little aggressive.
From Prince to Tom Petty to Mac Miller, music has lost many to drug overdoses over the years. What’s the solution, if any?
Man, a solution is that you can’t think that you are subject to be different from anybody else, if you try it. Curiosity kills the cat. Sometimes, we all want to reach our third eye in any way, but you just got to find other ways to reach that third option.
Talk about your relationship with your brother.
Me and my brother were really close. He’s a funny guy. He spent most of his life in prison, but for the most part, he was around me a lot. Very supportive. I was introduced to pit bulls by my brother. He was always dropping me off dogs. We have an interesting relationship. We’re almost 15-year difference in age, and we lived two different lives. Most people didn’t believe he was my brother, until later on. He was always in a special place in my heart. We were really close. Really tight, good dude, very strong personality. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you’re an addict.
What’s the greatest memory you share with him?
Probably him telling jokes and dropping me off pit bulls. Ready to fight somebody for me, if he thought somebody was bothering me. It’s always good to get that big brother to stand up for you, or make you fight somebody else back.
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Talk about executive producing John Legend’s new Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas.
John’s an incredible guy. Amazing singer and hard worker. He made it very easy for me because he’s so professional. My buddy Jamelle Adisa is one of the arrangers of the records, and we had a very good time with John. We wanted people to have a very classic record from here on out. We wanted people to have a good time at Christmas. Both of us have never made a Christmas album before, so we both put our hands down and said, “Let’s make the best Christmas album that we both could make together.” I think we did a really good job and I hope people enjoy it. It was really fun working on an album with John, he’s incredible. I met him at the beginning of his career and he’s always been a guy who looked out. We support each other.
You’ve executive produced a ton of albums over the years including Seat at The Table. What’s the creative process of executive producing other artists’ projects vs your own?
I don’t really call my work executive producer. I mean, people offer me executive producer, it’s a great title. But Solange, she willed that to me. I just wanted to work with her and she wanted to work with me. I didn’t know it was executive producer until it came out. It was an honor. She’s like a sister to me. I’ve got a lot of love for her. Without her creativity, the record wouldn’t have been what the record was. I’m only as good as the person behind the microphone and their creative force. Solange is a very creative force. She let me do my thing and she did her thing.
How involved are you with Solange’s new album?
Not at all. I didn’t have anything to do with it…She’s amazing, I’m sure we’ll work on something again one day.
What’s it like working with Stevie Wonder?
Aw, Stevie. Every time I work with him, it’s a dream come true. He’s an incredible part of everybody’s history, but he’s [also] a huge part of my history. I know every song he’s ever done. Every lick he ever played, I know what it is. When I’m around him, we’re just like guys. We’re both Taurus, so we’re kindred spirits. We talk about Taurus type things, he’s an amazing guy.
Is there anything he taught you?
Just listen to his music, it will teach you everything.
What is your take on R&B and hip-hop in 2018?
I feel like kids are being very creative. I like where a lot of people are going. It’s hard for me to keep up with them because there’s so many. They come out every week. If you look at Odd Future and Tyler [, the Creator] there’s a lot more kids that are being way more creative than the R&B box itself. Looking at Camp Flog Gnaw, you can see the very different variations of music. R&B has to move that way, kids have to be more open to different styles of music. Because R&B is sort of like… not in a slump, it’s kind of coming around now. But I just think kids just have to stay open.
Top 5 records you’ve worked on in your career?
It was recently the two year anniversary of A Seat at the Table. Has there been a better R&B album since?
Nope. Not yet.
What do you remember about making “Cranes in the Sky?”
I just remember making the music and I remember Solange loving it. She wrote and came up with a beautiful melody, and the words too.
Did you guys think it was going to be what it was?
I don’t really do projections like that, I let the people do it. I’m just happy that they liked it.
What’s the best part of scoring Insecure?
Working with Issa Rae, she’s a very strong personality and persona. I’m just lucky that I get to sit in the spot and watch the shows before everybody else. I just add my taste to what they want.