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Beats Per Millennium - Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It

Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It

Like many, I’m sure, my father doesn’t understand my love of hip hop. I accepted this a long time ago. He grew up listening to the Beatles, and I’m never going to try converting him with the Grey Album. But he’s told me that when he was growing up, when all his friends were listening to progressively harder rock, he was getting into Motown. He was listening to jazz and blues and Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. His friends didn’t get it until they gained a newfound appreciation for the classics when they reached middle age. So whenever he tries to poke fun at me for listening to hip hop, I remind him of his past musical trailblazing, how it’s probably all his fault that I listen to what I do.

Occasionally, I run into an album that I can give him that just sounds old. A few years ago it was The Redwalls, who wrote their entire first album by copiously ripping off the Beatles at every opportunity they were offered. Now, it’s Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It, an album that sounds like it could have been part of the Motown catalogue in the 60s. He’s not trying to blaze new ground here – every track is a classic archetype that was perfected decades ago. The production sounds dated, the subject matter is innocent and affectionate, even the guests are mostly appropriate to the era or can fake it easily enough, from Stevie Wonder to Joss Stone. Yessir, this is a period piece, and the list of goofs only has one anachronism. But we’ll get to that.

Saadiq has mastered every quirk of the genre, from the clean guitar riffs to the end of song fade-outs. He’s not taking any risks, but you know what? He’s really good at this. “Sure Hope You Mean It” is a soulful love song that sounds like it could have come off an early 70s Staple Singers record, complete with lyrics like “Now, don’t fool me darling / tell me it’s real / I only want to love you and have a couple kids.” Lil Wayne could stand to learn some manners from Raphael. “100 Yard Dash” barely clocks in above two minutes, but features a steady guitar riff holding together a track that builds up or breaks down depending on what Saadiq needs, supporting some solid harmonies over the choruses but ducking out for the last verse. “Big Easy” combines some ragtime piano with anxious-sounding horns behind Saadiq’s only foray into current events on the album – but rather than being another sorrowful indictment of Bush, it’s a sorrowful lament for his lady love who was lost in the storm when the levees broke.

The best track on the album is easily “Staying in Love,” which has an almost identical guitar part to “100 Yard Dash,” but takes a markedly different direction with a call and response that builds up to a refrain of “Falling in love can be easy / But staying in love can be tricky,” despite declaring just a few seconds later “I found the woman / of my life / I don’t even / have to think it twice.” This is a committed and passionate record, always willing to take on challenges. The album bubbles with the joy of being in love from end to end, and it’s infectious. Stevie Wonder, who quite evidently influenced an enormous part of this album, shows up for a harmonica solo on “Never Give You Up,” and even makes that passionate. Joss Stone returns the favor on Just One Kiss, and shit, despite being 20 years his junior, they don’t make a bad couple. Saccharine? Maybe. It’s one of the better collaborations between romantic partners since, say, “Crazy in Love.”

And speaking of Hova…

That anachronism I was talking about? It’s Jigga’s appearance on the album’s final track, a remix of “Oh Girl” which appeared four tracks earlier. On the first listen, you get the impression Saadiq just said “you know, fuck it, I kept a straight face for twelve tracks, let’s fuck around.” But then when you go back to the original track, something is missing. No rapper in the game can jump on the bed and shout “Married married married!” at the top of his lungs like Jay can, and Saadiq recognized it. No one does “in love” like Hova, and with his status as euphoric newlywed, he’s in a better position than anyone to do this verse.

So The Way I See It is a good record to give to your dad, it’s a good record for making love, and it’s a good record for your wedding reception. And it won’t make you want to blow your brains out after you hear it at your fifth high school dance. Because this isn’t just a retro throwback – Raphael Saadiq has out-mastered the masters. Play it for your girlfriend – you’ll get laid.

Posted by Joe Kaiser at Sep 26, 2008 12:07 AM