Interview: Using Solange’s ‘A Seat at the Table’ As A Healing Component With Raphael Saadiq

When it was announced that the multi-talented Raphael Saadiq would be executive producing Solange‘s now No. 1 album, ‘A Seat at the Table’, I was elated. I don’t wake up each morning with “Still Ray” on repeat for nothing. The former Tony! Toni! Toné! member holds considerable talents, so it comes as no surprise that our fearless leader would have him assist her in setting the table. While Solange is solely responsible for the songwriting, arranging, and co-production on her third LP, there is no denying Saadiq’s rubbery bass lines and essential rhythmic contributions laced throughout.

The record offers a seat to our Black community and lends an open space for anger, sadness, power and ultimately healing, a vision that Raphael Saadiq assisted in bringing to fruition. The collaboration between the mighty duo is smoothly orchestrated with regal soundscapes, voluminous high horns and strings, and honest lyrical delivery. Recently, I was given the opportunity to chat with the Grammy-award winning musician where he discussed his early beginnings, using Solange as his muse, and the importance of taking ‘A Seat at the Table’ to heal.

Asia Burris: As a musician, you’re such a pioneer and iconic in our opinion. I can’t help but to ask, what first influenced you to begin creating music?

Raphael Saadiq: In my neighborhood, music was a cool thing to do. Also, a lot of people in my family played music. My uncle, Elijah Baker Sr., had many instruments in his house. My mother would also play records throughout the house at gatherings and parties, and I’d be really intrigued by all of the people dancing along. I’d be walking down the street and see people singing in their garages or at bars, and it seemed, at the time, that it was the safe thing to do. I was always really moved by rhythm.

We all know about the legendary Tony! Toni! Toné!. My father, who was my first introduction to you as an artist, still plays the classic House of Music heavily. How does it feel to have been a part of such an influential group in not just R&B, but blues, funk and soul?

It feels really good because there were so many things that influenced me at that time prior to the group forming, and I was able to exercise and learn. We were one of the original boy groups that was actually a real band. There were a total of 6 of us, playing in a garage and trying to figure it all out within a hostile environment in Oakland. So, it really taught me a lot to be able to create a record and come to the forefront, competing with records on the radio. It feels really good to know that the people that inspired us, like The O’Jays, Minnie Riperton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Earth, Wind & Fire, have had their influence transpired into the now. I’m happy that I’m able to create something that a father can give to his daughter or his son because that’s how the gift was handed to me. My father and my elders turned me on to music and I was able to turn it on to someone else that could share it with their children.

As a solo artist, you’re very multi-faceted. You’re a writer, producer, singer, instrumentalist and the list goes on. Even with the Lucy Pearl album, you were the only artist to hold writing credits on each and every song. I say all of this to ask, how do you balance all of these traits and do you happen to have a favorite?

I love music so much that it’s apart of the landscape of my life. Lucy Pearl gave me the chance to play some of the music that I really enjoy. I’m a huge A Tribe Called Quest fan, so to have Ali Shaheed Muhammad be in a group with me was a dream of mine along with Dawn Robinson of En Vogue. The producers that started En Vogue also gave us [Lucy Pearl] our start. Foster & McElroy, Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, gave Tony! Toni! Toné! our very first deal. To be able to go back and play music from En Vogue, A Tribe Called Quest, and my solo music, it was surreal to watch it all come together. Lucy Pearl was definitely a fun project.

I think that so many artists have been influenced by you and your continuous delivery within music, so it was a match made with you serving as executive producer alongside Solange for A Seat at the Table. The album is now the No. 1 record in the country and the first No. 1 album for Solange’s career. Did either of you envision this much success during the early stages of creating?

Me and Solange are two of the same type of people. We work to have a common ground and make music that sounds good. We trusted each other, and I think that that is what it’s all about. Anything that happens afterwards, happens. It says a lot about Solange because she trusted me with the vision that she already had, and I thank her for that. I say that she has big eyes and big ears because she listens really heavy and in her eyes, she knows what she wants. She’s from Houston, so she has that bass love too! She understands my bass playing like she plays bass, and sometimes she does! She jumped on the drums at times, along with the keys, and I was always really inspired by her. Sometimes it’s very difficult to get people in a room who really get it, and there are not many people that you can get in a room and have it all unfold organically like it did with us. Working with D’Angelo is very similar to working with Solange. He always has his vision and the work comes out exactly how he wants it, but it never feels like work. We can sit around, talk, joke, make music, talk for an hour or maybe two, and it just never feels like we’re working, but creating. When Solange and I went to New York to visit Columbia Records and listened to the album with Rob Stringer, that’s when it hit me on how she brought it together. There were so many pieces to bring together.

Can you take us through your initial discussion with Solange about the album? How did she describe the concept that she wanted to deliver?

Honestly, there really wasn’t that much talking. I agreed to work on the project, and she said yes once she trusted me with her vision. I don’t feel like I came in as an executive producer of anything. Usually, when I’m working with someone on a project, I say that I become a part of their band for the time. With Solange, I just became a band member, which took a lot of pressure off of me and off of her. We just went in, worked, created and played around with sounds. But, the initial conversation started years ago for the track “Cranes in the Sky,” which was a track that I originally created for my album. Years later, she was working with other artists, the files were deleted and neither of us could find them. When she came back, she said, “remember this song?” I looked it up, found it and she wrote to it and put her magic on it. I had to take my hat off to her because if that was my song, it would have sat on my computer for another two or three years. It had already sat for over eight years. We never really talked about the titles of the songs while we were creating, so I had to go back and really listen to “Cranes,” and I realized that that was the song that I created musically from scratch.

You assisted on production for almost every track on the album, and if you weren’t producing, you were there with additional instrumentals. This may be difficult to decide, but what is your favorite track and why?

I think my favorite is “Don’t Touch My Hair” because it’s a jam all the way through. Sampha comes on singing with “What you say to me,” and then both him and Solange with the bassline.. it just moves me. When I saw the music video, I lost it. She told me that she was going to travel for a while and shoot the visuals, so when I finally saw the final product I said, “Damn these look so fresh. She’s killing it.” Looking at both videos, what her and Alan put together, it was like watching a baby be born.

Music, for alot of us, has the power to heal. How do you hope that this album will assist in healing the Black community during these harsh times across our country and throughout the world?

Man, that’s such a great question. During the time of creating Solange’s record, I was sort of going through a transitional period where I was working on my own album. I had recently let go of my long time manager and really good friend and fired my accountant from terrible due diligence. I eventually pushed through it, but it was hard for me to think and hard for me to put together my own music. But by working on Solange’s record, she became my muse from her music and vision. People would think it was awkward or weird how she would arrange her music, but for me, it was cool because I got a chance to dig into how she was thinking and it took my mind off of everything that I had going on personally. I couldn’t even work on my own album at the time because of how I was feeling, but Solange’s album was a true testament of healing for me.

When I first heard “F.U.B.U.,” I would say to Solange, “What are you saying on this? This shit is for us?!” She took all of these different risks that people can’t take today. Artists can’t stop and breathe, and her record stops and then breathes just like everyday life. I think that that’s why mothers and daughters relate so heavily with this record. With songs like “Mad” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” it’s relatable and brings a sense of commonality.

Aside from the music, you recently appeared in one of my new favorite shows, Luke Cage. What first inspired you to get involved and do you have any future plans within television?

I got involved with scoring Underground with my friend Laura Karpman and then I ended up working on HBO’s Insecure with Solange and Melina. Two of my good friends, Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge, scored the show Luke Cage, and they came up to me like, “You’ve got to get involved with this. We need you to perform on this show.” Like I said, I was going through some difficult times, and at that moment, I didn’t really feel
like I could write a song and be involved with the show. But, they persuaded me and that’s how it ultimately happened.

I love listening to my music against picture and scoring. It’s really a beautiful thing, and I have some really good friends and angels looking out for me all the time. Sometimes good things come to those who put their head down and do what they love. From Faith Evans to Jidenna, there’s just so much beautiful Blackness on the show.

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