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Retro Perspective

Soul visionary Raphael Saadiq revisits classic black pop on his new album, The Way I See It.

By K. Leander Williams Photograph by Shannon Taggart


Raphael Saadiq is in the back of a minijeep that is shuttling down Madison Avenue. The 42-year-old singer, bassist and producer is en route to the radio station WBLS for a drive-time chat with Wendy Williams. This is the tail end of the third day of assembly-line interviews to promote his forthcoming disc, The Way I See It (Columbia). He’s stylishly serene in pegged trousers and mod suede ankle boots, and yet, as Saadiq scans the tape recorder between us and then looks out the window, it’s worth wondering if he’s wishing he were elsewhere.

The Oakland native’s next utterance is surprising: “Y’all writers are killing me with these prefixes,” Saadiq sighs into a half chuckle. He sounds more like an editor than a hit-making L.A.-based producer who has helped reinvent contemporary R&B—both as a solo artist and through his work guiding everyone from D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige to Joss Stone and John Legend. “The music on The Way I See It is gonna be called ‘retro-soul,’ ” he explains. “Several years back, when I had my group Lucy Pearl, they were calling our stuff ‘neosoul.’ ” Saadiq pauses. “I guess I understand it, but it’s also kinda wack. It’s just not how I see what I do. People use the phrases old school and new school all the time, but I think of it like what Isaac Hayes once said: ‘The terms are irrelevant.’ What matters is that you either went to school or you didn’t.”

Perhaps fittingly, The Way I See It (the third album under his own name—though he was born Charlie Ray Wiggins—following 2002’s Grammy-nominated Instant Vintage and 2004’s hit-and-miss blaxploitation epic Ray Ray) is a clear indication of Saadiq’s erudition, which encompasses the history of classic black pop music. On the surface, each song seems as if it might have been plucked from a time capsule. The opener, “Sure Hope You Mean It,” and the first single, “Love That Girl,” are multitracked doo-wop worthy of the Temptations or Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, while “Just One Kiss,” a groovy duet with Joss Stone, has the springy feel of Memphis funk awash in swirling strings, akin to the Spinners. Saadiq’s music is enlivened by urban sonics from the present, however. Much as he did in the group Tony! Toni! Toné!—the Wiggins family band that made him a star in the early ’90s—Saadiq fastidiously tweaks the old with the new. He grins with pride when asked about the fleet-footed Hurricane Katrina remembrance “Big Easy,” which cleverly hangs a tale about the broken levees onto a plea generally associated with the lovelorn (“Somebody tell me what’s goin’ wrong / I ain’t seen my baby in far too long”). “I’ve watched people dance to that song in a club,” he says. “It made me feel like I’ve done right by the New Orleans tradition, which is to turn a funeral into a party.”

Saadiq is well aware that new listeners may see his record as part of a trend spearheaded by the runaway success of troubled Brit singer Amy Winehouse. He’s unfazed by it, even though his penchant for giving latter-day music the snap of the elders clearly predates hers—the Tony! Toni! Toné! discs Sons of Soul (1993) and House of Music (1996) chart his lifelong interests. “Someone who’s been at this as long as I have doesn’t stress about that,” he says. “I mean, I do a lot of things—play, perform, produce—and to a certain extent I think all of it is risky whether it fits a trend or not. In the end, audiences are still going to have to come to my records by other sources than radio and big-chain record stores—and the major stores are closing, anyway.” Saadiq gazes out the window again, taking in the bustling pedestrians near WBLS’s Park Avenue headquarters. “What I find interesting, though, is that listeners now seem more open to all kinds of music without any barriers,” he says. “It can be different, familiar, old jazz, new rock and everything in between. As a musician, it kinda makes you feel like trying anything.”

Listen: "Love That Girl"

Listen: "100 Yard Dash"

Want more? Check the blog on August 29 for another track off Raphael Saadiq's upcoming album, The Way I See It out Sept 16

NEXT: M-I-C-K-E-Y M-U-S-I-C Deep inside the Disney castle, a group of chart-busting elves is cranking out the tunes that are guaranteed to have you humming—or drive you crazy—this fall.»

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M-I-C-K-E-Y M-U-S-I-C

Deep inside the Disney castle, a group of chart-busting elves is cranking out the tunes that are guaranteed to have you humming—or drive you crazy—this fall.

By Elisabeth Vincentelli


Like predicting the outcomes of presidential elections and Project Runway, writing pop hits isn’t an exact science. Motley ingredients have to come together just so in order to create a hit—and in a way, the performer isn’t necessarily the most important element. Indeed, you could argue that these days, the real stars of American pop aren’t on the cover of Us Weekly; rather, they lurk behind sound boards in darkened studios, writing and producing the tunes we karaoke to.

Hit makers Antonina Armato and Matthew Gerrard are two of those behind-the-scenes Merlins. The former cowrote several songs on the upcoming special edition of Miley Cyrus’s hit album Breakout, while the latter teamed up with Robbie Nevil to create six tunes in the eagerly awaited High School Musical 3, making them some of the hottest—if least well-known—artists of the fall.

Though they don’t limit themselves to the Mouse empire, Gerrard and Nevil are Disney vets who have written songs for Hannah Montana and seem to specialize in the ensemble numbers in which the entire HSM cast whips itself into a hormonal (but clean-cut!) frenzy: “We’re All in This Together” in the first film, “All for One” in HSM2 and “Now or Never” in HSM3. “We interpret everything [director] Kenny Ortega says and sort of turn it into music and a rhythmic feel,” Gerrard explains. “If Kenny wants something bigger, we’ll throw in a hundred drummers or something! Or in the new movie they talk about the Rockettes kicking their legs, and we’re in the middle of a pop song, so Robbie and I have to figure out how to do that.”

Having reached the Top 20 when she was 18 with her first song, Brenda K. Starr’s “I Still Believe” (1988), and then working with everybody from Barbra Streisand to Sheena Easton, Armato was drawn into the Disney orbit three years ago. She and writing-producing partner Tim James penned “Bet on It” for HSM2 and gave Vanessa Hudgens a Top 40 hit with “Come Back to Me,” while also grooming talent (including Sick Puppies, whose song plays on the “free hugs” YouTube phenom) for their own Rock Mafia Records. But what’s really put the pair on the map is its collaboration with Miley Cyrus, who, Armato’s quick to point out, “is one of the few [artists] who really writes songs. She’s supertalented and she brings a lot, and I can’t say that about everybody else we’ve worked with.”

Much in demand, both teams are working with new Interscope signees the Clique Girlz, while Armato and James are also involved with two other new acts: David Archuleta (“We’re doing one song for sure, but it could be four,” Armato reveals. “Hopefully we won’t fuck it up and we’ll deliver”) and the Beach Girlz. Armato’s especially hot about new Rock Mafia signee Fallbrooke, a Florida band that’s already got a high-profile fan: “Miley was texting me as I was speaking to you and she wants the Fallbrooke album!”

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is in theaters Oct 21; Miley Cyrus’s Breakout—Special Edition is out Nov 18; David Archuleta’s debut is out Nov 4; Fallbrooke’s album is out this fall.

NEXT: Opposites attract Are you always at the same old shows, with the same people and the same sound? Stop it. Do something different. Now.»

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Opposites attract

Are you always at the same old shows, with the same people and the same sound? Stop it. Do something different. Now.


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Carcass Liverpool’s original gore-grinders return from the dead.
Nokia Theatre Times Square, Sept 6


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Céline Dion Equally scary.
Prudential Center; Sept 10, 12 Nassau Coliseum; Sept 13, 18 Madison Square Garden; Sept 15, 16



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Goldfrapp High-concept theater is part of this English electronica duo’s approach.
Radio City Music Hall, Sept 12


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Terminal 5; Sept 25, 26



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Apollo Theater, Oct 16



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NEXT: The odds »

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ODDS

35%


That Williamsburgians will welcome TV on the Radio’s change of sound with a change of facial hair.

15%


That Metallica will celebrate Death Magnetic, its first album in five years, with a group trip to Pinkberry.

85%


That Madonna, a spry 36 in Kabbalah years—and 350 in dog years—makes it through her string of local stadium shows without relying on bifocals or a walker. (Odds that she performs as a divorcée: same.)

99%


That Oasis’s promotional activity for Dig Out Your Soul will lead to feuds between the Gallagher brothers and any moderately popular artists that jump into the Gallagher brothers’ minds.

45%


That newly opened music-bowling hybrid Brooklyn Bowl leads to turf fights between old-school Brooklyn rollers and new-breed Brooklyn rockers.

More in Music
Retro Perspective | M-I-C-K-E-Y M-U-S-I-C | Opposites attract | The odds


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DOWNLOAD ALL EVENTS: GOOGLE CAL | for iCAL

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