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Raphael Saadiq: I try not to judge anymore, we’re all flawed

NEW MUSIC: Raphael Saadiq has released his new album Jimmy Lee today

CREATING AND sustaining a legacy is a lifelong effort. For Raphael Saadiq, this has involved decades of work within groups — aiding the likes of Q-Tip (as a part of The Ummah) and J Dilla (as a part of Slum Village) — producing for industry mainstays, including D’Angelo and Miguel all while expanding his own musical pallet through the creation of multiple LPs — the fifth of which, Jimmy Lee, has been released today (August 23).

Being able to last over four decades in an incredibly fickle industry requires groundwork which Saadiq has never shied away from.

“Growing up in bands helped shape the lessons that I needed for going solo,” Saadiq says.

He is insistent that his time in duos and larger groups gave him a deeper sense of understanding than his career as a stand-alone act. “There’s so much more stress involved with being in groups. There are different personalities, ordering, arrangements, you need to think a lot more and be alert.”

The knack for helping other artists and collaboration lingers across the acts 45-year run in the industry. Saadiq aided Mick Jagger’s tribute performance at the 53rd Grammy Award show in LA in 2011. And his teamwork with both his contemporaries and younger talent in his field has led to multiple award nominations and wins. Solange’s Cranes In The Sky secured not only a Grammy Award but a BET Centric Award and Soul Train Award.

On her mention, Saadiq gushes at her talent and offering. “She’s brilliant. She doesn’t copy anyone or try to replicate anything, she’s just doing her. I love her brain, she’s so different I have respect for people like her."

As we proceed, it becomes apparent that Saadiq might in fact have worked on When I Get Home or material beyond that. It’s ambiguous, but it’s evident that newer songs beyond Solange’s A Seat At The Table have at least been explored between the two.

Working in such close proximity to a lot of talent has exposed Saadiq to both the good and the darker sides of the entertainment business. For the singer, he sees illegal substances, such as drugs, all the time. “They [drugs] are becoming things of choice, it’s all so casual now like it was in the ‘80s and ‘70s, it’s getting worse again, definitely.” Issues around substance abuse inspired the call to action on the latest addition to his discography Jimmy Lee via Columbia records. The project is named after his brother who died through drug addiction.

“I got caught up in so much between this album and the last one [Stone Rollin’], but I knew that I wanted to talk about this subject, it touched me,” Saadiq says.

The multi-instrumentalist reflects on his friends and colleagues who have taken drugs over the years. “I try not to judge anymore, we’re all flawed. It’s about speaking to these people, understanding their addiction, and how to cope with this.” Saadiq unpacks this concept further in his first single Something Keeps Calling, released earlier this year. On the songs mention, he highlights that it’s a double entendre.

“It could be in relation to drugs, gambling, seduction, music. So it’s positive and negative addiction,” he says. The 53-year-old ponders over this concept further, pausing in thought for a moment. “Addiction can fuel you, or lead you down another road,” he finally adds.

Jimmy Lee as a whole is heavily instrumental, however, it draws on an ever-present slackened feel. The overarching theme is cohesiveness, it feels insular and bespoke in creation.

“I try not to use a lot of writers and producers in the process," he says. Saadiq is very hands-on both as an artist and when working with his contemporaries. However, extending an olive branch to family remains a constant; he instantly gushes at his own mention of his nephew Dylan Wiggins.

“He [Wiggins] is so talented, a genius. He helped in places on this record," Saadiq says.

Wiggins also helped contribute to A Seat At The Table and appears to be a part of his uncle's trajectory.

As we delve further into the conversation regarding Jimmy Lee, Saadiq notes that Kendrick Lamar was eager to be a part of the project. “Kendrick expressed interest so came and recorded for me, he wanted to do much more for the album in terms of writing. I’m happy he could be a part of Jimmy Lee because I like what he’s added to the projects."

In some places Jimmy Lee incorporates funk, in others it oozes R&B, but when articulating what this era means to him sonically, Saadiq refuses to put a label on it. “I’m all over the place, my pallet is wide. All I know is that it’s either you went to school or you didn’t."

We divulge into this concept further, Saadiq is more than ready to expand. “I listen to all the greats and draw inspiration from them, who doesn’t. Prince, MJ, I’m a fan of them all, and will always pay my respects and honouring.” Comparing music to sport, he concludes that you have “look at the best to be the best".

Beyond the album, it was made known that a tour is on the horizon. Saadiq began rehearsing weeks ago and is more than eager to hit the road and “be open with fans".

This openness has translated into his personal life, through efforts to increase family dialogue. “Talking about my brother and all of the emotions helped both myself and the family to move on, especially my mother. We’re paying tribute to his legacy," he says.

As the force moves on in the next phase of his career, he admits that the industry has changed a lot since eras that he’s lived through, however after a few silent pauses, he acknowledges that change always happens in his industry. “New genres are emerging, but there are so many real singers coming back to the front and centre of music,” says Saadiq. His favourite of the day is Washington DC raised R&B singer Baby Rose. “She’s so dope, she has a lot to offer us.”

Outside of music, Saadiq is seeking relaxation and the centring of self. “I love yoga, running, martial arts, anything that has me in a calming mood.” He aspires to bring this same feeling in his music and is keen to fuel others in finding their ideal state. “I just want people to listen to it [Jimmy Lee] and feel happy. I want them to create, relax, enjoy themselves, dance, anything that allows for positivity to shine through.”

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