Raheem DeVaughn: Class act
Born in Newark, New Jersey and raised in Maryland, self-styled “R&B/hippie/neo-soul/rock-star” Raheem DeVaughn recently hit the US R&B Top Three with his current, third album ‘The Love & War Masterpeace’. Which - largely produced by Kenny Dope - finds the Grammy-nominated contemporary soul singer/songwriter combining messages of social conscience with themes of love, sex and romance on a soulfully-consistent 16-track set which features guest input from the likes of scholar Dr. Cornel West plus rappers Ludacris and Wale; in addition to the emotionally powerful track ‘Nobody Wins A War’ impressively boasting an 11-strong gathering of such modern-day soul talents as Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Chrisette Michelle and Ledisi.
The son of jazz cellist Abdul Wadud, DeVaughn experienced his first taste of the life of a working musician while attending gigs with his father. However, his decision to become a professional singer was made during his college years in Baltimore City, when he spotted a group of street-corner singers and began harmonising with them. Beginning his live career on the DC music circuit with groups like underground hip hop/soul aggregation Urbanave312, it was nevertheless after meeting his now-longtime manager Jerry Vines (then manager to R&B male quartet Dru Hill) that in 2002 he attained his current deal with Sony Music’s Jive Records. For whom he has since released three albums - 2005’s ‘The Love Experience’; 2008’s Grammy-nominated, US R&B-chart-topping ‘Love Behind The Melody’; and 2010’s aforementioned, current ‘The Love & War Masterpeace’.
A laid-back, yet forthcoming Raheem gets on the line from his Washington DC home to chat to Pete Lewis about his latest album. Whose current offshoot single is the Ne-Yo co-penned/co-produced upbeat soul skipper ‘I Don’t Care’.
The thinking behind the title to his current, third album ‘The Love & War Masterpeace’
“I just wanted to create something that was timeless but that also really reflected upon the very strange times we’re living in. And I think throughout the world the ultimate goal for everybody today is to try to master peace in their own lives. Whether it be in your personal relationship, in the workplace, having a close relationship with God... You know, I just think all these things are part of the process in mastering peace.”
Raheem’s intentions for the album itself
“I’m a modern-day hippie. So, with half of the album being socially conscious, I definitely wanted to bring people to a higher level of consciousness - and a higher level of love - through the vibration of the music. You know, conceptually it was actually very well thought-out. So, while the plan from the gate was to have the two vibes - social conscience and love/romance - it still all gelled together. And, with that being definitely something that Marvin Gaye was known for, I think that’s why I get those comparisons with him. Because I’m able to bring that same philosophy and thought-process into the music. I mean, I basically used this album as a platform to talk about anything I WANTED to talk about - from domestic violence, to love, to a mother’s-day anthem!”
How he recalls his early, hustling days as an independent artist selling his CDs at street-level
“I have a lotta friends that are very talented. And basically they end up just making music for themselves and listening to it in their HOUSE. Because these days it’s about more than just how TALENTED you are. You know, it’s about the hustle; it’s about people knowing your name; it’s about making in impression and still staying humble… I mean, there’s a number of things that fall into play when you’re trying to make it. And one of the first things I realised was that, in many ways it’s about supply and demand! I learnt early - while doing the open mics and doing the little venues - that, while performing itself is cool, people still want a PRODUCT afterwards. You know, people wanna be able to take you HOME with them. And, once I figured out that component, it was pretty much a WRAP! You go and do a live show; people gravitate to it; afterwards they’re like ‘You got some music?’ - and you SELL it to them!... You know, I realised early on how, in that way, my music could pretty much sell ITSELF!”
Raheem’s take on the advantages of now being with a major-label (Sony Music)
“Being with a major is a lot different from being independent. Because while you can do your grass-roots circuit, have a fan-base and perform here and there, at the end of the day a major’s arms stretch out way wider than an independent situation. Like they can have you released everywhere in the world on the same DAY if that’s what they wanna do! I mean, the majors have access to way more cash than I’d have access to doing it on my own without the right components in place! Which in turn gives ME more access to things that I wanna experiment with and do.”
Making his acting debut this year in the upcoming film ‘Who Do You Love’, which depicts the story of legendary Chicago R&B label Chess Records
“The movie should be out his summer hopefully, and I play a blues singer by the name of Andrew Tibbs. It’s a time-period piece, and so my particular scenes take place in The Forties. And it was real fun to do! You know, I went into it very knowledgeable of my lines. Plus it definitely made me more knowledgeable MUSICALLY, in terms of the style of song, the timing, and how people actually sang on those records during that era. And, once I grasped that this was a totally different profession from singing - a whole different ball-game - I was COOL with it! You know, we actually filmed it some time ago; there’s a whole slew of other actors in it with me… And the director is the Tony Award-winning Jerry Zaks, who’s directed a lot of Broadway plays in the past - though this is like one of the first actual FILMS he’s done.”
Raheem’s plans for establishing his own record label 368 Music Group, whose name refers to the telephone area-code for the Maryland/DC district in which he grew up
“Well, my main aim is to see the DC area progress and really blow up musically. Plus I also created the label because there are certain types of music that I like, that I wanna put out, and that I feel deserve a platform. You know, our first artist is named Phil Ade. He’s really dope and so we’re now gearing up to put out his second project, as well as releasing some OTHER acts we’ve taken on. Because I just think there’s a whole time-period of music that’s soon gonna come back out, and I wanna be PART of that. You know, I feel like we’re headed back to where there’s gonna be a heavy wave of conscious music hopefully coming soon. Because, with things having been dumbed-down so much in recent times, there’s a lotta artists these days who are talking about nothing and that are not SELLING nothing either! So, you know, with those two combinations, I think it’s definitely gonna filter itself out. And, while right now the label is totally independent, we definitely do plan to get the majors involved some time in the future.”
Raheem’s single ‘I Don’t Care’ and album ‘The Love & War Masterpeace’ are both out now through 1228/Jive
Words PETE LEWIS