You can call Raphael Saadiq a lot of things: singer, songwriter, and producer are the first to come to mind. The former Tony Toni Toné lead singer has spent the better part of the last decade establishing himself as a one-man showcase for urban music, crafting hits for the likes of DAngelo, Total, and, of course, himself.
Two years ago he released his solo debut, Instant Vintage, which resulted in Saadiq adding another title to his already impressive resume: executive. Regardless, dont expect the Oakland native to lose his California cool as a label head.
While Pookie Entertainment has absolute autonomy after Saadiq parted ways with Universal Records, he doesnt rule with an iron fist. Free-spirited artist Joi can be just as independent as she desires, whereas Truth [formerly Truth Hurts see the AHHA interview http://allhiphop.com/alternatives/index.asp?ID=55] chooses to work closely with Saadiq and Pookie. Now Raphael is back with his sophomore solo effort, Raphael Saadiq: As Ray Ray, and hes keeping his mind humbly focused on success for himself and beyond.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives spoke with Raphael as he explained the indy hustle, his new project, and why R&B cats need to take a page from Pete Rock and CL Smooth.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: So hows everything going with your label, Pookie Entertainment?
Raphael Saadiq: Everythings going cool. Everythings real settled.
AHHA: It seems most people associate going the independent route with Hip-Hop, with R&B do you find it to be a different perspective?
RS: Nope, its all the same. Its all the struggle, its all the grind, and its all the hustle. You doing everything for yourself, and you making everything happen on your own. So, its very much like Hip-Hop.
AHHA: How has it been for you to move between being a collaborator with Truth or Joe and working with them as a businessman?
RS: Truths thing, we kind of run her whole thing – but Jois project is kind of being spun off by Joi. Im like a partner with Joi, but shes doing her own label, too. So its Pookie, we did the music with her, but shes kind of running herself. I dont really have to deal with that on a day-to-day. I really only got to deal with myself and Truth right now – on a day-to-day.
AHHA: The process of going independent seems like it would be a liberating thing for you, based on your expertise with different instruments and your songwriting skills.
RS: Yeah, it is exactly. Its always a journey, you know? Theres always something to look forward to and to get a response from people, so its always an uplifting thing for me.
AHHA: Is your new album a continuation of the Gospel-delic sound you dubbed your last offering?
RS: Partly it is, but its a lot looser than the last album. Meaning theres more up-tempo. The beats are like more aggressive. Its more like a Friday Like, I call it a weekend album.
AHHA: With your label, are you looking for new talent or do you prefer to work with acts that already have an idea about their sound?
RS: Right now Im working with people who have already established their sound and identity. But after you break one act, then you can start concentrating on new acts.
AHHA: Outside of Pookie-related projects, who else have you been working with?
RS: This year I worked on Jill Scotts new album. Earth, Wind, & Fires new single, Show Me The Way – I did that. Mainly, Ive just been working on my project. Im gonna get back in to that [outside work] when I get back off tour.
AHHA: Are you gonna do anymore work with DAngelo?
RS: Yeah, weve been talking. Once I get back from Europe, Ima go out to Virginia and work with him.
AHHA: Could you explain why this release isnt in conjunction with Universal Records like Instant Vintage was?
RS: I had one more record with Universal leftover from the Toni project, and I always knew I wanted to put out myself. So it was an opportunity for me to put out myself. Universal was a great label, but you kind of want to be able to blame yourself if you do something, so thats what I wanted to do – take a chance and go out there and start a label with myself. Ive been wanting to do it for years, and finally got the chance to do it.
AHHA: If you didnt have the one record left over with Universal, would you have put out a solo album?
RS: I would have, yeah.
AHHA: Im sure people are always asking you, but when is there gonna be another Tony Toni Toné album?
RS: Yeah, were actually trying to put it together now.
AHHA: What was it like working with Babyface, because you are both usually in control of songwriting duties and the production?
RS: I actually wrote it and brought it to him, he just actually sings. We worked together before and I did the same thing for him. Hes like an idol of mine, a mentor. I kind of look up to Mr. Edmonds. People kind of say we brothers and stuff, they call me his little brother. So its like, Big brother, its time to be on little brothers album. Hes a great writer and for him to just get on my track and sing it meant a lot to me. Usually when you ask somebody to do something, people tend to be fake. Hes a real cat – he was down. He does stuff for me and I do stuff for him, and thats how it should be. I can respect that.
AHHA: Your hometown is known for its political background in activism. What are your thoughts on the Hip-Hop political movement and a lot of the young rappers being more outspoken?
RS: I think they need to be. Its gonna be the next generations world and somebodys got to get into it, and the Hip-Hop voice is a really strong voice – people listen to entertainers, and actors, and Hip-Hop artists. Itll be good for them to really know, and study, and to be up on todays politics so that they can compete in todays market talking to the kids.
AHHA: Do you think they should start to be just as outspoken on running businesses and creating their own jobs for people?
RS: Most definitely. Itll resort to that, theyll have to.
AHHA: You mean like everybody going the independent route?
AHHA: Do you think thats a result of technology?
RS: Part technology, because of all the bootlegging. You see somebody bootlegging you might as well start bootlegging yourself.
AHHA: Whys there such a difference between Hip-Hop and R&B when it comes to bootlegging?
RS: Because we dont be out there fighting them. Thats why. More Hip-Hop artists make more noise about it, cause they known for getting in somebodys a** about bootlegging. R&B cats wasnt doing that; they needed to be doing that.