Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Raphael Saadiq: Always In The Mix

Raphael Saadiq
Raphael Saadiq Raphael Saadiq Raphael Saadiq Raphael Saadiq

Acknowledged across-the-board as today’s go-to collaborator for some of the biggest names in R&B, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/producer Raphael Saadiq this month delivers his eagerly-anticipated fifth solo album “Jimmy Lee”. Which, described as “a deeply personal, musically ambitious work inspired in part by his brother’s struggles with addiction that explores the razor’s edge people walk as they pursue pleasure that leads to pain”, boasts collaborations from chart-topping Compton, California rapper Kendrick Lamar; A Tribe Called Quest DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad; and LA keyboardist/producer Brook D’Leau. Indeed, produced by Raphael himself at his own studio (Blakeslee Recording) in North Hollywood and currently pioneered by its hauntingly swaying lead-off single “Something Keeps Calling”, the release of “Jimmy Lee” interestingly also represents Saadiq’s first new album in eight years and follows his prestigious 2018 Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Original Song for his Mary J. Blige co-write “Mighty River” from the film “Mudbound.”

relaxing over morning drinks at Shoreditch’s super-trendy Curtain Hotel, a be-shaded and soft-spoken Mr Saadiq reacquaints himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss his interesting new musical direction and the background surrounding it.

The gradual creative process behind his new album “Jimmy Lee”

“The record is named after my brother Jimmy Lee, who’s 15 years older than me and died from being a heroin addict. And while at first, I didn’t have a specific concept for the record, what happened was, after I started thinking about my brother one day and how he ended up, I found myself gradually beginning to explore the whole addiction thing a bit more. Because growing up I did see a lot of people who were struggling with it - family members, business friends - and I noticed how, when it happens, it doesn’t just affect the person themselves but also all those people around you who still have to work and carry on with their lives. So from that, I started writing about different situations connected with it. Which I guess in the scheme of things was quite a bluesy/soulful thing for me to do because the blues at the end of the day, is all about struggles… Then sonically I also wanted to do something different this time around. Which I guess is something that’s just me - you know, I never do the same thing twice. And while sometimes I do call that way of working a challenge, basically it’s not. It’s really more about just having the opportunity to be creative and taking advantage of the gift that I have.”

Breaking down the album lyrically

“In many ways, the whole entire album is about just me being vulnerable and putting myself out there, particularly when I’m talking about some of the betrayal we deal with in life from some of the not-so-good people we come up against. Like, as a young person, I actually lost three brothers to drugs in different ways, which meant none of them were around to watch me grow and become a successful musician - which is a difficult thing for me to talk about publicly. But at the same time, I didn’t want to look down on drug addiction. And while overall the record may sound dark, some of the subjects are not. Which is why there are points on the album that are actually very uplifting, because when people are addicted to something they do at the time actually feel good about it. Plus I also wanted to deal with other people involved in the scenario. Like on the song “Kings Fall” where I’m talking about the person that I call ‘the enabler’. Who is the person that’s always around the family member and who comes off as a really good friend but at the same time is the one who’s actually enabling him to have the drugs and is always selling him something… So yeah, I did definitely want to put a different spin on addiction and not just highlight the person who’s addicted to the drugs.”

How Raphael feels he’s changed up musically this time around

“Musically I actually really love the way this record has turned out. Because though “The Way I See It” and “Stone Rollin’” are still two of my favourite records sonically, I knew “Jimmy Lee” was gonna be different because this time I decided I wanted to play around with a lotta different effects, I wanted to play bass a little funkier, I wanted to play drums a little snappier... You know, my experience in recent years of scoring for different (US) TV series like “Insecure” and “Underground” and working a lot with the string arranger Laura Karpman did definitely make me want to broaden the sound of the album, particularly in terms of it sounding a little more ambient and just generally having more melancholy joints on there where I could sort of play around in that mid-Eighties/Tears For Fears kind of arena.”

Jimmy Lee and single Something Keeps Calling Ft. Rob Bacon are out on Columbia Records.

You can read more from B&S assistant Editor Pete Lewis' must-read interview with one time Tony, Toni, Tone! / R&B supergroup Lucy Peal band member and now established solo artist / grammy winning super producer, Raphael Saadiq. Saadiq talks about his diverse music influences while growing up and more info on his latest album release, which is devoted to his late brother "Jimmy Jimmy Lee...all in the current issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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