Introducing ‘Notes from Mr. Sandman‘ — a column slapping a spotlight on lyricists overlooked, under appreciated, or just plain criminally slept on. Or like a man named Nas once said, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Enter Mr. Sandman with what y’all missed while chasing the REM dragon.
Raphael Saadiq may have risen to fame with Tony! Toni! Toné!, but it’s what he’s done as a solo artist that has made him a quiet lock for the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Saadiq is an R&B giant whose influence has reached a who’s who list of superstars, everyone from Earth, Wind & Fire and Devin the Dude to Stevie Wonder and Ghostface Killah. He’s got a midas touch and traversed eras of soul music that few can stake claim to.
Saadiq’s solo debut Instant Vintage came at just the right time. R&B was floundering under formulaic sounds, boy bands like B2K and Dru Hill soiled the airwaves and nobody had a clue as to what direction to go in. Instant Vintage was a grounding force. It showed that you didn’t have to be a flamboyant clown with a gimmick to be successful. Having already established himself as a versatile artist, Saadiq blended elements of hip-hop, r&b and soul into one, essentially taking over where the Soulquarians left off.
Even with a successful debut, stepping out of Tony! Toni! Toné’s! shadow was no easy task. He still had to establish longevity, which he did by not running from his past but embracing it. By respecting the process he was able to develop his sound naturally versus jumping on whatever trend was hot at the time. His follow up Ray Ray had him cultivating a more carefree style, which showed that he was able to take success in stride without letting it get to his head. The vibe was somewhere between the Dungeon Family and D’Angelo, and yet it still had that distinct lyrical touch.
Over the years Saadiq’s star has only gotten brighter. He would follow Ray Ray with two solid albums, proving that he was only getting better with age. His longevtiy in the game didn’t happen by mistake. He is a musical savant, who still flies under the rader.
The Way I See It is arguably his strongest effort as it combines all his best attributes. He takes old school sentiments and spins them into modern hits. It was the tip of the spear for the revivalist movement and so many ended up following his lead as a result, including superstar acts like Bruno Mars, Janelle Monáe and Leon Bridges.
“100 Yard Dash” could have come straight out of Motown. And while replicating sounds can be a bit hacky, Saadiq has proven time and time again that it isn’t luck. It’s an example of a songwriter who can interpret any sound and transform it into his own stellar creation: [LISTEN]