The Gospel According to Raphael Saadiq
No need to spend hours thinking of a clever marketing ilk for Raphael Saadiq’s solo project because he has willingly provided one for the music executives to run with. I haven’t seen gospeldelic as a category on Amazon.com as of yet, but possibly soon, with Saadiq leading the way to prosperity. Even though, gospeldelic sounds more like a witty description for the gospel according to Kurt Franklin.
The introduction to Raphael Saadiq’s first ever solo excursion, Instant Vintage begins with a brief rockumentary of his life exploiting his musical roots in Tony!Toni!Tone! and asserting him as founder of Lucy Pearl. During the smoothly performed bio, you hear, “Think of the word gospeldelic, you can only think of one person, Raphael Saadiq”. Meanwhile, Raphael sings in the background, “I’m only trying to be the best that I can”. So whether the world is ready to embrace his gospel, Raphael has done more than the best he can with Instant Vintage. But did we ever really know his individual depths?
The idea of vintage sound is steadily becoming a capitalized market. Executives have seen the black and white spots of a promising cash cow and have jumped on the previously empty bandwagon. Coca-Cola and its nu-soul commercials feature the likes of Jaguar Wright and the Roots. However, neo-soul’s growing popularity propels dissention and debate especially regarding its originators. The Mint Condition/Tony!Toni!Tone! camp base their entire argument on the fact that Raphael and his family were using live instrumentation during the infamous new jack swing era, thus, props need to be properly acknowledged. They are partly right, though. Tony!Toni!Tone! is a group that to this day, does not get the recognition it naturally deserves. Hopefully that plague of doubt will not follow Raphael’s efforts.
To calm your worries, Instant Vintage is not an exhumed unreleased Tony!Toni!Tone! album, piggybacking on old tunes. You won’t hear “It Never Rains in Southern California” with Puffy ranting, “this is the remix”. You’re getting Raphael pure, untainted by group dynamics, with a sound that’s forward moving in reverse. This is all, however, despite the fact that the two times I’ve seen him live since the release, he’s performed mostly Tony!Toni!Tone! classics. But when half the audience comes specifically to hear “Just Me and You”, what’s a man to do? The closest you’ll come to the Tony!Toni!Tone! sound is the track “Faithful”, with classic Saadiqadelic lyrics, “I won’t cheat on you / I won’t do it no more/Like I did before”. Thanks for the heartfelt reassurance, Raphael.
Mercifully, the debut isn’t flooded with superfluous guest appearances, he chose his disciples carefully. With the main contributors being the deacon of neo-soul, D’Angelo and his deaconess, Angie Stone (well she’s not D’Angelo’s anymore, according to her songs on her sophomore album Mahogany Soul).
Be prepared, there is a never-in-a-million-years shocker collaborations on the album, kind of like Eminem and Elton John. Okay not that bizarre. But to this day, I have never heard an artist reply when asked who they’d like to work with, “I’d really like to work with T-Boz”. Maybe Raphael is trying to prove that he can make the impossible work, or maybe it’s another crazy business deal. Either way, I wasn’t mad at him, like I thought I’d be. Her vocals blend purposefully with the track, making her voice the background for the music. In “Different Times” T-Boz and Saadiq’s spiritual sides (it’s not called Gospeldelic for any old reason) are exposed as he proclaims “My friend won’t let you down / He’s always been around/that’s one thing I know for sure / Even when I’m wrong / He’s right at my door”.
“People” is a socioeconomic musical sermon shouted over a funk-inspired track blasting everything and everyone from the government, to the condition of the ghetto, to backstabbers. Equally socially-addressing, “Uptown” is a modern rendition of The Jefferson’s, “Moving on Up”. Over a smooth, relaxed rhythm, Raphael pays homage to his roots on the streets of Oakland, California, simultaneously dispelling the myth that you can’t move with opportunity especially when amongst stagnation. Other salient tracks include “Still Ray” with its tuba surprise, “You’re the One That I Like” an ear-pleaser with depth, and “Tick Tock” a definite vintage tribute.
A thorough 15-minute explanation of gospeldelic can be found in the last track, “Skyy, Can You Feel Me”, a multifarious collective that pans out to instrumental representing the essence of Raphael’s artistry.
Instant Vintage is worthy simply because Raphael is free to explore his creative limits, producing, writing and playing multiple instruments. Lucy Pearl is genius in concept but the execution is a bit more nebulous and its existence seems ephemeral. The introduction of Joi was lost and has yet to be found. Joi, who has traveled the lengths of the underground, exudes an independence that doesn’t seem fitting for any group decision-making model. Let the Star Kitty roam free and let the minister of gospeldelic lead his self-proclaimed ministry. Their individualities should be preserved, it’s sometimes best that way.
For how else would we’ve been able to become intimate with this quiet musical enigma? Raphael has been a silent puissance behind notable music from the likes of D’Angelo, the Isley Brothers, Macy Gray, and not to be forgotten, Tony!Toni!Tone!. Finally he is crusading for his own cause which proves to be a worthy one. As he says in “Be Here”, he has “more than a big stick and some money”.