Has any artist had as big an impact on the landscape of R&B over the past two decades than Raphael Saadiq? His sonic imprint has been wide-ranging and ubiquitous, from the bands he's played in (the neo-soul pioneers Tony! Toni! Toné!, the late-nineties supergroup Lucy Pearl) to the influential records he's helped produce (Introducing Joss Stone, D'Angelo's Voodoo). But until recently, Saadiq's solo work had gotten short shrift. That started to change with 2008's The Way I See It, a pitch-perfect ode to mid-sixties Motown. His latest, Stone Rollin', is even better—a psychedelic R&B rave-up that harks back to Shuggie Otis and Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix. For each of these albums, Saadiq has fashioned an era-appropriate vintage look to match the music. He gave us 60 Seconds to talk about his ever-evolving personal style, his relationships with Stone and D'Angelo, and what it's like to gig with Mick Jagger.
Where do you find those beautiful vintage suits?
Every suit I wear is custom-made by a guy named Waraire Boswell in L.A. I told him that I wanted a high-water look like the Temps—
The Temptations. Like Smokey. I told him that I wanted my socks to be showing when I sat down, even if I had boots on. So he cut up four suits, and then I did a few shows with "Ain't That Peculiar" as my opening song—and people just went into hysterics. At the show in Oakland, a Grateful Dead photographer took a shot of me on stage, and once I saw that picture, I said to myself, "Now I have to make music to match that picture." That's actually the picture on the cover of The Way I See It.
You sound like a badder man on Stone Rollin'—more dangerous.
My last record was a little slower. This time I wanted to stomp it out. You can hear some Sam & Dave in there, some Little Walter, a lot of Stax.
And the look to go with it?
I'm rocking mock necks now, kind of like Booker T. & the MG's, and I'm flaring the pants at the calf.
You recently played with Mick Jagger at the Grammys. Who called whom?
He called me and said, "I'm doing a Solomon Burke tribute at the Grammys. You into it?" So I was like, "Yeaaaaah. You're Mick Jagger. Let's roll." We hooked up in L.A., then he pulled out his harp and we started playing Howlin' Wolf. The Grammys was good, but the rehearsal was even better.
You've been a go-to collaborator-producer for the past dozen-plus years for D'Angelo, Joss Stone, the Roots… Was that your plan when Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up in '97?
After I left the band, I took a huge breather. One of my best friends is [former NBA player] Brian Grant. We met during his rookie year in Sacramento, and we was just hanging out, going to parties, going to Costa Rica. D'Angelo's first record [which featured the Saadiq-produced, Grammy-nominated single "Lady"] had just come out, and I was basically championing D at that point.
How did you and D'Angelo hook up?
Through a publisher at the label. Both our roots are in gospel. Once we get in the studio, we don't have to talk much. It's like magic. He'd say the same thing, but sometimes he'll get mad if people ask him, "Are you working with Raphael?" He'll say, "I'm tired of people asking me if I'm working with you." And I'll be like, "I'm tired of people asking me where the hell you at!"
Ok, but I've got to ask…
Oh man, I haven't talked to D in a minute. We're close friends, but more music collaborators. I only speak to him once or twice a year.
But didn't you do some work on his long-awaited new album?
We did some last year. He came to the studio and hung out. There was some stuff I already did, and he'll add to it to make it his. I hear he's in a great state of mind now.
How did you wind up working with Joss Stone?
She wanted me to produce her record, so I took her and bunch of musicians down to the Bahamas for a couple of months. It was a fun time. Joss is super-incredible as a singer and performer. She's soulful without trying. She's a really great writer, too, but she don't think so. I think so.
Is it true that you and Joss had a relationship beyond music?
Yeah, a little bit, a little bit. But she was more like a muse to me in the end. I wasn't really into doing my solo records, but she was like, "[The Way I See It] is the best record you've made." She had pretty good insight to it. I had that "whatever" attitude, but she was like, "No, this is it." D'Angelo said the same thing after hearing it. He was like, "I know how talented you are, but I don't think the world knows. Now they gonna know."
—By Laurence Lowe