Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 13

So I didn’t complete the list by the end of 2019?  I knew I wouldn’t.  I’m still going to keep going.  Catch up on anything you missed in the Top 19 countdown by clicking the links below:

#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu

#18: Lemonade – Beyonce

#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala

#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak

#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

Many of the musicians I love have a reclusive or at least mercurial quality to them.  It’s probably not unusual for a great artist.  D’Angelo is the best example I can think of.  He drops Voodoo on us in 2000.  In my opinion, the greatest album I’ve ever heard.  Then he vanishes for the better part of 15 years.  Shows up in December of 2014 and blesses us with Black Messiah.  Very little press or promotion.  That was five years ago and we haven’t heard a thing since other than a song from Red Dead Redemption 2…a video game?  Even the documentary about his hiatus is elusive.  I can’t find any information about it online.  Anyone know how I can see Devil’s Pie?  Unreal.

Sly.  Lauryn Hill.  Yaasin Bey.  Sade.  Maxwell.  I always wonder if they’re tortured by their achievements.  When you’ve recorded something as brilliant as Voodoo or The Miseducation how do you follow that up?  Is it possible the opposite is true?  Maybe they’re just so good they get bored and move on.  Am I being naive and is it just simply drugs?  Probably some combination of any of the above.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Prince.  If you’ve read anything I’ve written for the past ten years you know I have a serious Prince obsession.  He recorded music seemingly every day.  He let out albums at a rate of one per year for four decades…even more if you count all of his side projects.  D’Angelo cites Prince as one of his musical inspirations and yet, apparently, their processes couldn’t be more different.  I’m generalizing, but it seems D can’t let anyone listen to his music until it’s exactly perfect while Prince wanted everyone to hear everything.  There are literally hundreds of his songs available.  I’m not here to tell you one way is right or wrong.  I’m saying they have a peer who falls right in the middle of that spectrum and he doesn’t get nearly the love or recognition he deserves.

That peer is Raphael Saadiq.

He seems to have found the sweet spot.  He’s quietly been in the music loving public’s consciousness consistently for 30 years.  First with Tony Toni Tone.  Maybe I’ve just watched the movie Popstar too much, but I feel like TTT is kind of remembered as a bubble gum pop act.  Maybe it’s just the name.  All I know is 1993’s Sons of Soul and 1996’s House of Music still stand up now 20+ years later more than most of the contemporary R&B of that time.  Can someone please reissue House of Music on vinyl?  I love that record.

After TTT he worked briefly with Lucy Pearl, the supergroup her formed with Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) and Dawn Robinson (En Vogue) and got a few more Grammy nominations.

After Lucy Pearl he went solo and separated himself musically from most of his peers.  He’s put in nearly 20 years now as a solo soul/R&B artist and for some reason still doesn’t get the love and respect many others have in the same era.  In 2008 he completely changed gears and released The Way I See It, an album full of the kind of soul music not heard since the 60’s and 70’s.  The same music Leon Bridges (rightfully) gets a lot of love for now is the same thing Saadiq was doing 12 years ago.

In 2011 Saadiq released Stone Rollin’.  He took the same old soul sound he perfected three years earlier and added some grit.  Some blues.  I’m not a huge fan of the blues, but it works well for me here.  It’s a tight 10 track, 43 minute set that makes you tap your feet one minute, make a funk face and nod your head the next, and then slow dance later.  There’s something for everyone here and it’s all beautiful.  Classic soul music done better than anyone in this generation.  For God’s sake, someone give Raphael Saadiq the recognition and respect he deserves.

Awards time:

Favorite Song

I love this entire album from start to finish, but the title track Stone Rollin’ is the highlight for me.  3:45 of filthy funk/blues about his “booty woman” that will have you pressing the repeat button because it’s impossible to listen to this song just once.  Saadiq’s vocals on this track are flawless, as usual.  By the way, do yourself a favor and click the link above to view the video on YouTube because the visuals are the perfect companion to the song.  It looks like the kind of party anyone would want to be at, and then “booty woman” arrives and blows everyone off the screen.  Awesome song.

Favorite Lyric

A lot of beautiful lyrics on this album, but there’s nothing that resonates more with me than this line:

Yes I’m living on daydreams
Gon’ buy me somethin’ I can’t afford
Yes, I’m living on daydreams
Gon’ buy me somethin’ I can’t afford
When the price ain’t right and everything ain’t looking right
But you still want it all
This line is long but still I ponder this here check won’t last ‘til October
But nothings more special than bringing my gifts to you

If that isn’t something you can relate to then I don’t understand you.  This lyric is taken from the track Day Dreams.  Do yourself a favor and listen to this song with a good pair of headphones sometime and appreciate the insane guitar work of Robert Randolph throughout.  It’s not just one guitar solo.  He’s jumps in and out of the track throughout with Grant Green-esque precision.  The entire song is an uptempo party that forces you to tap your toes and put a smile on your face.  Once again, I encourage you to click the link above and check out the video for this track.  Great work by Marquette University and Community alum Danny Pudi that will make you laugh out loud.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

No competition here.  The song is Good Man, a gorgeous soul throwback with guitar and strings echoing throughout.  I can’t describe the song other than to say it’s about a guy with a shitty life just trying to be a good man…thus the title, I guess.  Not to sound like a broken record, but the video (link above) for this song is stunning and it’s cool to see Cutty from The Wire again.

Ring Walk Song

I’m not sure there’s a ring walk song on this album, but I’m going to give a shout out to Heart Attack here.  As I was researching for this album I noticed people commenting on Saadiq’s use of guitar on this album and that stood out to me as well.  There isn’t a lot of R&B music that features guitar anymore, but Saadiq makes frequent effective use of it on this album and “Heart Attack” is a great example.  Reminds me of how Prince would add guitar to what most considered R&B music.

Favorite Happy Song

See my comments on “Day Dreams” above.  This song is 200 seconds of infectious happiness.

Song I’d Play if I Was DJing

I’m going back to “Stone Rollin’” again for this one.  Again, look no further than the video.  The vibe in the video is the kind of party I’d like to attend.  Great music, cool people dancing, cool venue.  I can think of fewer things I enjoy more.

6th Man Award

My 6th Man Award on this album goes to the man Raphael Saadiq himself.  It probably doesn’t make much sense, but he has made a career of quietly getting assists on other people’s albums so I’m going to give him the 6th Man Award because he’s been the unsung hero on so many other projects.  The list of artists he’s collaborated with over the past three decades is a hip hop and R&B all-star team.  I’m not going to list them because I think he deserves some time in the spotlight himself, but look it up and be amazed.

By the way, in 2019 Saadiq released another R&B/soul masterpiece Jimmy Lee.  In my opinion, one of the three best albums of the year.  He doesn’t release an album every year like some.  He will release one, go to work on another dozen projects that nobody realizes he’s involved in, then come back years later with another great album.  Respect to one of the great underrated musicians of my lifetime.

The next album on the list is by a group that surprised everyone a few years ago with a comeback album after a long hiatus and a death in the group.  By the way, Saadiq has worked with this group, too…

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