Raphael Saadiq is back with his first album in eight years, the self-produced “Jimmy Lee,” (Columbia), which addresses the loss of his brother to addiction.
The R&B singer and producer broke out as a member of trio Tony! Toni! Toné!, alongside his brother D’wayne Wiggins and cousin Timothy Christian Riley. They sold millions of records in the 90’s before calling it quits in 1998. Saadiq hasn’t released a solo album since 2011’s “Stone Rollin’.”
The Grammy-winning artist has spent the last eight years working on projects for other hitmakers, including co-writing Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” and composing music for HBO’s hit series “Insecure.” He earned his first Academy Award nomination in 2018 for “Mighty River” from “Mudbound.”
On Aug. 23, Saadiq makes his solo return with “Jimmy Lee,” partly inspired by the death of his brother from a drug overdose on February 20, 1998.
Saadiq was also the mastermind behind the R&B Lucy Pearl — a mash-up of A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Dawn Robinson of En Vogue. But did you know he had two other artists in mind to form this supergroup? He reveals this fun fact in a candid new interview with NME — peep excerpts from the Q&A below.
It’s been eight years since the release of ‘Stone Rollin’’. Is there a reason it took you so long to put out a new album?
“I was actually changing management teams so I pretty much managed myself for a long time until I eventually hooked up with new management. I was really good for a while but then that sort of didn’t work and things went wrong and then I hired another management team for a year and then I realized that wasn’t gonna work either. I was still making music the whole time but I just didn’t want it to come out without having a team together, although in-between albums I was thinking about not having a team. I just didn’t feel that comfortable finishing a record and giving it to the people working for me. I’ve been on this horse ride a couple of times before so I knew that I didn’t really want these kind of people attached to my next record.”
‘Jimmy Lee’ is about your brother who died from a drug overdose. Did you have to do any further research to help you create it?
“Not really, I was really close to him. The only thing that was new to me was learning how fast he got connected to drugs when he and my parents moved to California from Louisiana.”
Do you think you now understand the inner workings of an addict better?
“Yeah, definitely. It’s not an easy thing to understand. Like, how do you get into it? I’m always thinking, do they think they’re just gonna get high? They definitely don’t think they’re gonna be a hindrance on anyone else’s life.”
Have you ever taken drugs?
“I’ve done pills before, ecstasy, shrooms, stuff like that, but it wasn’t for me. The reason why I tried them, especially the pills, was because I thought it was okay to do. In America, everybody thinks a pill is okay. It’s not coke or heroin, but at the end of the day a drug is a drug. So after reading up about it, I was like, ‘Oh nah, this is not okay.’”
You recently said that one of the reasons R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl didn’t make a second album was because Dawn was being a diva. Joi stepped in to replace her for some live shows, but you chose not to do a new album with her. Why was that?
“I always felt like you just needed the original group, you know? I’m really about the original group. And Joi is a good friend of mine but she was just helping us out. It would have been a different group with her and I wouldn’t have wanted to do the same music that I was doing with Dawn and Ali. So making that shift would have been too much. The fan base liked Dawn and she was really good. But people, and I guess I talk about this on my new record, have these addictions. You never know what Dawn was going through so I hate to write her off as a diva but that’s just the word people use. It’s all about their gowns, their hair and this and that, and that’s what happened that year. People suffer from different things, mental illness, so we couldn’t talk her out of whatever was going on in her head.”
Are you saying she was addicted to being famous?
“No, I felt like she didn’t know how to handle the fame. I don’t think she had a big head or anything, I just think it sometimes gets too much and then people end up sort of self-sabotaging themselves. She even said things about me that weren’t true.”
Really, like what?
“She said I’m the reason why she lost her house. She was only with us for six months so I don’t know how I did that. She definitely had to be dealing with something else.”
Is it true that the group’s original lineup was supposed to feature D’Angelo?
“Yeah, but it wasn’t Lucy Pearl. The other group was meant to be me, D’Angelo and Q-Tip.”
Why did that not happen?
“Getting us all together would have been difficult. Those are two big power figures who have taken a long time to put their own projects out so after seeing that I knew it couldn’t work. They’re my friends and I didn’t really wanna put that type of pressure on either one of them.”
You recently announced Tony! Toni! Toné! are reforming. It wasn’t that long ago that your brother D’wayne said it was never going to happen. What changed?
“I’ve been working on new Tonys music for about 15 years. I just felt like we should do something, a few songs, maybe seven or eight of them and then do a few shows. So I’m not gonna be back-back because I have way too many things going on, but as far as doing a tour and an EP or something, I’m down for that. I’d actually like to perform the very last record we did together, ‘House of Music’. We never toured that record so if everyone is up for it I’d like to do that and put out three new records.”
So he was spending more money than the rest of you?
“Yeah, on partying, hanging out and all that. The money wasn’t all that bad though. I always felt that we could get the money back anytime but I just said, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna leave. Later on we’ll get back together as brothers, not as musicians.’ And that’s what happened, we got back together as brothers.”
Before Tony! Toni! Toné!, you toured with Prince. You’ve said you felt like he was beginning to hate music towards the end of his life. Could you elaborate on this?
“You could just tell by listening to him talk. He practiced so much and studied so hard, and he would sit down at the piano and write these beautiful compositions, so he had to be frustrated.”
Read the full interview here.