Published Apr 24, 2011You can't talk to Raphael Saadiq. What do you say? The Bay Area-born renaissance soul man has only been making music for decades, reinventing himself and the genre he resides in each time out. The classic example of "in it, but not of it," the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer with the bullet proof aura has reached the career stage that his peers yearn for ― creating successful music on his terms.
And whatever you say about his current sound, you better not call it retro. "It's not retro but something I've been doing my whole life," says Saadiq. "People that call me retro, they're in a box so they write the same thing. There's no box they could put me in anyway. I already know that but they haven't figured it out yet."
Not that he doesn't appreciate the fans that have supported him ― from the mid-'90s new jack swing days as Raphael Wiggins with Tony! Toni! Toné!, to his solo efforts as Saadiq today. But in speaking with subdued and self-effacing Saadiq, one gets the sense that the 40-something couldn't care less what people think about him or how his approach to contemporary R&B music to perceived.
"It's just a matter of educating people of who I am. I didn't just start doing this last year," says Saadiq. "You can't tell an artist what to paint. You should just let people know where you're going. I don't wake up and tell fans what to wear. I'm not wired that way. I'm just going to tell them what I'm doing."
Saadiq has always worn his musical influences firmly on his sleeve. When 2008's The Way I See It dropped, its early Motown sound and black and white vibe seemed delightfully out of place with current R&B. While many would have assumed the "retro" vibe was just a conceptual dalliance, the new Stone Rollin' album may surprise some to see that the sound continues along the same through-line. His fifth solo studio release, is a bit harder, aggressive type of '70s soul ― but with a contemporary twist.
"I was so taken by vinyl that I heard growing up that I believed you needed to be as good as the people that made those great records. That's been the approach since the beginning ― being consistent since day one," he says. "I named the album Stone Rollin' because my whole career I've been putting it all out there, no matter what was happening out there in the industry. You are your own best gamble and I'm always gambling on myself. So it's like throwing the dice ― stone rollin'."
Today, Saadiq stays holding it down with regular tour dates in North American and aboard. A fixture on the festival circuit ― past dates at SXSW, Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo ― reflect the fact that he's not slowing down anytime soon.
"I'm in a great place. I've always felt a great sense of freedom in music. I've always felt like this is my backyard. Getting a chance to travel the world and see people appreciate it is like a validation that the work that I've done wasn't in vain for all these years," he says. "I just do what I feel. When I'm in the studio, I've competing with myself. That's the fun part."