I read that you are greatly influenced by album covers. How does the visual inspire your music?
Oh, 100 percent! I guess because I grew up buying vinyls and looking at albums while I was actually playing the record. If you can't go to the concert you play like you are at the concert. I didn't have toys as a kid. I didn't play with toys that much, so vinyls were my toys. I used to write my name on my sisters and family records so I could take them and play with them as toys. From rock bands to punk bands. Everything! For me that's the whole swag of...the album cover. You can read into those personalities with album covers and wonder what they are like traveling together and being on the road. I can hear Motown, I can hear Queen like that. I can look at the album cover and start imaging what's going on during their tour.
Do you have a particular favorite album cover?
My favorite is a Dramatics cover. As you open it up there is each member in the band. Each have ten pictures with their microphone and doing their dance routine. I always look at that cover. But also Earth Wind and Fire Gratitude Live because you see the drum spinning. And Kiss! I used to be into Kiss in grade school and I would go to the library and everyone would go to read and I would be with a Kiss book with pictures of all their concerts and pictures of them on stage. Or, I'm from Oakland, but I was looking at The Minnesota Vikings [a football book]. I would look at that. That is all I did. I loved the music and visual.
Do you think that album art is a lost art because so much music has gone digital? Do artists need to return to that visual aspect?
I think vinyl is still around a lot, it is just the cooler people that know about it. I think the cooler people will always find it and want to be a part of the vinyl world. A lot of bands take a lot of pictures still, even though it's not on vinyl. There is nothing like having a whole album and going, "Wow!" It's a pretty big package right now. You have to be pretty cool to have vinyl.
In terms of retro aspects, you also use analog a lot of record right?
I use analog and digital. I use both.
Why do you use both?
Analog is something I've used for a long time. When you use digital you get the lines back so fast you don't have time to think. But when you rewind tapes you have that moment to think and to get into a whole different set. I think that's what's missing in a lot of records: that one elapse of time that is gone now. I try to put that back by using tape and telling the engineers to slow down. They're like, "Click, click, click!" And I'm like, "Wait a second! Slow down!" Let me think first.
You once referred to yourself as a character, a Motown character. What did you mean?
Not in the fashion of a character. I put myself in character with whatever I'm doing. I've always been like that. That's me! It's like playing dress up and hanging out with my favorite artists like Eddie Kendricks. I get in that mode where I feel like I have to be in character. A lot of musicians feel like that, they just don't know how to say it. That's what it really is. I'm pretty honest when I talk and I speak. This is how I feel.
Where do you get your clothes?
There are a lot of imitations out there. Often imitated but never duplicated.
You use androgyny in terms of your female backup singer who dresses in a mens suit. Is this intentional? Like Janelle Monae--
Who is your audience?
Raphael: No age barriers. No racial barriers. It's everybody and it's different everywhere. Sometimes I come to shows and there are maybe four black people there. Sometimes I go and there is a very diverse audience which is great because I am bringing a lot of cultures together which is what I wanted with this record. Even the Latinos with a song like "Calling" with Rocio Mendoza singing in Spanish. I grew up in Oakland and the Bay Area and there are a lot of Latinos there and a lot of different people there. I always wanted that in my music. I wanted to bring all nationalities together. That's what it should be. In the media they put everyone together but the music lovers know there are more time we can get together for sure, no matter what is going on politically in the world. We can all get together on that day and drink and smoke a little bud.
Between the Latino audience and your retro style, do you attract the Rockabillies?
Of course! Everybody! With Rockabillies, it's just the uniform they have on but they all want to play soul music. They are the offspring of soul music. We are all the offspring of Chuck Berry. Who can say that? We all fall under the umbrella of those smooth cats and early R&B cats and it spreads to southern fry rock to Rockabilly to punk to grunge. We all love good guitar rifts. They run around like Hells Angels and we run around like East Bay Dragons. Motorcycle clubs: they all get together, black and white. I ride a bike. I kind of relate motorcycle clubs to music. If you do something worth while, any musician will like it but if you do something cheesy, a Rockabilly guy isn't messing with that. And if the Rockabilly guy likes cheesy, I'm not messing with him either. I can spot a cheesy Rockabilly guy. As a Rockabilly would say, "That guy is not really real." It's a silent code we all know amongst musicians. It's really true.
Authentic. Do you still live in Oakland?
I live in Los Angeles now, but I am from Oakland.
How did the Bay Are influence your work? Do you have a favorite venue?
The Fillmore in San Francisco is my favorite. So many great groups have played there and I had always wanted to play there. I had a great show there. Oakland is Lucky Lion, which used to be a great little spot that all the bands used to play at back in the day. Now, I think they give foam parties there. It's not the same there anymore.
So something I love to ask all artists is whether they have ever Pandora-ed themselves.
No, I haven't Pandora-ed myself but I started my own page. Kind of like my own radio show where you can pick songs that I would chose. I'll have to check that out.
How do you find your artists for your label, Pookie Entertainment?
Lately I've been working with this group called The Boogie.
Where are they from?
They are from Rancho Cucamonga. I kind of don't really sign a lot of groups. I just help groups out, make sure they get a chance to do what they do. I don't really put them through my label. It's too much work.
Can you describe Illfonic?
It's a game company. It's like EA sports. I'm a gamer. I love games. My engineer went to school in San Francisco. He's from Modesto. We were all talking about video games and a friend of mine works for DefJams. I wanted to be in the video game "Fight Game" and she was setting up the R&B singers in the game so I was like, "I'll make my own game then." So I went to Chuck and we started making this game concept called "Ghetto Golf" that I came up with. It's about a guy golfing through an environment of a hood in East Oakland behind houses and the streets, everything. You are going against people online. There are guns and weed and Old English. So we came up with this game and you goes against guys golfing nine holes with one hand. You got these balls that blow people up, you get to ghost ride the whip to get the ball. It's crazy. You go through these environments and through the caddy you can buy guns and different things. I did all the music for it with a lot of people from the community and we brought this game together and started the company Illfonic with my engineers and programmers. In the end it will be 10 programmers. We are already registered at PS3 and Microsoft. We are still raising money to finish the first game, "Ghetto Golf." It's different from everything I'm doing.
It's your hobby.
It's my hobby.
Do you have a large fan base for the game?
People are really finding out about it. I also have my sitcom --
I was going to ask you about Love That Girl. Is it being picked up?
It's being picked up this week! We think it's going to be sold this week. Tatyana Ali is the lead and it's also Bentley Evans who created the Jamie Foxx Show and Martin Lawrence and Jeff Franklin who did Hoodlum Buddies and Full House. I'm executive producer on the sitcom. We have filmed four episodes in my warehouse. Now people are getting a chance to see all the other things that I do.
Do you have to be an entrepreneur now?
You have to do a lot of different things. For me it's that or it's mess with a lot girls.
What makes a song sexy?
What makes a song sexy is the rhythm that makes the ladies shake. The music that just keeps moving you. The feeling when people just love something.
And weed? Legalize it?
I thought it was legal already!
Only in our houses! Do you have a political side to your music?
Sometimes I do, like in "Big Easy" I am talking about what happened with Katrina. But I won't be singing about the health plan. I won't be doing that.
Seems like that would be an awfully dull song.
If something comes to me, I will definitely write about it.
For more info on Raphael Saadiq including a full list of tour dates, head to his website.
-- COURTNEY NICHOLS
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