“Ask of You” (Higher Learning Soundtrack, 1995)
“The real story behind my first solo record was that ‘Ask of You’ was not my first solo song. My first true solo song was ‘Just Me And You,’ which was from Boyz In The Hood. But the label wouldn’t let me use my name Raphael Saadiq. They told the movie people that they had to use Tony! Toni! Toné! and not Raphael. And when I did my second solo song (‘Ask of You’) they tried to do the same thing! But I told John Singleton that if I couldn’t use my own name then they couldn’t use my song in Higher Learning. So by the time that song came out, I was already in the swing of things after Boyz In The Hood.”
3 - "Lady"
“Lady” → D’Angelo (1995)
“I wrote the music for ‘Lady’ four years before I met D’Angelo. It was an idea I had for the Tony’s, but every time I played it for them nobody liked it. So when I was playing the music for D he was like, ‘What’s that?’ I sung it to him and we wrote the rest of the verses together and that was it. D’s approach to writing was incredible just as a keyboard player and vocalist. We recorded ‘Lady’ in my house in Sacramento. I had a room in my basement. D played this keyboard line that was crazy and I was playing bass…we were just having a lot of fun. Then I walked out to drink a Heineken or something and when I came back D had recorded the background vocals to ‘Lady.’ And at that point I knew this cat was special. It was a natural process. D grew up with the same gospel stuff that I did. We became kindred spirits…like brothers after that.”
4 - "Kissing You"
“Kissing You” → Total (1996)
“Puffy called me like, ‘Yo, I have this cool girl group.’ He told me that while they were not ‘singers’ they had a lot of heart. I kind of ran from Puff for a minute after that [laughs]. But he finally got me on the phone and we had a long talk. But when I met the Total girls they had so much heart. The guitar was played by this guy named Brian Julian. When we were playing it and I started singing the lyrics, and I was like, ‘This is it. This song will sound good for Total!’ It was a New York song. I felt like I had to represent NYC for them. I started to sing ‘Kissing You’ to them and they instantly caught on. They worked really hard on that record. ‘Kissing You’ felt good the whole time.”
5 - "What They Do"
“What They Do” → The Roots (feat. Raphael Saadiq, 1996)
“I’m a huge A Tribe Called Quest fan…in fact, I’m a Tribe member. I was the only R&B cat that played on Midnight Marauders (Saadiq played bass on the track ‘Midnight’). And Questlove was a Tribe fan as well. So when I hooked up with the Roots to make ‘What They Do’ I felt like the bassline had to be something solid in the same way. Questlove is one of the best drummers in the world, period. From being around so much hip-hop, I knew exactly what to do on that track. That’s why I came up with the lyrics ‘Never do what they do.’ My thought process was to just do something different that would be a timeless song for a timeless group like the Roots.”
6 - "Untitled"
“Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” → D’Angelo (2000)
“I was really surprised when [‘Untitled’] took off. I didn’t even think it would be a single. I thought D had other songs on Voodoo that could have been released. So when it took off I just thought, ‘Wow!’ People are still mimicking that song seven plus years later. It was an attitude-changing song for people who play music in the industry. We were basically taking from the things that we loved musically for ‘Untitled.’ I was really glad to see it take off. When ‘Untitled’ won a Grammy I looked at it as an achievement that had been building since I was a kid. But it felt more like getting a gold star in school. I didn’t think of it too much more than that. That Grammy was more for the fans. But I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I cared more about the overall success of the song.”
7 - "Lucy Pearl"
Lucy Pearl → (Lucy Pearl, 2000)
“Ali Shaheed Muhammad (producer and DJ for A Tribe Called Quest) and myself were looking for a female to give a more European type of Shalamar vibe to our group Lucy Pearl. Dawn Robinson (former En Vogue vocalist) had a very distinctive voice, so we thought she would fit. Lucy Pearl would be a more experimental thing for all of us. Also Shaheed was the B-boy from Tribe. I thought that would be a good mix because he could do beats and play guitar like he does today. It would be the perfect blend with me writing melodies and the lyrics. I thought it would be a great experience and we even rocked out a little. Lucy Pearl seemed like it would be a great collabo group that people could believe in. It was a great idea on paper.
People took to it really fast. Everything kept going uphill. Dawn was really doing us a favor and we were also doing her a favor. But the problem was she felt she was doing us a favor a little bit more. Coming from En Vogue Dawn wanted to be looked at as a solo act. That was her plan. That’s why it really couldn’t last. We tried to grab someone else (alternative R&B vocalist Joi) and sustain it. Vocally, Dawn was great, but there was a lot of turmoil with this guy Alan Kovak, who was the worst guy to work with when I started Pookie Records. In between him and Dawn, it was really bad. And Dawn had that [difficult] history. It was my worst experience ever being in the music business. But as far as the actual music, it was the best thing for the fans. Shaheed and myself had a great time together. He’s one of the best people to work with. But If I had to do it all over again I probably wouldn’t.”
8 - "Just A Man"
“Just A Man” → Devin The Dude (2002)
“Devin is one of my favorite dudes of all time. He is a super talented arranger. When I worked with Devin I had to re-think what I was doing because he switched up my arrangements. When he did that I was like, ‘Oh, I really have to come with it a little more.’ We both like Johnny Guitar Watson, Devin lived and breathed Johnny. He made me even get more into him. Devin is going to sing something different every time and he’s going to rhyme out the box. But you won’t be able to tell when he’s rhyming because it segues right into the singing. And when Devin starts singing he starts rhyming again before you figured out he was singing [laughs]. You just think about a Cadillac Seville when you think about Devin The Dude. I’m just a fan of his flow and the way he thinks.”
9 - "Instant Vintage"
Instant Vintage → Raphael Saadiq (2002)
“I kind of knew that I had to start over with this album. There were people who sort of didn’t believe in me. I got the title from my first solo album Instant Vintage from a friend of mines Ray Murray of Organized Noize. He worked with me on some of the songs. So when he heard the album he was like, ‘You should name this record ‘Instant Vintage.’ His words kind of made a lot of sense because I wasn’t just talking about the sound of the album. I was talking about myself.
Instant Vintage was something that started the thread to what I would be doing for the next ten years. I just really thought I was going to make one of my best classic records that people could grab any song from. I didn’t know what the label situation was going to be like because Universal was new. I didn’t know if they really believed in it, so I just said I was going to make the best possible record I can make and give my listeners something they can hold onto.
I started Instant Vintage off with an introduction (‘Doing What I Can’) telling people who I am and what I’ve been going through such as my family deaths—the three brothers and my sister. I never really talked about it. This is me…this is Instant Vintage. I just wanted to pour my soul out on the table and say, ‘This is who I am…let’s take this journey together.’
I always wanted to use the tuba. I always liked marching bands and I just wanted to throw something at the fans out of the blue. That’s what you heard on ‘Just Ray.’ With ‘Be Hear’ I was messing around in the studio. I looked around at a few people in the room and they said, ‘You know who would be cool on this?…D’Angelo.’ I brought him to L.A., he heard it and was like, ‘Oh yeah…I’m down.’ It turned out really well.”
10 - Ray Ray
Ray Ray → Raphael Saadiq (2004)
“This record was my Blaxploitation album. I knew the music industry was going for a fall, so I was grinding my record like dope because I was independent. There’s a movie that I based my album concept on called Welcome Back Charleston Blue, which was shot in Harlem. My thing with Ray Ray, which was my nickname, was to have a lot of fun on this record and not be so serious. I just wanted to make records right in the middle with songs like ‘Chic Like You’ and ‘Not A Game.’ I wanted to make it feel like a movie. I also worked with my brother [and Tony! Toni! Toné member D’wayne Wiggins] and Dawn, who sung on a verse. Ray Ray also gave me a lot of room to get to the next album where I wanted to raise the bar and do something completely different. I didn’t know what that would be, but I knew if I played a little bit and had some fun with Ray Ray, on the next project I could do something more serious.”
11 - The Way I See It
The Way I See It → Raphael Saadiq (2008)
“If you go back to the beginning of the Tony’s that soul sound has always been there. I knew we had to make those middle ground records when we were first starting. On The Way I See It I wanted to tell people, ‘This is the way I really see and hear things.’ This is who I’ve really been the whole time. It’s just that I had to dummy down at times to be a part of the business. Some of the coolest guys in the world to me were the Temptations, the Supremes and Eddie Kendricks down to Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes and those great Stax Records artists. I wish that I could have actually been in the ‘60s driving Cadillacs and making music with those artists.
I saw The Way I See It as a way to make my own road; not just taking Motown songs and making it my own. It was about making my own avenue, my own songs and my own feel. You could never be Motown or Stax. And I really didn’t sound like them, but musically I knew how to play in that style. Growing up In Oakland I played for older cats when I was 13-years-old who wore those same suits and played that same music. So I really didn’t have to go to Detroit.
People called The Way I See It retro, but I look at the word retro as attempting to be something. And I wasn’t trying…I’ve represented that soul sound way before I got a record deal. It was 100 percent important to capture the album live onstage. But that was the easiest part. It was harder to put it on record and get it out on the marketplace. I still had to walk the audience through the songs when we did them live at the shows. We would play ‘Love That Girl’ and people would be like, ‘Can you play ‘Anniversary?’ [laughs] And of course I did play ‘Anniversary,’ but at the same time when I came back to Washington D.C. I watched the whole audience sing ‘Love That Girl.’ That was a big deal for me on that tour. When the whole crowd was singing for me that’s when I knew I was on to something with The Way I See It.”
12 - Stone Rollin
Stone Rollin’ → Raphael Saadiq (2011)
“I call this record Stone Rollin’ because I look back at my career as a journey. It’s all connected. I’m always making sports analogy when I try to explain my time in music. My career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’ve always taken chances with my career. I just wanted to make this record a lot harder, edgier, and a lot more bluesy. I’m a rootsy type of guy, but I still like to be current. When you go to your roots that doesn’t mean you have to alienate yourself from the mainstream. I feel like pop music is just that…popular music. On one of the tracks I say, ‘I’m stone rollin’, throwing the dice on the table with you.’ Like I said, this album definitely has a more blues rock sound. I’ve been listening to people like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. That music is still around.
Working on Stone Rollin’ was like playing football. I followed my blockers and my blockers are the people that have been around for a long time. If you want to learn and be a pro you learn from the pros. If you want to be an amateur, you learn from the amateurs. No matter what the world says I’m going to listen to the cats that have been around for 40 years. And Stone Rollin’ is just another part of my journey. It’s very gratifying to still be making music after all these years. I’m very pleased. I’ve put in the work. I took the road less traveled.”