Raphael Saadiq Biography
Last updated: 05/18/2011 12:00:00 PM
Since the latter part of the twentieth century, the neo-soul movement has become a major force in black popular music. Despite its growing prominence, Raphael Saadiq, one of its chief architects, refuses to use the label to describe his own music. "It's called 'gospeldelic'," Saadiq said in a recent interview, "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." Regardless of the labels used to describe him, Saadiq's twenty year presence in the music industry as a writer, producer, and performer have left an indelible mark on popular music.
Born Raphael Wiggins, Saadiq developed his passion for music in his hometown Oakland, California. By the age of six, he had learned to play the bass and began performing at church, school, and community events. It was at this age that he developed his passion for soul music in its various incarnations. He tells Six Shot magazine: "I grew up listening to a lot of soul classics [like] Johnny Guitar Washington, Earth Wind and Fire, Queen. It expands from that to early hip-hop like Sugar Hill gang when they did 'Rappers Delight.'" Largely informed by these influences, Saadiq was prepared to begin his professional music career by the time he was a teenager.
After graduating from high school, Saadiq (then performing by his birth name, Raphael Wiggins) was chosen from hundreds of musicians to play the bass and tour with Prince and Sheila E. After returning from tour, he decided to form his own group along with his brother Dwayne Wiggins and his cousin Timothy Christian. The group, which they named Tony! Toni! Tone!, released its first album, Who?, in 1988. The group's first single "Little Walter," which mixed new age soul with the still-developing rap aesthetic, reached the top of the R&B charts. Saadiq, who wrote, produced, sang, and played bass on the group's songs, drew from his early touring experiences in pushing the group. He tells Metro Magazine, "The experience being with Sheila E. and Prince in Japan helped. I rehearsed so hard and watched everything on tape. It was like playing basketball and watching tape after the game--Prince and Sheila E. watched tape like that. When I put the Tonies together, I was the person that watched tape to see what we could do better."
Over the next few years, Saadiq's group continued to perfect its sound and live performances. In 1990, their efforts culminated in the release of their second LP, The Revival. Buoyed by hit singles like "It Feels Good" and "It Never Rains in Southern California," the album sold more than six million copies. In the midst of Tony! Toni! Tone!'s success, Saadiq began to embark on the first stages of his solo career. He contributed soundtrack singles to two of the most noteworthy Black films of the decade, "Ask of You" from Higher Learning and "Me & You" from Boyz in the Hood. Although Tony! Toni! Tone! released two more albums--1993's Sons of Soul and 1996's House of Music--Saadiq had grown larger than the band he created.
Despite his chart topping work with Tony! Toni! Tone! and his solo successes, Saadiq was ready for a new challenge. He found it in Lucy Pearl, the R&B supergroup that he assembled that was comprised of childhood friend Dawn Robinson (formerly of En Vogue) and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad (from A Tribe Called Quest). About his decision to switch groups, he told Vibe Magazine, "When I left the Tony's I went to do another group, Lucy Pearl. I like being a part of groups, but we just grow in different directions. It was a good thing for us to part, everyone went out and started different companies." Lucy Pearl, which relied primarily on live instrumentation and self-penned lyrics, released its self-titled debut album in the spring of 2000 to critical approval. The group quickly disbanded, however, due to personal, creative, and financial differences.
After the breakup of Lucy Pearl, Saadiq released his first solo LP, Instant Vintage. The album earned Saadiq five Grammy nominations and high praise from fans and critics alike. People Weekly reports, "[Raphael Saadiq's] debut solo disc showcases his talents as an all-around artist: singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Evoking the classic soul of Al Green and Curtis Mayfield, while updating it with subtle hip-hop touches such as scratching, Instant Vintage sounds at once old and new school." Despite its high quality, the album was a commercial failure (selling less than 200,000 copies), prompting him and Universal Records to dissolve their relationship. Saadiq responded by releasing his second LP Ray Ray on his own Pookie Records label. "It was time to control my own destiny," Saadiq explains to PopEntertainment.Com. "The entrepreneur in me always wanted to do it." In addition to his own albums, the label has released projects for Lucy Pearl and Teedra Moses. Future plans include releases for Truth, Joi, as well as reunion albums for Lucy Pearl, Tony! Toni! Tone!, and Portrait.
While Saadiq has had an impressive career as an artist, his most significant and memorable impact has come as a producer. Since the mid-1990's Saadiq has given shape and texture to the neo-soul genre through his production work with Erykah Badu ("Love of My Life"), Angie Stone ("Brotha"), and Bilal ("Soul Sista"). As he indicated in an interview with Dallas Morning News, his greatest work has come in collaboration with D'Angelo. "We're from the same family tree of music. It seems like whatever we do, we could just spit on something and it sounds good. We're like two kindred spirits." Their partnership resulted in a Grammy nomination for the 1995 single "Lady" and in 2001 for "Untitled (How Does It Feel?)." Since the Grammy nod, Saadiq has become one of urban music's most sought after producers, working with various artists such as Genuwine, The Roots, and Kelis.