Interview: 'Ray Ray' goes 'gospeldelic'
When considering true R&B artists with both longevity and extensive talent, there are certain people who make the list - Prince, Curtis Mayfield, Michael Jackson and Ray Ray. Ray Ray? Well, some people may know him as Raphael Saadiq, but his name is Ray Ray.
Some may know him as Grammy-winner Saadiq, one of the charter members of the hit-making group Tony Toni Tone. Others may know him as one of the genius musical minds behind D'Angelo's 1999 critically acclaimed album, "Voodoo." Some people may have recognized him alongside Dawn Robinson (formerly of EnVogue) and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (from A Tribe Called Quest) as Saadiq of Lucy Pearl. Still others know him as Saadiq, the man who introduced the "gospeldelic" sound with his 2002 solo debut, "Instant Vintage."
With more than 15 years in the music business and a discography that would put many big industry names to shame, everyone definitely knows him. And soon everyone will know "Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray."
Ray Ray's been busy; his second solo album, "Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray," was released earlier this month on his new label, Pookie Entertainment.
Working on the new album "was like the second year of school for me; it's me by myself again," Saadiq said. "You kind of see how to express yourself on your first album - this has just given me more vision. I think I did a great first album. My people, my fans really got into it, so I just really wanted to give them a little more fun on this record."
Like "Instant Vintage," "Ray Ray" explores a unique sound that Saadiq calls "gospeldelic."
"Gospeldelic is some of its truth," Saadiq said. "The '-delic' part of it, is like a psychedelic part - the fun part of it. So that everything isn't going to be preachy, some of it's going to be true. But the -delic part gives you room for experimenting and just having fun - I'm a little crazy, too. I don't want to scare people off."
But in a constantly changing industry like R&B, it's hard to define a sound, be consistent with it, and still fit into the current wave of music. So how does the album "Ray Ray" fit into the current scheme of things within hip-hop and R&B?
"I think it has a little coloring of everything. I like to involve a little bit of everything in my music - a lot of old school, a lot of new school, a lot of hip-hop," Saadiq said. "I definitely take from every genre, mostly my own. I think it fits in somewhere, I don't know exactly where, but I'll let the people tell me where I fit in. And that's what I'll really stick to."
"Ray Ray" shouldn't have a hard time making its way up the charts because Saadiq has an unfair advantage over many artists out right now - he's a musician's musician. Saadiq, who is also a producer, works behind the boards on his projects, and sometimes finds his solo work unknowingly influenced from projects he has with other artists.
"You can take from so many people and you can add it to yours without really knowing that's what you're doing," Saadiq said. "It's all about experimenting and expression. I work with a lot of people, so it definitely helps. It keeps everything fresh and gives you a perspective on everything."
Having a successful solo debut doesn't hurt the creative process either. "Instant Vintage" gave Saadiq room to do a little more experimenting with this album.
"'Instant Vintage' gave me a chance to look at the market," Saadiq said. "I wanted people to dance more on this record."
Don't try to hit the clubs just yet though. The song that Saadiq says is most personal on the album is probably "Grown Folks."
"I don't like to come off preachy or anything like that. It's just that sometimes I feel like people should hear something because it may be important to somebody," he said. "It's not like I'm trying to come off to everybody in a certain way. I just think that, for the kids' sake, I wanted to write 'Grown Folks' and say the grown people need as much help as the kids do. ... That's about as political as I'll ever be, I think."
"Ray Ray" is successful on both sides of the gospeldelic equation. There are a few semi-political messages that inspire without instructing and feel-good bass party music that's melodic enough to branch off from the Lil' Jon-like hits that have infiltrated the radio in the last two years.
If this is the level of artistry that can be expected from Pookie Entertainment, the public can only wait with anticipation for an album from the new Lucy Pearl formation: Saadiq with Robinson and Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest). But the public may have to wait awhile for Pookie Entertainment to edge into hip-hop.
"Right now, it's what I know," Saadiq said. "I'm just doing what I know best."
And he's doing it well.
Saadiq will play the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com.