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Don't know if you know this, but we record Microphone Check at Raphael Saadiq's studio in Los Angeles. We've been here for a few years now. Every once in a while he blows through the door before we're done taping and accidentally surprises one of our guests. We think being around Saadiq, and in the environment he creates, has made our show better. More real, more generous, less interested in separation along genre borders, optimistic about the future.
He and Ali have a long history, and in this interview, we talk about the Tonys first link up with Tribe, the two of them writing for D'Angelo, their quiet support for each others' solo projects, and, obviously, Lucy Pearl. Talking to Saadiq this way, officially, for public consumption, is a little bit different for Ali, but, he wanted to give you a glimpse of the kind of conversations that happen between brothers.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I'm Raphael Saadiq.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Saadiq is in the building!
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Shaheed!
ALI: Saadiq is in Saadiq's building.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Exactly. We're in Saadiq's building.
ALI: We're in Saadiq's building.
FRANNIE: As usual.
ALI: I am going to right now excuse myself from the interview, because this is family right now. So I'm just going to step outside, and let you and Frannie have a nice conversation. Cause anything I say can be taken from the pile of family secrets, and we don't want to do anything like that.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No, no, no. We got good secrets. It's good.
FRANNIE: We're going to tell the secrets.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: It's good.
ALI: What's up, man?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Man, it's just good. I'm good, man. It's good to be here. It's about time I did your podcast.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I watch so many people walk in and out of these doors, and now I get to sit on the couch with you and Frannie and do the podcast. I'm excited.
ALI: What is that like actually? Because we do – for people who don't know, my studio is in Raphael's building. And so to have people come in here and you see them sometimes and then they see you. What is that like? Like when Scarface was here, he was tripping.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I'm a fan. I stayed a fan my whole career, so when I see other people come through here, other artists, it's exciting to see people come to talk about their projects and what they're doing. You see the same things that we saw coming up, people talking about their new projects, and it's good to see that it's still continuing and people are excited about talking about what they're doing. And journalism, instead of everything being so fast-paced on the Internet all the time. I thought this was really cool. I just kind of look and go, "That's cool." And sometime I don't even know who the artists are, so sometime I get to meet new artists that I've never even heard of.
FRANNIE: And they're so excited to see you.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Some of them. Some of them don't even know who I am.
ALI: Yeah. Some don't.
FRANNIE: Yeah. That's true.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: That's cool too. That's a part I like about it. I get to be the fly on the wall and watch new people walk in the building who don't know me. I don't know them, and that's what this whole journey's been about anyway. You know, you don't – you have to learn people, discover different things, and that's what makes it go forward to me.
ALI: Just you saying that, that's pretty much how we met, I think. Because you were a huge fan of hip-hop, and Tribe Called Quest happened to be on the map at the time that the Tonys were recording. So where did your love for hip-hop begin?
FRANNIE: Wait. Sorry. Real quick. How did you guys meet? Do you remember the –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yes. I know exactly how we met. Like he said, Ali said, I was a huge hip-hop fan from just – I've been a New York fan, totally, just from looking at brownstones on TV, watching kids play with fire hydrants and water spilling out, and –
FRANNIE: The aesthetic of New York.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: – we would totally get our ass whupped if we did that. And I'm like, "They get to do that?! Where is that at? They get to sit on the stoops?" Then I find out almost 20 years later those things were called brownstones. Didn't know any of that.
I was a fan of all the early break-dancing, all the movies, all the, like, so many different rap groups I didn't even know who they were, just watching them. From Run D.M.C to – just the crews. But when I heard Tribe, they were sampling records and looking really different from most hip-hop groups, and they were sampling this Sly & The Family Stone record, which Sly is sort the thing I loved the most. And I was like, "I want to know who they are."
So I asked the president of the label at the time, Ed Eckstine, can we get Tribe Called Quest to remix one of our songs?" I think the song was called "All The Way," "I'm Ready To Go All The Way." And I went to, I think, Battery Studio?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: And the complete Tribe and crew of everybody was in there, so I was like, "OK. Cool." And they thought I wanted them to rap on a song. Nobody wanted to rap on my song, because it wasn't really cool to rap on R&B joints at that time. But I didn't figure it out for a second. It was just – everybody was listening to their music, kind of bobbing their head. And I was like, "Oh! They think I want them to rap." I said, "Hey, man. I don't want y'all to rap on it. I just want y'all beats. Y'all music." They was like, "Oh, cool!" And that's how we became friends.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: And then after that, R&B and – it kind of joined a little bit. But I think my claim to fame is when I wrote "Get Involved," I wrote the part, "S-A-double-D-I-Q." So I kind of wanted to say that but I had to ask Tip like, "Hey, man. Do you think that's corny? To go S-A-," and he was like, "Nah, man, it's cool." So I actually wrote a little rhyme for Tip, so.
ALI: That wasn't your first rhyme though.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No! No, no, no!
ALI: I won't do it. A secret avoided.
FRANNIE: That's not OK. You can't do that to people.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Whew! You hear that laugh? That was a real laugh. That laugh don't come out too often. Woo! Wow. Wow.
ALI: That's why I'm glad you're here.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Oh my god. Yeah, I had – I emceed – I rapped before on this remix of "It Never Rains (In Southern California)." This guy named Dougie D wrote this rhyme for me, and I put it on this remix. And of course, who finds it? Shaheed! Then he played it somewhere like a month ago or something!
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah!
ALI: I did. I was DJing for –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: At a party or something.
ALI: – an event. Actually, it was a beach-related event at a record store. It was like – they were giving away free piece of vinyl to everyone that come into the record store. And I just had it, and I was preparing for it. I was like, "I think Raphael's going to come to this store." So I was like, "Yeah. I'm going to drop this when he gets there." But he showed up like after I was done.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. And so he told me later on. I was like, "What? You found it."
ALI: And so I played it anyway though.
FRANNIE: OK. Good.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I'm amazed that he even found it. I was like, "You found that though."
ALI: And the crazy thing is I had to speed it up because – what was – I don't know. I was blending it with something, so it was – it just had him not sounding –
FRANNIE: He was unrecognizable.
ALI: His pitch was –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. Perfect.
ALI: But you know what? The flow was tight. I'm serious.
FRANNIE: Oh, thank god.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I got a little rhythm, but I am definitely not an MC. I have the most respect for MCs, but that was fun. It was fun. My boy talked me into it. He was like, "You could do it, man! Let me write it!" I got talked into it.
ALI: So can you give us a little picture of the Bay Area hip-hop at that time?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I think at that time –
FRANNIE: You mean at what time? When you guys linked up or when –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: When I was –
ALI: Yeah. Like 1990. Ninety-one.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I don't really know what's happening in the Bay Area with hip-hop. At that time, I know it was – of course, it was MC Hammer, Too $hort – what was it? Lot of murder rap. What's my man name? I can't even think of his name. I was really big on – I was just really big on East Coast hip-hop at that time. It was really my focus. But I knew a lot of people that was rhyming, but I was more focused on East Coast than I was any West Coast rap. Cause with Too $hort I could hear it everywhere. I'm a huge fan of Todd. I'm a huge fan. He's, like, the king of Oakland when it comes to that. But pretty much the rest of the rap was murder rap. Like, murder, I wasn't really into that.
FRANNIE: Didn't The Coup put out that album in '93?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: What group?
ALI: The Coup.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: The Coup? Yep. I did like The Coup. It was a lot of independent – a lot of indie hip-hop that I did like that was sort of more East Coast.
ALI: Like Digital Underground.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Digital Underground. Yeah, that was definitely a huge –
FRANNIE: Right. Or Conscious Daughters.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. Conscious Daughters. I keep wanting to think of this murder – what's his name? From Stockton. It was just –
FRANNIE: From Stockton? I don't know.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But for the most part, I was on some boom-bap. I was on some of that most of the time. And I love hip-hop because I love drums. I'm a bass player, so East Coast offered me more bass lines, drums, and it was also teaching me about jazz that I didn't know, that I didn't know about that I actually love. But I wasn't familiar with a lot of the jazz records that hip-hop had put it together and put out beats. I wouldn't've known it if it wasn't for hip-hop.
FRANNIE: Right. Yeah. I mean, a lot of people wouldn't've known those records. Some of them were really obscure.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But I was surprised that I wouldn't've known. It was almost like a slap in the face that these kids that are rhyming on the East know about jazz, and some of them hadn't started playing yet. Most of them play instruments, but then they weren't playing. But they were already exposed to so much jazz that I thought like, I was saying, "How did that happen? How much time do these dudes have to go shop for records and go digging through crates?" All of that was like – I've never experienced that before. I've never seen anybody dig through crates like MCs and producers who like tons of dust flying in they nose all day long. But they can stay there and shop all day.
FRANNIE: Guys go in with the actual bandana on. It's, like, that bad.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah.
FRANNIE: Yeah. But so, by that time, you had – you were just travelling a lot, right? You were never around. Cause you were – so how long – you were in – Sheila E hired you essentially. So how long were you with Prince's band? Two years?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Two years.
FRANNIE: So that was done by the early '90s though, right?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Mhmm.
FRANNIE: And then – were you playing in anyone else's band at that time? Or this was all Tonys-focused?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: This was all Tonys. Before that I played in every band. I played in three or four bands in Oakland before Sheila.
FRANNIE: Right, right, right. OK.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I lived in a band-area where every corner there was a band. Every corner there was a band. Where there was a garage, there was a band. Then after that, I auditioned for Sheila. We left with Prince. Two years. Did the Parade tour in Japan. Came back. Played local gigs in Richmond, California. Oakland. Opened up – the Tonys opened up for Ready For The World and Bobby Brown. Bobby Brown had a tour called King Of Stage, and we opened up. We didn't have a record out at this time. We were just the local group. The locals. They're called "locs." We were the locs opening up for the big boys.
FRANNIE: Did you ever talk about hip-hop with Prince?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No. Not really. Prince didn't really – I don't think Prince really was too fond of hip-hop in the beginning, because he was sort of shook that they were moving the earth like that and they didn't play instruments.
FRANNIE: Right, right.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But then he fastly started rapping. He must've just kind of caught on. I don't think he disliked any of the musicians or anything like that. I just think that he – sometime musicians feel like work so hard to play an instrument, but then somebody could take two seconds of your record and loop it, and it's called a record.
But I come from the world of whatever somebody brings to the table that moves the pin, that's creativity. And so that's how I found hip-hop. I found it pretty incredible for people to – because hip-hop is also – it's so musical. They just found a way to make money like comedians and, like, not take the band, you know, just come out with a stool and a glass of water. But then back in the day, it was, like, rap crews were big. They had bands, costumes –
FRANNIE: Right. Dancers.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: – dancers, everything. So I just think as they got – as hip-hop progressed, labels and artists figured out how to have just an LL Cool J. Make the guy with the radio stay home, and then you just have LL. Then you had Tribe Called Quest where the DJ was Shaheed and three MCs and then two MCs. And then you have people like Whodini with, like, two MCs and a DJ.
FRANNIE: And they dance.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But the whole thing was to keep the budgets down for labels, right? So you had these big bands like the Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, these big bands. And then you get MCs, then you get one MC like LL, then his budget was bigger than all the Commodores when he got really big. So it just – it started doing really weird things.
But I just – what I loved about hip-hop, I loved going to a concert and listening to a DJ rub a record and use the kick drum as a pum pum pum. And to me that was the loudest thing in a colosseum. When I saw Whodini do that, I was just like – just rub a kick drum, pum pum pum. I was like – it just get you so excited. So I was just always a fan of it.
It just felt like – hip-hop feels like blues to me. It feels like Howlin' Wolf. It feels like Muddy Waters. It feels like it's the bottom thing. It's the thing that people didn't think could be as big as anything, and then it became the biggest thing ever. It funded so many people life. So many people could do it. And it just seemed fun.
I used to just watch Nas and listen to all these stories. I love stories, so I think when you grow up in the hood, you want to hear other hood stories or you want to hear stories from different people. And that was my way of learning New York, and then I got a chance to learn everybody's neighborhood through hip-hop, through OutKast, through – you learn about Virginia through Pharrell and his crews. And Cincinnati. It just became this thing where you can hear about what's going on in somebody's life in other places. So that's why I became a huge fan of hip-hop.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I mean, do you ever think about sometimes white kids listening in that same way, for stories to sort of find out? Eavesdropping in a way?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I mean, you can't really go to the projects if you're any kind of kid, black or white. I mean, I didn't want to go hang out in the Bronx and find out what happened on my own. I'm sure white kids don't either. But I'm black and I didn't want to go over there by myself. I would go with somebody who I knew take me over there to this day. But yeah, everybody's eavesdropping.
FRANNIE: Mhmm. Yeah.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But even more – when I listen to Nas, I didn't know anything about Escobar.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Or who they – who were the kingpin legends of New York. I didn't know that. I found out that through records. Detroit, Big Meech. I didn't know anything about Big Meech. I found out about Big Meech through people who was hanging around him.
ALI: I heard you say that, in speaking about the differences of hip-hop, especially the '90s to where it is now, I heard you say that it's all black music, and so for that reason, you embrace it. You don't distinguish between these different components that I think separate and keep people apart.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. I think all – I will say, titles are things that we hold on to. Maybe you don't call certain rappers hip-hop that we know. But you wouldn't call me Howlin' Wolf either. You know what I mean? Or you wouldn't call – I mean, I wouldn't call Mya, somebody like that, Patti LaBelle.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But as far as Future, I wouldn't call Future, Tribe. But because they say they're making mumble rap, and to Ali's point, I say it's all black music. Who knows – like, I could listen to some – like a rasta rhyme. I can't understand what he's saying unless I'm around him for a good year that I could pick up everything and actually listen to it, and say what he's saying. I could listen to Fela. I jog to Fela sometimes. Six months of jogging, I start understanding everything Fela was saying.
FRANNIE: You gotta acclimate your ear.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You ear. So with mumble rap, I understand why MCs are like, "Them kids ain't doing what we doing. We used to do this." But they just sound like old people. And that's what we do when we get older. We knock kids for what they do. I mean, my mother wouldn't understand Busta Rhymes rhyming. She'd go, "What the hell is he saying?" You know, my mom 80. She wouldn't know what the hell Busta was saying. Sometime I don't know what Busta's saying, and I love Busta.
So I'm just saying, mumble rap, they probably get it. Just like, they get it, with each other. My mom didn't even like listening to the Clark Sisters gospel. She thought that was way too – "They're doing way too much." Or like, Kirk Franklin. My mom like, "They might as well just be in the club." You know, "Stomp. Stomping to my" – my mother don't know that. My mother know James Cleveland. "The lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. Jesus, this." That's it. So it's just different times.
But when I was telling Ali, it's all black music. We are so creative as people. We can create anything. We've been doing it for so long. We create so fast. We can't stay doing one thing. We just can't. So I'm not surprised when I hear people just mumbling. Blues was mumbling. Muddy Waters was mumbling. "Mmmhmmhmmhmm." That's the biggest blues song ever. So I mean.
ALI: Big point there, big bro.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah.
FRANNIE: But then there's also – it seems to me part of your special talent is combining genres. It's like, yeah, you don't need them, but there is a way to take the most effective aspects of each and kind of make them – I am thinking of Lucy Pearl. Obviously this entire interview is an excuse for me to get Lucy Pearl stories out of the two of you. But it does seem that you can see, "Well, these two will compliment each other." First of all. Things that other forms of expression lack that no one has. Does that make sense?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. I just like a culmination of a lot of different things. Everything you can't add to your music. I can't – I'll probably never add mumble rap to my –
FRANNIE: Yeah, I can't really see that happening.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Any of my music. But I have done – I did it a little bit, but it's just because I didn't have any lyrics my songs, and I usually mumble before I write the lyrics.
ALI: Yeah, but the rest of the world doesn't get that part.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: They don't get that part.
FRANNIE: You don't try to sell that part.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You know, I don't sell that part.
I don't know where I get that from. Honestly, I can't – I don't know. I just – I think it's because I'm such a fan and respect so many others, I like to take from great people. And it's so much music out before I decided – somebody decided to let me be involved in the music industry. So to all the records that I love, if I could just take a little bit of the things I like and maybe I could share them with other people who are making records or who haven't made a record yet, and maybe they'll make people want to do some of the things that I do. So I think I have to just test stuff out in the room and myself and Ali. I bother Ali all the time. He's in here working. Like, "Yo, stop, man. Gotta hear this."
But I didn't know I had a knack for that until people start talking about it. I can take something – what they say is I can take something old and push it forward.
FRANNIE: Sure. I buy that.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: That's what I've been blessed to do it. I'm just – honestly, I'm really glad that people actually like what I was doing, because I was really the whole time making music for myself. I really wasn't picking an audience, black, white, Asian, anything.
Of course, the girl songs I was aiming towards girls, but even with that, even with the love songs that I was writing with the Tonys and Lucy Pearl, all of that, it was never an ego thing for me to make a girl like me. It's because I like the Isley Brothers and I like Earth, Wind & Fire, and that's what they did. And people came to watch them. I never really thought about being that kind of artist like, "When I sing, I'm going to make you like me for what I'm saying." I know that it works for someone else. Like the Isley Brothers was – man, people would fight for them.
What I love about the other generation of music, they didn't have videos, so all the males, the men – the women would love the songs and since there were no videos –
FRANNIE: Ronald Isley made it happen.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: – the men got a chance to be us. The men back in the day, they were Al Green, because you didn't see Al Green singing on videos and showing his lamborghini, showing his car. You get in the car with your girl and you play Al Green, you are Al Green when you're singing her the song. You're Al Green.
FRANNIE: I see what you're saying. Yeah.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Now, you're not – you're just a dude in the car, cause the dude that's on the radio is really talking about you like you don't have nothing. You, like –
FRANNIE: That's funny. It's like how they say Disney movies ruined everybody's imagination. It's kind of the same principle.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So I think that I've never wrote songs to – I wrote songs talking about having kids, three kids and a house. I don't have any kids. So I write like a book. I like things that work and fun that completes the story and has to do with a lot of other people's life.
ALI: Well, and you're making music that you like. You're making music for yourself, in a sense, especially the way that you have. It comes off extremely honest, and I think that it lasts longer. I think people sit with it, sit with the honesty, sit with the soundscape that's not deliberately trying to puncture something. But it just honestly resonates with something that you can identify with. I don't know. That's what I get from your music, stuff that –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I think it's because I have a lack of vocabulary too. So –
FRANNIE: That's so funny. I was just about to say I think what it is is you say things simply, but they are accurate.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I work for – I write for the nine-to-five person. They go to work and they come home, and they listen something that makes them feel good, feel great. And I feel I'm on whatever level you on. I'm not saying because – I'm not saying I have a lack of vocab – I like to shoot straight. It's just better that way. It compliments the music. It's fun. You can remember it. And those are the songs I grew up listening to.
FRANNIE: Right, right. Yeah. I think about "Be Here" all the time for that reason. Cause it's just like, that's exactly – it is what it is. It says what it is.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: "You should be here." Yeah, exactly.
FRANNIE: "You should be here." Yeah.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: "When in the morning when I'm having breakfast." Breakfast is very important in my life. So I felt like it might be in somebody else's life too.
FRANNIE: Right. So back to Lucy Pearl though, you told this story briefly one time – I don't remember which interview – of Raphael calling you and telling you the idea, so – the idea to bring Dawn in. But what was happening prior to all that. What were the conservations that you guys were having about maybe making a group.
ALI: Well, from my memory banks, Tribe had disbanded. That was the word we were using back then trying to sound sophisticated not saying we broke up. We disbanded. A hip-hop group disbanded, like we played instruments. And I know that I was producing, trying to learn how to advance my musicianship on instruments, and I also would often fly out to Sacramento to hang out with Raphael.
And we had talked about doing stuff with D'Angelo, Raphael, and I, cause we kind of hung out together. We'd go out to Sacramento, just kick it, work on music. So originally I think that's kind of what we were talking about, the dreaming of possibly us doing a record together.
FRANNIE: And that dreaming of it, you were just intrigued by what the three of you could make together? Or was it that you wanted to work with your friends? Or –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Both. I think it was both. We wanted to work together. We knew what everybody could bring to the table. It felt really – it felt right. It just really felt right. Ali was really trying to learn to play instruments at that time. So much that when we played on Chris Rock with me and D'Angelo and Spanky and Questlove, I ended up playing guitar, and he ended up playing bass. Learned the song at rehearsal, and just never got off the bass. I wasn't supposed to play. Like, Spanky doesn't need a second guitarist.
So – Ali – I was like, "You going to give me the bass? You going to play bass?" Cause he was supposed to scratch in the background vocals. And I looked at him and said, "You going to play bass?" And he never even opened his mouth. He just looked at me in a Ali classic way and did like this. Like, yeah. I'm like, "OK."
FRANNIE: Very good impression.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So then I had to get my Telecaster and make up something that I could play next to Spanky. If you watch the show, it's funny. You'll see me, I'll be (sings riff). I was kind of playing guitar not a lot more than – I play more now than I did then, but yeah, he picked up the bass right away, started playing right away. Then after that, he started playing, and I brought him to Trinidad with the Tonys to work on some music.
He made a beat and we played this song, and that was it. We played the song. He made the beat, and once he got done. We counted it in, and we played the song straight through. And after that, Ali was just – I had to go be like, "Hey, man, don't stop sampling everything, man!" But he basically stopped sampling almost anything at that point.
And so we were just all learning each other, learning each other, growing, and figuring it out from East to the West Coast. And figuring out D'Angelo. D'Angelo was a young superstar at the time. So we had to kind of let him do his own thing, so we invested in trying to get a girl, which was – I think Tamar Braxton was a thought. Then Dawn was a thought, and then we approached Dawn, and the next thing you know, we were together doing some great things – for a minute. Then it was over. Done.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But you know, hey. But it was fun. For me, I was – I did a business deal with this very terrible guy named Allen Kovac and he was the worst person ever on the planet fucking earth.
ALI: We're going to edit all that out and make it so you don't say it like that.
FRANNIE: If it's facts, it's facts.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No. He was the worst person on planet Earth. That's without cursing. Cause he really was trying to really separate us, me and him, which never worked. And so it kind of made it difficult for Dawn and all of us.
And so today we're still all friends and we talk. We reached out to Dawn a couple times and talked, and it was good. So you learn, but – you learn and you live and you listen to music, and we still around making music, working on films, scoring films, and putting music in films. It's a learning curve. I think we'll all get back together and play again, just because –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Just because people think that you can't, and I'm really out to prove that you can. I want to defy the odds about groups. That's one of my pet peeves right now.
ALI: You kind of exposed yourself, so if you want to defy the odds about groups, then what about Tony! Toni! Toné!?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, those suckers too. Yeah, those suckers too. I mean, I talked to my brother the other day. I talked to my brother D'Wayne. We always talk. We got mad love for each other. Like, with all those groups, I want to get back together with my brothers and hang out and go play just because we all know what we all do.
And I think that I was sort of – for them, I think they thought earlier on that I could have been the weakest link. Usually when you a singer, you're usually the weakest link. You want to be a solo artist. But I sort of left the group, and then I went into another group. If I really wanted to be a solo act, I never would've started Lucy Pearl, right? So when Lucy Pearl ended, I had no other choice. I had to do a solo record, which, you know, was another type of experience that I've never had. Doing Instant Vintage. I've never been a solo person, never really liked it. It was nerve-wracking. It still is at times.
FRANNIE: I can imagine.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But I have fun doing it once I do it. Ali sees me. He sees me struggle with, one, to be in the booth singing all the time. I can play music all day, but singing it, you have to get into – on that stretch. Once I get into a stretch, I get into a vibe, I can go all day, but most of the time I want to just play music, listen to beats, play music, write music, produce people, play Madden. I'm always playing Madden, more than I play – so it's an interesting time.
And it's always like that once you get older, you could look back and reflect on everything. But I've been reflecting for almost 12 to 13 years about Lucy Pearl – and the Tonys actually. My goal is to take both groups on the road.
FRANNIE: Yeah. That's my goal too, to see that, to give you all my money. So do it.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. Give us all ours.
FRANNIE: So what you're saying about getting into the vibe of singing, do you have anything – do you ever use what worked on you on people that you're producing?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I don't really use what works on me, because for some reason, I don't really produce other people's vocals.
FRANNIE: Oh, OK.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I leave the room. And I've been – I've been in the room with a few singers, but for the most part, I work with a lot of singers that have other people that work with them when they do vocals.
FRANNIE: Right. Yeah, OK. Sure. What about when you're producing the other aspects of the record? How are you – what is like to be produced by Raphael Saadiq?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: When I'm producing, I never call myself a producer, first of all. If I was producing you, I would be joining your band as a member, because that's how I learned how to produce, was being in bands. So I was never the single-handed producer. It was everybody in the room, so we're coming together to try to put a composition together that we like, that we both can agree on. Because first we have to agree, and that's the most important thing. If we agree, then I think we can push it forward. And I just take – it takes the pressure off yourself if you say, "I'm not your producer. I'm in your band. Until you leave here, I work for you. I'm in your band." That's how I produce.
FRANNIE: Got it. How do you produce?
ALI: The same way. Actually I learned a lot from Raphael. Working on hip-hop artists, working with hip-hop artists, was at some point all I knew until he knocked on the door. And he really – like, at the time, there was Guy. And I'm not comparing Tony! Toni! Toné! to Guy.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Much love. That's my favorite group.
ALI: There was Guy. I love Teddy Riley's music. Like, phew. In high school, to me, he was –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: He's the don – and still today. He is.
ALI: In Teddy's music, from what I saw, especially with their performances, they were the closest thing to a band that I knew. Earth, Wind & Fire was something that I grew up as a child. But when you're in your teenage years, there's a different kind of a relationship with music.
And so then the Tonys came, and that was – to me then they were the real closest thing to, like, Earth, Wind & Fire, to the Isley Brothers, to the Commodores, to Frankie Beverly and Maze. And so my understanding of how to make records with hip-hop artists was completely – it was different, but coming into that fold and working with Raphael and him having that approach, when I looked at them – when they called on us, I was like, "I have no idea what we can do for them." To me, they're like – they're like Earth, Wind & Fire to me, is my point in saying all that. They are like the highest of high when it comes to black music.
And he came in just like, "Yo, I want you guys to do what you do." Just as he said it. And as you can see, he's extremely humble, and that just resonated with me. And I think that's one of the reasons we became friends, just kindred spirits.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. For sure.
ALI: And I like that idea of just being on someone's team, cause I don't have an ego when it comes to any of this. Like, the creator has loaned me this information, and so it's not mine. And when you get in the room with someone, you just sharing what they've been loaned as well, and hopefully you can do something wonderful together. So I have that exact same attitude, that I'm here for you. It's really not about me. It's just about what I've learned to be able to help you further your vision and your voice.
One of the other things I've learned from Raphael, which is – it's so basic and simple and, depending on your format and way of working in the studio, it may sound obsolete, but Raphael taught me: keep a recorder going when you have musicians in the room. In hip-hop, you don't need that. MC got his rhymes. He knows he's coming in, boom boom boom boom boom. It's done. But when you're working with musicians, someone's always going to play something maybe or they're going to sing something. And I learned that from working with Raphael.
FRANNIE: Isn't that how "Brown Sugar" happened?
ALI: That's exactly how "Brown Sugar" happened. Just, again, taking just bits of pieces of what I learned from my experience with him, and I walk in the room, make sure the DAT's running, ask the engineer. DAT Machine for all young kids was a digital audio tape. Basically we just kept a tape recorder going. And the convenience of a DAT was that it wasn't two-inch, so you weren't burning through –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Tape, yeah.
ALI: – keeping tape on.
FRANNIE: It was inexpensive, yeah.
ALI: It was a very inexpensive way to just keep an open microphone in the memo of what was happening.
And so, yes, there was an issue, a computer issue at the time, and D was just playing on his keyboard, just waiting me for to fix the problem, and I heard what he was playing. And it was really simple, but to me, I was like, "Ooh, I want to sample that." You know, it's like digging through the crates and you find a record, you put the needle to the groove, and soon as the needle is down you just hear that thing and you want to grab it. And he did that, and I looked at him. And I looked and I asked the engineer if we were recording. He said yeah. And so yeah. But I've learned a lot from Raphael, like a whole –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah. See, I learned that from really old school engineers like Gerry Brown. He used to get on all the second engineers like, "Always record." They serious about that back in the – always record.
Cause I remember the Tonys, we had this song called, "My Ex-Girlfriend's A Hoe." And I didn't really want to sing the song, because it just felt crazy. My brother had sang the hook, and he's like – and I was like, "Ugh." So I went in the room on the mic, and I get on the mic, and I sang this song. I freestyled singing, killing it, the whole song. We got done; the engineer didn't record it. He didn't record anything. I was in Sacramento. So the song that you hear is not the – I wrote that. But what I sung before that, that I freestyled, was amazing, and it was lost. So I'm big on always press record.
FRANNIE: That kind of lesson you really have to learn the hard way.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yes.
FRANNIE: Just like, live in fear.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Just press record. It's good. We're good. You press record; we're good.
FRANNIE: Yeah, yeah.
Back to Lucy Pearl, so that was the first time I had ever really heard the word super-group for whatever reason. Just like, that's how old I was when that happened. And to me it was a really really big deal that it kind of – that Dawn was being supported by you guys. I know that it wasn't like a triangle or anything, but to somehow – the gender dynamics in that felt really different to me. Was that something that she ever talked to you guys about or was that a part of any of the – you know, and the way that the character she was in those songs too –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I'm just thinking what you said, with us being very guys that, like, support that, who grew up listening to people like Shalamar, it was very much normal for us to figure out that figuration of a group. And for me, I knew what it meant to have one of the world-class best b-boys in the business with Shaheed. He had the MCs say his name. He don't have to say his name. Somebody else could say his name, and it's, like, powerful.
So then you have Dawn, who was just this R&B diva. Then you have me, which was like this R&B dude who was unassuming but then you gotta find out how do I know Shaheed? You know everybody was like, "Well, how did that – like, he got from Tribe. That's Tribe Called Quest." That always had people on the edge of their seats. And then it's Dawn Robinson. People just never got enough of what that was.
But we didn't give them time to think. We were like, boom boom. We was already hitting at them. And even Ali – I was kind of – told Ali he could play guitar. I showed him a couple chords. Then he wrote "Dance Tonight" – on guitar!
FRANNIE: Right. Fuck out of here.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: And he played it for me, and I was like, "What?" I was like, "You got something. This is it." I knew it the second I heard it. I was like, "What are you playing?" He played it for me on guitar. I was like, "Oh yeah." And from that point on – so even he didn't give himself any time to think about what we was doing. He felt it too. He was like, "Oh, this what this is? This what this is." And then I was like, "That's what" – and then Dawn was like, "Oh! That's what it is." And everybody, our whole team, was just – everybody was contributing.
ALI: The whole girl-and-guy dynamic, while we were making the record, it never was a thought in our mind. We all respected one another, and just as Raphael just said, it really was like gumbo, just everybody throwing in their ingredient. And it was fun. We had so much fun making that record. We made the bulk of it in a few months. It didn't take that much time.
FRANNIE: Out here, right?
ALI: Out here in Los Angeles. And so the girl-guy dynamic, I mean, that comes up for simple things like photoshoots or videos.
I think – another area that it came up but it wasn't conscious was just in some of the songwriting. A song like "I Can't Stand Your Mother" or "Don't Mess With My Man," there's certain elements that the guy side is bringing the guy experiences, bringing to it lyrically, and for her and for a couple of the other writers, they're bringing that girl dynamic to it. And so I think because of that, for an example a song like "Dance Tonight," it became magical.
ALI: And Raphael comes in just bringing his flavor, and a bit of comedy to it, but then Dawn just comes in with her voice and first line, "Look what the cat walked in." I mean, it's just –
ALI: And you're interested in her frequency, the way she's singing it, and what she's saying. So we respected each other's artistry. If you want to put gender into it, I don't know.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: We're just very nurturing guys too. So we definitely supported her and wanted to push her out to the front. But as well as – in our show we drop a couple Tribe-like beats, and we did some mashups with some of my stuff. And then we'll do mashups with En Vogue stuff. So it was – you were getting all three things, but in a very different way than our original groups would do it. I would of course love to do a mashup with a Tribe beat. I would sing "Ask Of You," and he would play a Tribe-type of beat, and I would sing "Ask Of You" over the top of that.
FRANNIE: That's amazing.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So it was all about the mashup for us, hip-hop drums, R&B guitars, dirty guitars, distortion. Lucy Pearl more had a rock edge than my Tony stuff. We were really dry, dirty drums. We weren't trying to make them super big and wasn't trying to add a whole lot to it, just vocals and percussions. "Come see us at eight o'clock." That was the thing for us I think.
FRANNIE: Do you think there's anything standing in the way of the youngest generation somehow catching some of that magic now?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I think – what do you think? I think they'll catch it. I think they'll catch it. Everybody's not going to catch it. It's not – it's easy to do, but the reason everybody won't catch it is because if you're looking at gatekeepers to approve something for you, it's never going to happen. We didn't do that. And once you get, like, a hard-head kid – the hard-head kid is gon' make it. That's the kid – that's the breakthrough, the kid that's hard-headed like J. Cole. He's going to be like, "Nope. I think I want to do this." It's gotta – those are the kids that's just going to break through.
I mean, we were – the Tonys were – in one of the biggest new jack swing eras, we were writing songs called "Blues." That wasn't hot. That wasn't supposed to happen, but we were hard-headed. We didn't care, like I said. And my favorite group at that time was probably New Edition, the urban acts. But other than that, it was Guy. I still listen to The Future to this day. Teddy Riley is probably one of my favorite producers, one of my favorite people to watch, and to this day I go on YouTube and just watch his shows and watch him do his medleys and stuff.
We were pretty much all over the place. We both listened to a lot of music, me and Ali. We found out – we would go back and he would play records. "You remember this record?" I'm like, "You like that record? How long were you liking that record before you started making music?" And so the things that you were sort of turned out by when you were a kid are the things that you kind of fall back on once you get in the room by yourself.
And those are the things – kids will fall back when they – everybody can't though, because you walk into a label – and I understand labels. You walk up to a label. You're not actually telling a kid, "Man, dream and be what you want to be." Because you're trying to keep your job. Right now they're firing people at labels every week. So they want the guy that's – they want the car when you get to the car wash to go through the machine. They don't want the car to pull over to the side and get a hand car wash. I was the hand car wash guy. I didn't want my car to go through the machine. I'm like, "Pull me to the left and wash me a little different." So those kids are stubborn kids.
I'm a Taurus. I'm stubborn, humble, but I'm stubborn. I like to do things that make me feel good. I never ever made a record where I came out and said, "Oh, this record gon' sell 500,000 or a million." When we were coming up, I used to hear so many people talk about how many records they was going to sell. I never was good with numbers anyway, not the best at math, and I was never trying to count any records. Because I've always felt so rewarded to hear music come back through speakers at the studio. And that's been my reward the whole time, just listening to music.
I think I said that at one of my shows. I said, "I'm not really big on awards." I said that at AfroPunk and, like, I understand the accolades, and I understand the Grammys. And I understand that it is a big thing for neighbors, if you live in a neighborhood and your neighbors are, like, politicians and they don't know what you do. They go, "Did you come on the Grammys? Did you get a Grammy?" I'm like, "Sometimes."
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But that's who they know. That's what they know. At that level, that's what they know.
But for me, I would say my rewards are when I'm listening to music at night with Shaheed or in my studio, and I hear the music come back to me. That's the reward. And then when you – two o'clock in the morning when you're driving your car, and you hear "Anniversary" come on the radio, and you go, "Wow. I made that record over 20 years ago, and it's still on the radio sounding brand new."
But then I wasn't making it then to make it sound brand new 20 years later. I made it because I was enjoying myself a hundred percent, cleanly, completely. And so I wouldn't've known now. So you really – you have to enjoy what you do or else you're not going to like it three months later.
But sometime – everybody don't have that luxury. We had Ed Eckstine who gave us the keys to do whatever you want to do. And we didn't even know what we were doing. I don't think all kids have that luxury right now. They gotta turn up. They gotta do this. They gotta do that. And I just say, "You know what? Have at it. Just, you know, buy some real estate right away." Right away. I'm not mad at them for doing what they gotta do. "Buy some real estate. Beef the real estate up as far as possible, or else you're going to be at Walgreens in about a year."
ALI: Speaking of that, that's coming from someone who's had longevity, 30 years in the music business. What is it – and this is a two-part question. What is it that makes you as charged now, being in it for 30 years, that you were when you first started? And what prompts from whatever that is to write songs like "The Big Easy?"
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I think the thing that keeps me charged is that I'll always love when the lights go out on the stage and you just see the red lights on the stage. And I always – my dad, I always tell my father, the late Charlie Wiggins – I lost my dad last year, and my dad used to be – when the Tonys broke up, my dad used to be a little worried about me, that I wasn't – he didn't know if I could make it on my own. He didn't know.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: He didn't know what we do.
So I used to go to my father and tell him – and by ourself – and I used to say, "Dad, I'm like Muhammad Ali. I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I'm the best. They ain't got nothing for me. You don't have to worry about – I got this." But he would just sit and smile, cause I would look right in his face and go, "Bro, I'm about to murder this. I got it. I'm like Ali. I'm quick. I'm fast." I said that to my dad, and he would just look at me just like – but I wanted him to feel – it wasn't about me. I wanted him to feel like, "I'm OK. Don't worry about it. I'ma be good. You don't worry about me."
So I think those are two things that kind of even now to keep the fire burning, I thought about him today. And I was listening to something I did, and I was listening to it like, "Wow. Dude, dad, you did a good job raising me. Mom, you did a great job raising me." And to this day, I take care of my mom, and I never had to take care of my dad. My dad was taking care of everybody. So I think that's what keeps it burning.
Like, if you going to do it, do it your best. And I support other people to do it, other musicians who haven't made it and who's trying to make it. I try to give them the same desire. Like, look, it's like a sport to me. If you walk on the court, you better be able to shoot the ball, or don't get up there. Do not suck. Dare to suck, but do not suck at what you do.
That's why I like entertainers like – when I look at Solange or I look at her heart, her desire to do what she's doing is, like – it's beyond what people could even imagine. You know, you could see her walk around on the Internet with a dress on with some wine, taking pictures on her page. But when you see somebody – or even not to be on they nuts like that, but even talking about Beyoncé, I could get tired of watching Beyoncé because she works so hard. I'm talking about you could get mentally tired, cause I know what that takes. That's a lot of rehearsing, a lot of press, a lot of prepping, a lot of singing, a whole lot of people sucking your energy around you – for most of your life!
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I've seen people on every level, and it's the same work. You could be as big as a Beyoncé or a Jay-Z, or you can be not as big and be still be doing the same – as working as hard.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So I just think you have to work hard from whatever level you at, to get something out of it. And that's what keeps my fire going. It's just like, I know if I gotta do a show, if I gotta do an album – I'm working on an album, and it's been since maybe seven years since I had an album out, and the mental aspect of that is tiring alone.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Just think about you have – you're putting out a record, but then you get excited about putting out a record, because people know what they get from you. Putting out a Tribe record or whatever you putting out, you know, like, this is Tribe. You gotta really like – you know?
FRANNIE: Well, people feel like they need it too, which I know is burdensome.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: When people say they need it, we don't really hear that.
FRANNIE: What do you mean? What do you hear?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You kind of look at them sideways when they say, "We need some music." I mean –
FRANNIE: Cause it feels selfish?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No, it don't feel selfish. For me, I'll go like, "You mean you need it, like, really? What do you mean you need it?" That's just what I do. I'm like, "What you mean you need it? Like, you need my music? It's a lot of music out there."
FRANNIE: I mean, I think when people say that –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Older music too. You could go listen to like –
FRANNIE: Right. Well, yeah. That's the thing, is people forget about the older music. But I think what people are saying – mean when they say that is that they don't like what's popular.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No, I know that, but I'm still going like, "What you mean? What you mean you need" –
FRANNIE: OK, fine.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Nah, I guess it's a lot of pressure for us.
FRANNIE: Yeah, that's what I'm saying.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So that's why I ask people, "What you mean?" Because I have to take my time and process that – if you're serious about this, that mean I really gotta go back to the drawing board and really come up with something.
FRANNIE: Right. Yeah.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So when I'm saying like, "What do you mean?" I'm slowing the process down. I don't want to take it all in so fast. I want to go back and process it a little slower than they're – like, "We need your music!" Like, "Oooh. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let me go back and make sure this kick drum sounds right, or I'm going to make a wack phone call and have a wack feature, or go sing a song with somebody I shouldn't be singing with."
FRANNIE: Yeah. It's pressure.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Cause as you get older, you could turn wack.
FRANNIE: I've heard that before.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: The wack juice comes out when you get older. The wack juice could just slip in your cup. You have no control over the wack juice. You could just become totally wack. And people would be like, "Damn." It's not that you fell off. It's just wack. Cause you can't fall off now. I can't fall off. I'm older. It's no falling off. But there could be some wackness involved.
ALI: So how do you keep that wack juice off of you.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: When people say, "We need your music," you have to take it in real slow. You have to go, "What do they mean? What do they mean?" And you process it slow. Then you get back. You go around and you listen to places. You have to go to some shows. You have to listen to some records. You have to go back and listen to some of the records that you really really love growing up and say, "I still love these records. I still want to walk with the two feet I walk with my whole career."
You don't want to get two brand new feet and be like, "Yeah, I'm going to go walk over here in wackness for a minute." Like, you might listen to The Weeknd. I can't be The Weeknd, but The Weeknd works for The Weeknd. I don't The Weeknd's wack or nothing like that. But I'm saying that if I was to try to be that, that would wack for me.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So you just gotta make sure you don't drink the wack juice.
FRANNIE: You should copyright that probably right now.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I'm sure a million people said – I probably got it from somebody from New York most likely.
FRANNIE: I just wanted to ask about Insecure a little bit. What is your exact role with Insecure? And has it changed over the seasons?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I kind of run HBO now. I just kind of stopped and I just said, "You know what, Issa Rae? I like doing a little music here and there, but I think I'ma move up in the executive office and kind of run things."
FRANNIE: I wish that would happen.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: It's the same as when I got there. Kier, Kier Lehman, he does – he's the music sup. He brings the music, and I think he has a team. I sort of score a lot of the scenes, and they have allowed me to sit in the meetings and listen to what's being brought in for music. And it's cool, because I get to hang out with the directors and the music sups and also the effects people and different people who's talking about shots and what would work. For me, it's like another learning curve. Cause I get to sit in listen to budgets for music.
That's my role really. I get to be – I get to have fun. I get to crack some crazy hip-hop beats and just be super creative like an Adult Swim-type of feel. That's what I like about it. I like – it's like playing a video game for me. You get a scene. You get a cue. And Issa will be like, "I want this to be more West Coast." Or, "I like this, but this might cost too much. You got it, Saadiq?" "I got it." And then we move on. So that's been my relationship with Insecure.
And I can thank Solange and Melina for that. They sort of just came to me like, "You want to score this show called Insecure?" I didn't know what Insecure was at the time. But I knew about Issa Rae's first –
FRANNIE: Awkward Black Girl?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Awkward Black Girl, I knew about that. So I was a fan of hers. So for it to come around full circle, for me to be ready to do something like that is what I'm most proud about and happy about, that I have a studio where I can actually score and make music. And it shows that I'm putting all my pins in the right bottle. And then it came around 360 because my brother over here is scoring too.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: A lot of things. And so we get to talk about what we're doing and bounce ideas against each other and figure out the quickest process of finishing fast.
FRANNIE: Yeah right.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: We're both, like, zooming through it.
FRANNIE: I mean, the fact that you guys are doing this now, that hip-hop plays such a big role in this new golden era of TV, especially made by and for black audiences, black people.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: The RZA? C'mon. It's like, yes!
FRANNIE: It's a way bigger deal than is being talked about, I think. I mean, has there been sort of any pushback from any of the studios or is this – has it been kind of a natural – I don't know – pairing situation?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I think it's natural. And I think in the film world I think everybody's creative and everybody's open to new ideas as far as scoring and everything and taking some chances on people. I mean, I think they had to take a chance on everybody, not just us, just for – you have to take a chance when you want to first start putting operas or strings or anything into a film. So I think that it's all about the edge right now.
FRANNIE: Ah, I see. Yeah.
ALI: Yeah, I think it's just simply – it's that – and this experience – well, I shouldn't say this experience. But where we are in modern times, it allows for other stories to cut through. Before there were not so many places where different stories could break through that. And so now where we are in technology, it just allows for, "Oh, you can't relate to our story? Alright. We're going to go over here." And then it's like the floodgates. Then you get a lot of – a lot of stories are told, and there's a lot of interest in the way those stories are told. And us as the composers, we're just part of that story being presented.
In hip-hop, it had to get old at some point, you know? And maybe old is the wrong word. It had to evolve or grow up and be in a position where you once were a kid, teenager, listening to it, and now you're an executive at a corporation where you can say, "This is my experience, and this is my job to bring these things that I know about into this area, so yeah, I'm going to open up the gates to hip-hop-related sort of stories." And so I don't think it's a trend. I just think that the world has evolved to really embrace each other more than it was – I don't know – 20, 30 years ago.
FRANNIE: Right. I'm trying really really hard not to say, "I never thought that hip-hop could take it this far."
ALI: Say it!
FRANNIE: Raphael should.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Man, hip-hop took it way further than – I guess everybody knows it, from the actors and actresses and executives and – that's why I said hip-hop is the biggest, bigger than rock 'n' roll.
FRANNIE: No doubt.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I will say – I was telling somebody tonight, I think that one of the words that you could really grow and be really big right now in Oakland is hyphy. Because it's the better word of two words in the music genre. The one that didn't work is neo-soul. And hyphy kind of came out and was kind of – it was kind of an E-40 thing, but it really wasn't. It was really like a Keak Da Sneak Bay Area thing. And now the word is being used in a more, I don't want to say sophisticated way, but since it's Silicon Valley, you see people wearing hyphy shirts.
FRANNIE: Oh really?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: And white people like, "Get hyphy, just hyphy."
FRANNIE: I did not know about that.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Now the word, it sounds a little different than when it first came out. Cause you'll see somebody like, "Make America" – my friend says people walk around with shirts say, "Make America hyphy again." Like, "Make" – so people going like, "What's hyphy? What's hyphy?"
But to me that's how hip-hop was. It was, like, hip-hop. So simple. Hyphy. It's the same syllables. Hyphy, hip-hop. And it's just such a small thing that could just end up being something bigger than what it was almost 15 years ago. But the word hip-hop has just – just massive.
FRANNIE: I mean, yeah, cause it's not a genre. You know what I mean? Like rock had some sort of ethos kind of baked into it.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Rock was like, "You can't come in here."
FRANNIE: Right. But hip-hop's – the message behind it is just way deeper.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Just think about the rock thing. To know the history of rock – and everybody knows this. It's an old story. Black people created rock 'n' roll, then was jacked for it, and then couldn't use it. And then couldn't even really play with those type of groups unless it was the really good guys who really – like the Stones, who really loved black music, who really went and got Howlin' Wolf and those people, or Elton John who was really always pumping up R&B, to this day. Elton John is always listening –
FRANNIE: Very aware.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Before I met Elton John, he was like, "I'm listening to Raphael Saadiq's Ray Ray album right now." I was like, "Ray Ray album? That album?" Which I love, but it was cool that he picked that album. Yeah, so like I said earlier, it's all black music. It's all good music. Everything came from country and blues and everything. And who's to say what everybody's going through. We're really not supposed to be fighting each other, just pretty much not supposed to be doing it. But if you make us fight, you can control it.
FRANNIE: Right. Yup.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So you gotta make everybody fight. You gotta have this ledger. You have to have this ledger of life that you're different from me. I'm different from you. That's the only way people can control it. Cause I know white musicians, black, Asian, and we get in the room, and it's just magic. It'd be so much more magic if it was like that.
That's why festivals are the best thing to ever happen to America, is festivals. Everybody's supposed to play together and have shows and compete. It's the best.
FRANNIE: I hate festivals, but I know that I have to go to them.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Which ones?
FRANNIE: I just don't like to be outside that much and not know where the bathroom is.
ALI: It is a joy to experience though all those flavors.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I like Coachella, but girls could wear wedges to Coachella. I don't really think that's a festival. Bonnaroo and all those festivals, it's dirt.
ALI: Where it's muddy.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You can't wear no – you can't wear heels and wedges to a festival.
FRANNIE: Right, right.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I think Coachella's a great festival, but it's – if you could walk around in some wedges –
FRANNIE: It's true.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You gotta get your boots dirty. The festival that I did, we had on suits, but our boots was muddy. When we come off the stage, it's like mud. We dusting off our shoes getting on the stage.
FRANNIE: Have you ever played Glastonbury?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I haven't played Glastonbury.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: That's dirty. That's probably the dirtiest festival.
FRANNIE: Lucy Pearl reunited with Tony! Toni! Toné! at Glastonbury.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I think this is our year. This is it. This next year coming up, I think we're about to – we're going to reach the milestone. I'ma have to be – Ali gon' run for mayor of black groups, getting them back together. Cause other than that – it's just not enough money in black groups. That's why they break up.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: If everybody was making Rolling Stones money, black groups would not break up. Mick Jagger and Keith is not going any damn where. "I hate you, but we're making 30 billion tomorrow night. Just tomorrow night. We're making it. Then the next night we're make 30 billion." You don't say no to that. You make 50 thousand between four people, somebody's probably like, "You know what? I'm actually going to a basketball game tomorrow."
FRANNIE: How do you make black groups make more money? What would have to change?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You'd have to put a white girl in the group – like the Black Eyed Peas did. Well, it's actually true. Speaking facts, that's what you can do.
FRANNIE: Appreciate you answering the question.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I'm a straightforward type of guy. I can't get in any trouble. But no, you know what? You just have to stick to your guns really. That's not the only way. You have to be good. You have to be great, and you have to believe in – you have to stay together and build it. You can't – you gotta – you have to –
I mean, I look at groups like Guy. They still on the road with great production, and they look good. Because they stuck to their thing. New Edition, another group. Stuck to their guns through everything, through all the problems they might've had with Bobby and different people. When you see the movie, you see different drug issues, but they never faltered of who New Edition was. They might've all went on to separate things, but when it was time to come back as New Edition and do that big tour, it was always right.
FRANNIE: Yeah, they still do all the moves.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So that's when I say you stick together and you can make a lot of money. They made a lot of money together because they stuck together. But you have to get through that, and people sometime – people can't see it. They just can't see it. And that's most black groups I've seen.
And then promoters treat black groups, like, terrible – more the fans! If you go to an old school concert and I always said, you can see 7-11 from the stage because it's no backdrop. You can just look straight through and see somebody's house. I feel like you need to give people – promoters if you're listening, they need to invest in more production for even the old school shows, so that you give an audience an experience. If they're taking the time to come out they house to hear these groups, give them some type of experience. Not no cheesy – I hate cheesy stuff. I just don't like it. I just feel like people put too much into their craft to get cheesed out.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I don't know. I've seen some old school shows in really suspect – like, one year me and my friend we were on our way back to the second night of Coachella. There was this crazy dust storm. We were like, "Fuck that." Cause we had seen a billboard for the show at the casino that night, and it was Climax, the Zapp band, and the S.O.S Band. And we were like, "Let's just go do that." And I mean, the S.O.S Band was just still, like, doing it. They were just doing it.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: And Zapp, Zapp's still playing without Roger.
FRANNIE: Zapp was more complicated. But the S.O.S Band just, like, delivered, you know?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, I just think – that's just my thought on that. But I just noticed that a long time ago, that most black groups because it's not enough money and they – you can't get an attitude about when you making a lot of money doing music. You just have to learn how to stick together.
FRANNIE: I think also structurally there's just too much noise out there. If there was fewer just mediocre whatever, whatever –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Too many janky promoters too.
FRANNIE: Yeah, that would help.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I haven't seen that movie before. Have you seen that before? Ice Cube's movie?
FRANNIE: The movie Janky Promoters?
ALI: Janky Promoters? I was like, I didn't know there –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So Ice Cube got a movie called Janky Promoters. I heard it's –
ALI: Nah! I thought you were joking.
FRANNIE: Me too.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: No. I heard it's super funny. I haven't seen it. Janky Promoters, bro, is probably the most hilarious –
FRANNIE: We should host a screening of Janky Promoters.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Janky Promoters. Ice Cube!
ALI: I'll look that one up. Are you looking forward to going out this summer, going on the road?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Man, I'm so looking forward to going out.
ALI: What do you most miss about the road?
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I miss eating great Indian food in other countries. I miss being in, like, Holland and before the show going to a nice restaurant, like four hours before the show –
ALI: This show's about to be flooded with Indian food now. Everybody's –
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Nah, Indian food's kind of rough to eat before a show. You might not want to do that.
ALI: The venue will smell of Indian food now.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Yeah, you might not want to go and do that.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: But yeah, I think also for me it's just watching people and getting energy from people to come back to the studio and make music is always a thing that fuels me too. And like I said, I'm working on a new album. You've been here. You've been watching me go through the process. And I'm ready to go play new music along with the rest of the music that I ever made.
And try to pick the places, the spaces, that I can sneak in new music, because you know what you hate to do is go somewhere and somebody play four new songs that nobody knows. But my challenge in life for music is always if you make an album you should at least have two songs that everybody want to hear just as bad as they like your old songs. If you can do that, you pretty much – you can be even par.
ALI: Well, as a fly on the wall, let the listeners know, you straight, bro. Sorry, Frannie.
FRANNIE: It's also unfair.
ALI: Sorry, people of the world. You get yours soon. But we straight.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I love that you do this show. I want to say congratulations. I love that you're doing this show. I think it's incredible. I'm super excited that you're doing it in my building. I talk about you all the time to people. I love bringing people back here to see Shaheed.
FRANNIE: Hell yeah.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Cause I don't tell them who's in the room. I just knock on the door, and they go, "Oh!" I'm like, "Yeah. We doing things around here."
ALI: Thank you.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: "We doing things around here."
ALI: But I do want to close and say to you is, one, man, it's so much I could say to you. I want to thank you. You taught me how to play bass and carry that instrument.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: You're killing it now. Dude be playing bass, now I be asking questions right in front of him. I'm like, "Dude, who playing bass?" And, like, being serious. "That's you? Who playing guitar?" "Me." I'm like, "Wow!" Alright. Sorry, sorry.
ALI: So I want to thank you for that, but not just that. I don't want to make this about me. I want to make this about you.
Thank you for being the only present, modern-day vision and embodiment of what an Otis Redding was, what Al Green is, but we don't see Reverend Al, what James Brown was. And when I say that, it's not only from what you bring to the stage, what you bring to the music, but it's just an excellence and an example of what a fly, humble, exquisite black man's supposed to be. Coming from the streets, coming from Oakland, coming from the hood, the neighborhood, coming from places and an environment that was tense, that was stressed, and you cut through all of that. And you're like a beacon to show a different side of what's possible. You do it with grace and excellence and such a warm, giving heart and soul and spirit.
Like, anybody walking around North Hollywood, you run into Raphael. It's like, two feet to the ground. And you have conversations with people. Like, anybody. It's just so much that you are and you bring and is an example. And so I'm going to say, yeah, yo, bro, we need you.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: "Really, man?"
ALI: We need that album. We need that music, man.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Thank you, bro. I appreciate it.
ALI: Because it's not – there aren't that I can think of – and someone will correct me, send me a post or something if I'm forgetting someone who's extremely important and valuable, but I can't think of anyone. And so when you say James Brown to someone who's born in 1991 or 2000, they don't really understand what that is, but we understand what that means. And James Brown, his struggle to be who he was, the movie, if you go see the movie, was just a tip of the iceberg of the experiences he had to live to be as great as he was. And so I can't even imagine what it is that flows through your blood that allows you to just still be who you are. But there's no one I can think of, and you're valuable, man. And I'm kind of kidding when I'm like, "We need you," but I'm serious as well.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I feel you. I'll say a tip, if kids don't know James Brown or you've kind of heard of him or you've seen something, even if you an adult and you know him, you should – if you want to know what my walk is in life, it's James Brown 1967 live version, at the Garden in Boston after Martin Luther King was assassinated, his version of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life." When you hear that, you might not understand everything he's saying, but when you know what he's saying, you listen to Frank's and you listen to his, and he's singing "That's Life," every artist is going to feel exactly like that record at some point in their career. Like, when I hear that record, when I go through stuff and James Brown is singing "That's life as funny as it may seem," just those two words, man, it goes, like – just mind-blowing.
So when you say James Brown, when you was talking about James Brown, my mind just went to that stage with him singing "That's Life." And as Martin Luther King assassinated and he's on the stage singing, "That's life, as funny as it may seem," he's calming down a whole city. It's just looting everywhere, and people actually calm down and was listening to him to talk. He's talking and then he just singing a little bit, and then he jump into the song. So when you say James Brown, and when you say I cut through all the tape to get – because I had those type of people, that say it's going to be alright. And I feel like people like Kendrick Lamar is a piece of that by making a song to say, "We gon' be alright."
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: So to your point that the James Brown thing is a very profound thing, a person to bring up for me. Yeah.
ALI: Yeah. Well, thank you.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Thank you. Thank you, thank you.
FRANNIE: Thanks so much.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: Thank you, guys. Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely. Had a ball, had a blast. Had a ball. Thank you, podcast world.