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Raphael Saadiq

A Marathon Man

His charming smile and good looks will you fool, Raphael Saadiq is 42 years old, and has been making music since the late 80s when he started with Tony! Toni! Toné! In Oakland. Almost 30 years later, eight Grammy nominations, and a list of production credits from the likes of Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Ludacris, the Bee Gees, Joss Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire and many others, many people still don't know his name. Saadiq returns to Oakland on November 18th for a show at the Fox Theater. He spoke with SF Station spoke during a recent stop in the Bay area.

SF Station (SFS): Where in the Bay Area did you grow?

Raphael Saadiq (RS): I grew up in east Oakland, not too far from the coliseum.

SFS: You have had a long career as an artist and producer, where do you feel like you are now with completing your goals and your future?

RS: It’s looking like I wanted it to; it’s a natural progression for me. The saying goes, “It doesn’t happen in a sprint, it’s a marathon,” and I always looked at it like that. I’m at that stretch where I’m speeding up on everybody.

SFS: Over the years your sound has changed a lot from Toni Tone Toné! to Lucy Pearl, to now. Are you in a different place now, are you listening to different music, or do you have have different influences?

RS: I have more freedom to be me and define myself by not being in a group. It’s different thinking for yourself and not having to answer to anybody. I had great times with the groups that I was in, but you still have to alter your thinking to the group. I think the production kept me alive more than the groups did as far as getting to work with different people. It allowed me to get back to myself as a solo act and embellish all the things I truly love about music.

SFS: Even your work from Instant Vintage to The Way I See It is very different, as solo work, where were you going with The Way I See It?

RS: Yeah. It takes a while for you to get to know who you are. After Instant Vintage, I was coming off of Lucy Pearl. I titled the album The Way I See It because I finally can see where I need to go. If you listen to Instant Vintage I have songs like “Charlie Ray,” which makes a statement “I see you / and you see me / how serious can this be,” and what that was saying was at that point I started seeing my full potential as an artist. At the time I was really talking to myself, telling myself where I need to go to the next level.

SFS: I’ve heard you describe The Way I See It as the way I see it “downtown,” would you explain?

RS: Downtown is my vision of Motown. Like being a little boy you want to hang out downtown with the grown folks who are claiming nice things and good clothes. All the things I probably meant or want living at 24 or 25 years old in Detroit, Memphis or Harlem. That is my downtown, that’s why I call it downtown sound.

SFS: You reference Motown a lot, but what about Stax?

RS: I have always had a lot of Stax records. This album reflects more Motown for most people. When making this album I was reflecting on a lot of things that a lot of black bands really forgot about with the soul of Stax and Motown. They might listen to them, but they don’t use it in their production. A lot of rock bands, a lot of white bands, pay attention to Motown and Stax and I didn’t see myself doing that. So I wanted to make myself a part of it in my own way, and bring it to the future. If you want to be like the greats; you got to borrow from the greats.

SFS: In your press release, a lot of your tracks are compared to old 60s Motown groups, do you want to be compared to that?

RS: No, I can’t say I want to be compared to them, though it’s great company to be in. To be compared is an honor, but I’m just doing me and the best that I can.

SFS: How do you feel about contemporary artists that are called neo-soul?

RS: [He laughs] I don’t think any of the artists would have anything to do with it. I think it was a corporate label to sell records to fans. It’s just a name that should probably die and people should just make music.

SFS: If you get rid of neo-soul, is there a different term you’d prefer?

RS: Music, man. Neo-soul means new soul, and I don’t want to have a different soul than Al Green. Neo-soul is a sinful word.

Raphael Saadiq performs at the Fox Theater on November 18th. Doors for the show open at 7:30PM, and tickets are $39.50.