Raphael Saadiq Speaks Gospeldelic, Eyes Work With TLC, Timberlake

Funky crooner unimpressed with concept of 'neo soul.'

"I'm always looking for something that sounds halfway decent when I'm doing an album," Raphael Saadiq said of choosing a title for his first solo LP, which arrived last week.

"Instant Vintage seemed to fit the record," he explained. "I work with two DJs, and they always talk about vinyl and how rare vinyl is. Its something personal to them, and it's vintage the second they get it."

Saadiq has been scrutinizing many a term and phrase these days. One he's not feeling is "neo soul," a category some have wrongfully placed his music into, he said.

"When I saw 'neo soul,' I didn't understand it," Saadiq said. "I thought it was wack. What's 'new soul'? There is no such thing as 'new soul.' I understand why they do it for marketing reasons."

To make sure no one mislabels his style, Saadiq put a big fat stamp of "gospeldelic" on his self-produced solo debut.

"Gospeldelic [means] truth of expression," he explained, "meaning some of it's true, some of it's fun, some of it's serious. That's what gospel is. Gospel is true statements. The 'delic' is from my funkadelic, psychedelic era. I wanted to throw that in there so I can be a little wild.

"I know people are gonna categorize me as 'neo soul,' and I wanted to stay away from that as much as possible," he added. "I sort of came up with my own way of how it should be called. I don't think 'neo soul' fits me at all."

One song that drips truth on his album is "You're the One That I Like." It's based on an unfortunate real-life situation.

"It's about a friend of mine that graduated from a university," he said. "She was a pretty successful young lady, a beautiful young lady. She found herself falling into the drug scene. I saw her and I was shocked. I wrote a song about how she was living, how it hurt everybody — the friends, the family."

While he may not be neo, Saadiq is every bit the quintessential soul man. He's shown that throughout his career, on his own with "Ask of You" and with his groups Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl on tracks such as "It Never Rains (In Southern California)," "Anniversary" and "Dance Tonight."

"Be Here," the first single off of Instant Vintage, is vintage Saadiq. On the track, Raph and neo soul king D'Angelo harmonize over funk.

"The single was a song I recorded by myself, and [during] the last week of [the album's production], D wanted to be on the [track]," he recalled. "I knew he wanted to be on the record, playing keyboards on something, but when he came down, I said, 'Why don't you just sing the second verse on here the way you want to?' He just changed it and it came out cool. I made sure it fit both of us."

Angie Stone and Calvin Richardson also join Saadiq on the album, as does TLC's T-Boz on "Different Times." The Oakland native said she was somebody he'd been looking forward to collaborating with for a while.

"Me and T-Boz always liked each other's voices," he said. "We always wanted to work together. I got a chance to work with her right after September 11. I spent two weeks in Atlanta and wrote ['Different Times']. It's kind of moody. It's about bad times, and there's some light at the end of the tunnel. It gives a lot of hope."

"Different Times" wasn't the only cut he worked on with T-Boz recently. Saadiq said he completed four songs for the new TLC album before Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes passed away (see "T-Boz, Chilli To Complete Fourth TLC Album"). One of the tracks, "Dumb," is about a girl who's foolishly in love and gets upset with a guy who doesn't recognize her feelings.

"I believe all four songs are gonna be on the record," he said. "I'm not really hearing that much, but I'm going to Atlanta. They're probably talking amongst themselves, keeping out of the press, trying to roll on, mourning amongst themselves."

Saadiq said he hopes to bring his acclaimed writing and production skills to the new Erykah Badu and Justin Timberlake albums (he and the 'NSYNC-er have talked about working together). His definite plans are to go back in the lab with D'Angelo for his next LP and with Angie Stone for a song on the upcoming "Austin Powers in Goldmember" soundtrack.

As for his own works, Saadiq said he does not completely rule out another Tony! Toni! Toné! album, though he has mixed feelings about "looking back." He was also undecided about Instant Vintage's next single. He said he's narrowed it down to "Faithful" or "Still Ray."

"Right now, 'Still Ray' is getting more phone calls than 'Faithful,' " he disclosed. " I love 'Faithful,' 'Faithful' can be a hit. 'Still Ray' is the most different song on my album. It's another one of the mushy songs. It's talking about me coming home to a lady, but it has this interesting solo in the middle of it. It's a tuba solo. It's really about the tuba, not me. The tuba takes over."