How does Raphael Saadiq make his first-ever solo album, INSTANT VINTAGE, stand out in today’s ever-changing music universe? How about by inventing a whole new sound? “It’s called ‘gospeldelic,'” says Saadiq, the writer-producer behind such stellar hits as Angie Stone’s “Brotha” and D’Angelo’s “Lady” and the Grammy Award-winning “Untitled,” among others. “Gospeldelic is the sound of my music, and it really means all of those things to me. I come from a gospel background, and the psychedelic, and the funkadelic — it’s in me.
And you feel that.” Although he spent half of 2001 recording INSTANT VINTAGE, mostly in Sacramento and Oakland but also in his plush new L.A. studio, during that time he also produced tracks for Macy Gray, TLC, the Isley Brothers, Joi, and Kelly Price, to name only a few. Thanks to the multi-platinum success as co-founder/producer/member of Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl, not to mention the numerous immortal R&B tracks he’s produced for others, Saadiq is touted as a pioneer of “neo-soul.” But he doesn’t feel that phrase really captures what he does. “I don’t think it represents what the artists before me would like it to be called, really,” says the versatile bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer. The 19-track INSTANT VINTAGE is a rewardingly complex blend of soul, R&B, hip-hop, funk, rock, jazz, and doo-wop, rich with inventive bass lines, intricate harmonizing, and colorful strings.
The songs were written entirely by Saadiq, who produces, sings, and plays numerous instruments, including a little bit of goofy tuba. Guests include Angie Stone (background on “Doing What I Can,” duet on “Excuse Me”), T-Boz of TLC (“Different Times”), producer/hip-hop artist Hi-Tek (“Tek-1” and “Tek-2”), and Saadiq’s older brother, Randy Wiggins, singing on “People.” Play it, and you might start to wonder just why it took him so long to step out on his own. “It was just time for me to do this right,” says Saadiq, who previously had rarely recorded under his own name, as with 1995’s “Ask of You,” from the HIGHER LEARNING soundtrack, and “Me & You” from the BOYZ N THE HOOD soundtrack. “I liked being in bands. I’m a team player,” he adds. While with the Tonys, he didn’t actively wish to go solo, “but it was always in the back of my head that I did have that to fall back on.” Still, after leaving the group, “It took me a while to be able to take on the challenge of working on my own production.” First he took some time off, not really from making music but from the world of celebrity and music-biz hype. “I just went to basketball games for maybe two, three years,” he says with a smile. “I started playing golf. I guess I needed the time off to prepare me for this. Spiritually, something was telling me to give this a break: ‘Go do some stuff, go meet some other people who don’t do what you do, people outside of the music biz.'” Doing that gave Saadiq a sense of normalcy that he’d almost lost touch with due to his hard-earned success.
Saadiq’s road to success started at the age of six, when he played bass at church, school and community events in his hometown, Oakland, California. At 18, he stepped onto the world stage when he was chosen, out of hundreds of musicians, to play bass for Prince and Sheila E. on their “Parade” world tour. It was on this tour that Saadiq had the inspiration for what would later become one of the most ground-breaking groups in R&B history, Tony Toni Ton (formed in the late ’80s, the group’s five albums have sold over six million records worldwide). In 2000, he formed and produced the supergroup Lucy Pearl (whose gold-certified album was nominated for a Grammy Award, an American Music Award, two Soul Train Awards and two NAACP Awards). His music has always been more than skin-deep. It’s about making people feel, and about building something fresh from what’s come before. On INSTANT VINTAGE, he employs his talent for drawing from the old school, not just to rehash, but to re-inform the new school with the kind of album such giants as Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Stevie Wonder made back in the day. The collection’s play-on-words title itself reflects this. “A friend of mine said that people who look for vinyl treat all records like vintage pieces, even if they’re new, because vinyl is so not the thing anymore,” Saadiq says. “This record has a lot of music on it, a lot of footage [that evokes the past], so we felt that, the minute you get this album on vinyl, it’s instant vintage.” The title also reflects the use of vinyl in the production, a la such trip-hop acts as Portishead. “The strings were recorded live, and then we took most of that and recorded it to vinyl,” explains Saadiq.
“Then we rubbed the strings back in on the intro and on ‘Body Parts.’ We did some of the background vocals like that, too, and my guitar solo on ‘You’re the One That I Like.'” With the help of his production team (Jake and the Phatman and Raymond Murray), INSTANT VINTAGE is an epic journey to the center of Saadiq’s creative mind. On the opening “Doing What I Can,” an introductory volley of orchestral strings soars with all the drama of a movie’s opening scene, the listener gets a quick primer on Saadiq’s life and times before he lays out just where he’s coming from now. Included in the track is a brief mention of the tragic loss of his three brothers and sister earlier in his life. These unfortunate acts led Saadiq to create the emotional, personal and thought-provoking lyrics he brings to life today. Then it’s right down to get-it-on business with the steamy soul of “Body Parts,” and the insistently funky, “Be Here.” Other tracks reveal his affection for his hometown such as “Uptown” and “OPH.” Selections such as the soul-searching “Different Times” and even “You’re the One That I Like” emphasize the gospel in gospeldelic, reinforcing in different ways the idea that sometimes your best hope in a bad situation is to seek spiritual guidance. Perhaps the most serious and intense track is “People,” a taut, funky consciousness-raising commentary with an airy, dramatic gospel-harmonized refrain. But Saadiq also injects some humor with the sly shout-out to some pals on the fidelity pledge “Faithful.” Another twist comes with the thoroughly modern, yet quite authentic, blues numbers “Charlie Ray” and “Blind Man.” “I always like to see what’s going on in everybody else’s life,” Saadiq says. “I’ll just be walking down the street, and I’ll see something going on–a couple arguing, or somebody happy, or somebody drunk–and I’ll just make up scripts in my mind.” Many facets of Raphael Saadiq the artist are reflected in INSTANT VINTAGE. But the solo album also represents his increasing involvement in the business side of music, as the owner of a label (Pookie Records), a production company (Whiskey Slew), and the aforementioned new studio (Blakeslee Recording Company). Not to mention, for the first time he’s directed a video for the single “Be Here,” a duet with D’Angelo who’s also featured in the clip. “I have new challenges that I never, ever had in my life,” he says. “Like, as an artist, learning how to balance business and art, but not lie to myself.” In fact, Saadiq seems quite confidently true to himself. “All I’m doing is what I can, what God is letting me do. To me, that way is funky, it’s gospeldelic. I love that.”