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Raphael Saadiq

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Raphael Saadiq


One of urban music's most talented (and under-appreciated) producers, Raphael Saadiq has been at the forefront of R&B since he toured with Prince in the mid-1980s. From the New Jack swing of pop group Tony! Toni! Tone! to the neo-soul of late-'90s supergroup Lucy Pearl to the gospeldelica of his solo work, Saadiq is a chameleon and a trailblazer. Born Raphael Wiggins in 1966, Saadiq grew up in an Oakland, Calif., torn apart by the after effects of the Civil Rights movement. But along with the Black Panthers, Oakland was also known for its budding funk scene, and Saadiq turned to music to find a solace from this social turmoil. It was perhaps the heyday of black music, and acts as diverse as Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis seemed to coalesce and form a powerful notion of a central black musical identity. This sense of black pride, as well as this desire to break down the barriers of genre, would be very important for an impressionable Saadiq.

The young man soon began picking up instruments himself, and by the time he was 18 he'd already scored a slot of Prince's 1984 World Parade tour. Following that jaunt, he formed Tony! Toni! Tone! with brother Dwayne Wiggins and cousin Timothy Christian. The group found immediate success with the single "Little Walter." Their debut album, Who?, quickly followed. It was generally straightforward, paint-by-the-numbers R&B that mixed elements of gospel and early hip-hop underpinnings with the New Jack swing production that was popularized by producer Teddy Riley and his many disciples. The group's biggest hit, however, would come with their sophomore album, 1990's The Revival. The upbeat party anthem "Feels Good" was ubiquitous.

Though the album sold upwards of six million copies, Saadiq felt that it was time to leave and go solo. He did not find immediate success in his solo career, and by the late '90s he had formed the supergroup Lucy Pearl along with Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Mohammad and En Vogue's Dawn Robinson. But while the group looked great on paper, and even produced some tasty results in songs such as "Dance Tonight" and "Hollywood," their self-titled debut failed to capture the imaginations of consumers, and the group disbanded following its release. By that time, Saadiq was focusing more on producing and worked with everyone from Macy Gray to D'Angelo. His laid-back grooves, wobbly melodies and jazz licks helped establish the sonic template for neo-soul. He even won a Grammy in 2000 for his work on D'Angelo's "Untitled." Suddenly, Saadiq was an in-demand producer, and he found himself working with mainstream acts such as Snoop, TLC and Kelis.

Saadiq released his first solo album in 2002, Instant Vintage. As the title implied, the album's music drew from classic black music forms. The hip-hop underpinnings of previous work were largely absent; instead, he focused on melding gospel, jazz and soul into a more progressive (and very unique) sound that the producer dubbed "gospeldelica." The album was a critical smash and earned Saadiq five Grammy nods. And while 2004's Ray Ray didn't garner the level of critical support, it found Saadiq once again drawing upon classic black music to push things forward. This time the focus was on the funk, and tracks such as "Chic" and "This One" are among the strongest in Saadiq's catalog.

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