Raphael-Saadiq-by-Derrel-Todd-VIBE-Interview-1538175037
Derrel Todd

Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

Raphael Saadiq gets deep interview about his upcoming album, his family's struggles with addiction, and why fans won't get a Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion.

Raphael Saadiq is virtually immortal, and we’re not only talking about his youthful features either.

At 52, the producer/singer/songwriter graces stages and delivers God-tier musicianship to fans all over the world. His 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival set was a performance full of finesse, poise, and soul, as he treated fans to many of his solo songs from his last few albums. In addition to also performing new music, he brought out longtime friend and collaborator Ali Shaheed Muhammad to perform some J. Dilla remixes. Saadiq had the crowd at their heels with classic duet staples in his catalog like “You Should Be Here” and Lucy Pearl’s “Dance Tonight,” and even a few songs he wrote like Solange’s “Crane’s In The Sky,” Erykah Badu’s “Love Of My Life," and D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel.”

Saadiq has been a staple in R&B music and black soundtracks since the late '80s as a lead vocalist/bassist for the groundbreaking '90s R&B band Tony! Toni! Tone!. After leaving the band in 1997, he launched what would become an accomplished solo career with four albums and 15 Grammy nominations, including a victory for writing on Erykah Badu and Common's “Love Of My Life.” He also appeared on other soundtracks like Boyz In The Hood, Luke Cage, and Mudbound, earning an Academy Award nomination for the latter with his collaboration as a songwriter with Mary J. Blige and Taura Stinson, “Mighty River.”

After just wrapping up his first headlining tour since 2012 in North America, Saadiq is putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming fifth solo album, Jimmy Lee, dedicated to his late brother who passed away from a drug addiction. The official release date has yet to be set in stone, despite him recently performing new, unreleased songs such as the album’s title track. And if he’s not busy enough, he’s still handling the vibrant, eclectic sounds for the third season of Issa Rae’s Insecure on HBO.

VIBE got a chance to catch up with Mr. Instant Vintage prior to his performance in Chicago to talk about his experiences performing for over 30 years, the revival of R&B, Tony!, Toni!, Tone!, classic hip-hop stories and the Bay Area’s influence, and much more.

VIBE: What’s the difference between performing as a solo artist and performing as a band member?
Raphael Saadiq: I love being in a band, bands are my first love. The solo thing was a little harder for me to do. It’s more responsibility, which I was willing to take on. The fun thing about being a solo act is that everything is yours and you don’t have to argue with your brothers and everybody like, ‘what’s yours and what’s mine,’ all that kind of stuff. You kind of make the last decision in [your own] band. Sometimes when you’re in a band, there’s too many decision makers and it’s okay to have two or three different decision makers and everybody can make great decisions. But if someone makes bad decisions, then it’s not cool. I’m a team player, as everybody can see. I must have really great decision makers.

So, what’s an example of how decision-making played a role in the quality of your performances as a band member?
After I left Tony! Toni! Tone in ’97 and the band arrangements they have now, they’re still the ones I made probably in the [early] '90s and they never changed them. That means they were good, so I knew my decisions were good. When I went to go do Lucy Pearl, I knew that was a great decision to grab Ali Shaheed and Dawn Robinson, and it showed me that I could put together a good team of people. And then it was my solo project, Instant Vintage, and then I jumped to a ‘60s thing—'60s suits and ties before anybody [of my era and afterwards] was wearing that. And then later, I saw R. Kelly wearing the glasses and my suit and everything. So, I think I’m a great decision maker. The visions that I have sometimes, they’re not all mine, some are things from the past I’ve seen from people like The Temptations and Motown. Making it work shows you I have vision. And I like it when other people do it. To me, it’s flattering because you want people to be able to try to do what you’re doing. I thought it was a great time in music during the '60s–the Harlem Renaissance and jazz, everybody dressed like that. I sort of miss that era, so sometimes you want to create something that everybody can get into.

What better genre than hip-hop to create hip-hop for everybody. You can still have your own style within yourself, but everybody can jump in like it’s one basketball, but everybody can play. I think that’s what vision is about, and a lot of people are scared to take those risks. I’ve always been a risk taker.

One thing that comes to mind for me when I think about the '60s is how many of our legends took creative risks in their music. What’s something from that era you wish was in today’s R&B?
Today’s R&B, we’re kind of getting back to making some cool [music]. I like Daniel Caesar, PJ Morton, SZA…people are really trying to do it. I think from here on out going forward, there’s going to be a massive wave of R&B artists coming out. We don’t know who they are, but I can just feel the vibration happening all over Europe and back this way. But before now, I felt like R&B shouldn’t have even used the title R&B, because it’s Rhythm & Blues, and it was no rhythm and blues in R&B. But there’s other styles of music that’s just as cool. We’re very creative people because urban artists… it’s hard for us to just stick to one thing [and] it’s hard for me to stick to one style of music. So I understand the creative forces that make the culture move so fast.

A lot of musicians struggle now because they want to walk around and look like their friends and you just can’t walk around and look like your friends if you want to stand out. You got to be a little bit different and it’s hard to do that because you want to do what everybody’s doing, what your next-door neighbor... That’s not really what R&B is. Hip-hop is that and you see artists like Tribe Called Quest was different when they came off their first album. Sometimes you gotta stand out a little bit and the Migos, they stand out a little bit in hip-hop, they’re a little different. Whatever type of music you’re doing, you gotta stand out a little bit.

How has the Bay Area influenced your writing?
The Bay has been everything to me and I kind of write about some of the same things sometimes. The Bay has influenced me because that’s all I know, it’s where I walk around. I go back there, and you hear people say different things about the Bay, but the Bay is a real special place. If the Bay loves you, then they love you. They love you and you can’t do nothing wrong by them, but you have to make sure you’re taking care of the Bay. When you write, you’re always thinking about them.

Historically, the Bay has always been one of the most influential regions in black music. Do you think they get the respect they deserve in music?
We don’t truly get it, but you look at E-40 who’s a pioneer of hip-hop on the West Coast, he’s one of the best out. And you go from there to MC Hammer, En Vogue, Too $hort. You wanna talk about Too $hort, he’s one of the longest lasting rap artists who tours more than anybody I know. He stays gone. My nephew Trey is $hort’s DJ.

Since you all were coming up around that same time during the late '80s, early '90s, what’s one of your favorite memories with Too $hort?
I played at Chris Webber’s Baba Bling party in Las Vegas one time and Too $hort and Nas were in the audience. I played this song “Brothers ‘Gon Work It Out” and I kinda wanted to make them feel like they were at the real Player’s Ball, and that’s exactly what Nas told me he felt when I played that record. But $hort was in the house so I brought $hort on stage to do a song and he was like, “What you wanna play?” and I said, “Freaky Tales.” Now we looked at all of these women, hundreds of women all dressed up and he said, “Are you out your fucking mind?” I was playing bass on it, I took the bass from by bass player. Then I started thinking about the lyrics and was like oh, that’s why he ain’t want to sing it, and we both started laughing. Then, we sang “The Ghetto." I was ready for “Freaky Tales,” I was all in. I wasn’t even gonna ask him, I was just gonna start with the bass line, but with the lyrics, he just didn’t want to do it. That was one of my favorite memories with him.

And around that same time when the two of you were coming up together, Tony! Toni! Tone! also collaborated with DJ Quik on “Let’s Get Down.” What is the story behind that song?
We were supposed to do three songs with Quik but the rest of the band didn’t feel like they wanted to give Quik that much money. I kept telling Quik that it was okay, but every time we got back with our lawyers they kept telling Quik that the band said no. Nobody was telling me they said no, they were going behind my back and telling the lawyer no. So I finally called the band and asked, what’s up? We only ended up doing one song, which the price wasn’t bad for three songs. We would have had two follow ups to “Let’s Get Down” if we would have done that. After the studio, it was just me and Quik. None of the rest of the members were there so it was just me, Quik, and my cousin Elijah who sings the fanfare “I gotta get my groove on,” and a bunch of [people from] Compton. A lot of stuff was happening that day, but it was good energy, good vibes. I love Quik, and actually the whole band, we really love Quik, we’re all huge fans of him. It made sense at the time, but I wish we had more records with Quik, we’d have a double follow up.

Would you and the active and former band members of Tony! Toni! Tone! ever play a reunion tour sometime in the future?
We honestly talked about it, but I think my brother Amar [Khalil], who’s been in the group longer than me now, he left the group. After I left the group, [Antron] Haile left the group and now it’s just two new guys that nobody doesn’t know. I think that ship has sailed. I love my brother to death, his kids are like my kids, our family is tight. I think that ship has sailed a little, but I think I am going to do something with most of the guys who were in that band.

Those guys I went to school with, [and] my brother was sort of the add-on, but the members I went to school with are the nucleus of the group. We don’t want to do all of that “two different groups” and all of that, but me and the guys we grew up playing together, we’re going to call it something else and we’re going to play new music and do some really cool pop-ups in different cities. Play some stuff, have the fans ask some questions, and do some really cool things where people will get to know us and talk about the friendship and respect we all have for one another. We haven’t had a chance to get together as friends, before we got with my brother Dwyane [Wiggins]—those are all my friends. My brother [Dwyane] had a band that was older than us, so he was a part of that band. My brother joined our band. So, when we came up with the name—my brother owns the name Tony! Toni! Tone!. We don’t own it, so we can’t do anything with that. So, we’re gonna start our own little thing and he’s more than welcome to come and sing some songs with us, too. We all own studios, we all do music, and we all just want to be around each other.

I really wish we could give that [reunion] to people but I really think that ship has sailed. We’re just going to use the internet and talk to people to give people a good experience, so we could have a good experience.

"I really wish we could give that Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion to people, but I think that ship has sailed."

How much of your life is in your music?
All my life is in my music. I used to use a lot of experiences from different people but this time I’m really talking about me on my new record. All my life experiences and sometimes I thought I was talking about other people but then when I really listen to it, I’m really talking about myself. This record is more about an addiction. It’s still early, but I just feel like with the internet you gotta talk about it as much as you can.

I lost my brother to a heroin overdose and I lost another brother to drugs, too. I lost a sister to crack and had two sisters who were strung out, but they’re okay now. As I got older, I really started paying attention to sweets and drinking and other different addictions that people have, and I started laughing at myself. Sometimes when I get up in the morning I want a chocolate chip cookie and some coffee. I don’t think it’s a chemical, it’s just something that your brain tells you that you want. And I started really thinking about my brother who was stuck on this chemical and how we would tell him, you should stop, don’t be gated, don’t be stealing mom’s TV. He couldn’t control himself but now that he’s been gone for over 12 years, I thought about his addiction and I dedicated my album to him called Jimmy Lee.

With drugs having such a big impact on your family, how did you avoid addiction yourself, especially being in the music industry?
I never wanted my mother to get that phone call. Growing up, I would always hear these indirect questions like, if you see somebody shooting at rapid fire, you see one person go down, the next person go down, you see the next person go down, and the next person go down, here you come, what are you going to do next? And then at that time, I didn’t know what “rapid” meant so I looked at my dad and said, I’m gonna walk the other way. He said, “that’s what I’m talking about.” So it was the indirect things people would say to me that would tell me not to be like this person. I would be in the streets playing football and he would say, “Which one of these guys you look up to?” I would point to a guy and he would said, “Alright, keep playing.” My dad watched the whole game and later on he was telling me, "the guy you look up to, he’s not gon be nothing, he’s not gon be nothing, trust me.” And I got a chance to watch this dude nine years later and he becomes his own worst nightmare. So, I was a great listener. My choice of drug was music and being around musicians. I just jumped into music trying to do the right thing and I think that’s how I just looked at it. Sometimes I would experiment with little things like marijuana, but that’s as far as it ever went. I’m scared of anything that looks like powder or needles or pills. Terrified!

Black women have played a huge role in your legendary career in more ways than one. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about them while working with them?
Don’t mess with them, basically. Solange, Issa Rae—I learned more from watching Insecure more than anything because you hear the beeline conversations that you don’t hear when you talk to a girl one-on-one. When you’re working on a show like that, it gets really uncut. Everybody hears it when it goes on the show but it’s the first show you actually get it just as raw on TV.

I have seven sisters, so I’ve heard it all before I met any of these women. I’ve seen dudes wreck their cars into buildings over my sisters. I’ve seen some of the craziest stuff when I was 9 and 10, straight up fights in the streets, swinging. My sister’s boyfriend killed my brother when I was 7 or 8. Shot him twice in the chest and one went into his heart, over $12,000. That’s my sister’s boyfriend so at an early age I didn’t see black or white, I just started wondering where the hell am I at, what’s going on?

As far as black women in music, I’m a huge Minnie Riperton fan and that’s probably my favorite all time artist, Ms. Minnie Riperton and Diana Ross. Ross, because she’s from the projects and I can hear it in her music, but it’s mixed with the most beautiful orchestral strings and some of the best, prolific songwriting that crossed oceans. They don’t have to fight for publicity, their music speaks for themselves. Same as Minnie Riperton, she left with a short career and she left a lot on the table.

Lastly, what’s the key to longevity and eternal youth?
It’s just all about the genes and the dedication you put towards it. If you really love it and you want to be part of it for a long time you just look towards those other areas that won’t burn you out. You just can’t burn yourself on an industry that will just chew you up and never spit you out because there’s always going to be someone after you that’s better. If you want to be around—my thing is to be a helper and a person that also can work with a lot of different sounds and can help a lot of different people. I think it’s about bouncing around different rooms and different areas and being useful to everybody’s area and that’s the key to longevity.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

--

Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

Continue Reading
Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
SMXRF/Star Max/GC Images

Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

Continue Reading
Gary Gershof

Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

--

VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

Continue Reading

Top Stories