Sweet Ray Ray's Baadassss Song

Raphael Saadiq talks about what's ailing black music

Whether playing
funk shaman directing motherships, street scholar flipping modern tragedies into blues suites, or beat maestro crafting trunk-rattling soundtracks for the 'hood, Raphael Saadiq makes music sure to liberate your soul and mind on his latest solo opus, Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray. This is the latest development in a career that's seen him play bass for Shelia E., be lead singer of the disbanded R&B trio Tony Toni Tone, and get behind the boards as producer for the likes of Jill Scott, John Cougar Mellencamp, Erykah Badu, and D'Angelo. In addition to his music, Saadiq is also making business moves as the head of his own label, Pookie Entertainment. Now he not only has creative control of his music, he owns it.

We caught up with the multitalented Saadiq to get his thoughts on the state of black music, grown women in thongs, and the legendary Ray Charles.

Creative Loafing: Ray Ray reminds me of late-night jam sessions in my Aunt Barbara's Mississippi juke joint as well as a playas ball in the '70s. Was that your intention?

I wanted a record that could go from Decatur to Savannah. I wanted to bring it from the street up. If the streets are loving it, then everybody is loving it. I am that tricky cat from the streets of Oakland. That is why I put that white cougar on the album cover.

Explain your aim in composing "Grown Folks," a scathing critique of the way adults are rearing their kids?

Where I live, cats my age have sons who don't know if their father is a homie or a daddy. The son is wearing a throwback and the daddy is wearing a throwback. These men need to throw on some slacks and let their sons see them in some hard-bottom shoes. The only time some folks get the tie and suit on is when they go to court. I never saw my dad in a pair of tennis shoes. He had Stacy Adams and a brim. And I tell the mothers at my shows that they can't go out with G-strings up their ass and expect their 14-year-olds not to. Grown folks need the help, not the kids.

What do you make of the state of black music today?

We've sold ourselves out as musicians and artists inside the music industry. That is why black music is suffering now more than anything — we put down the instruments. To me, OutKast is killing every R&B act out there by singing and playing. OutKast learned to play instruments and became good. I like to see that kind of energy because the labels, for their own reasons, don't expect black artists to know how to play instruments. That is what really sold out black music. White acts like Maroon 5 and Coldplay still play instruments.

Recently, Ray Charles has gotten a lot of attention because of Ray, the new movie chronicling his life. What do you think Ray's legacy is?

When Ray Charles sang, you felt at home. He was like a father figure to a young black kid [like me], because even if your grandma was a church lady, she loved some Ray Charles. Ray Charles owning his masters was a fact that was secretly kept. I was blown away some years ago when I discovered it. It had always been my gut feeling that we should own our music, but when you think like that, people try to shun you, shut you up, put some towels over you, and dig a mud hole and stomp you in it. You would be surprised how many artists still don't care about owning their masters. When I saw his life's work and the songs he produced in the movie, I knew there was still a lot of work to be done.

What inspires you outside of music?

Small tragedies. Beautiful girls turning into ho's. Sizing up why cats think pimpin' and thuggin' is cool. I put all those perspectives into my music. I look at what is in your face and take something from it. I incorporate the work ethics of athletes, and I relate to hard-working folks who work the 9 to 5's and the 7 to 3's. If they can do that every day, then I can get up and go to the studio at 8 a.m. and write five songs.