The music of Raheem DeVaughn serves as the perfect antidote to the standard commercial fare on contemporary R&B radio. And by channeling the spirit of Marvin Gaye, the self-proclaimed “R&B hippie neo-soul rock star” has managed to juggle a musical catalog that focuses on the beauty of love as much as the social issues underlying the hardships of daily life.
No stranger to “conscious” music-making, Raheem DeVaughn has never been coy about his intent on educating the masses, so long as a smooth groove stirred enough sugar in his musical medicine. Such precautions seem unnecessary, however, since his breath-taking falsetto effortlessly draws listeners to his poignant messages of community uplift and self-empowerment.
To date, Raheem DeVaughn has garnered two GRAMMY nominations. “Woman” would bring his first for “Best Male R&B Vocal Performance,” while “Customer” would garner a nod in 2009 for “Best R&B Song.” Both tracks are represented on DeVaughn’s sophomore effort, Love Behind the Melody. His third studio album, The Love & War MasterPeace will be released on March 2, 2010, via Jive Records.
Shortly after the digital release of “Bulletproof,” the lead single for the MasterPeace, Raheem DeVaughn managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on “the new cool,” a career-defining conversation with Stevie Wonder, and his advice for independent artists.
A large portion of your catalog revolves around love and its various incarnations. In fact, several of your songs serve as unofficial empowerment anthems for women. What lessons did you learn from your mother, as far as how to treat and relate to women?
My mom and my grandmother, they’re just two of the strongest women I know, so I just try to capture that in the music. I wasn’t raised like some of the images that are depicted, some of what you hear in a lot of the records. I know a lot of those cats weren’t raised by those types of women either. It’s about keeping it real. I want to keep it real one hundred percent with the music, and that’s the picture that I want to paint. And that’s across the board, from my grandmother, my ma, the two mothers of my children. I have two sons. My sons had different mothers and the same situation. I’m blessed. They’re very, very supportive of my career. There isn’t any drama, the stereotypical “baby mama drama.” All that is propaganda that’s just perpetuated. So at the end of the day, I just try to capture the positive in my music.
I really respect that.
For me, this is like the new cool. The new cool isn’t to be battling and killing your own people. The new cool isn’t to be disrespectful of your woman or your baby mother. That ain’t the new cool. I’m just trying to bring that back.
Your father, Abdul Wadud, was an artist as well. When you started your career, what professional lessons did you learn from him?
I think the main thing is that my father was an indie artist. He put out his music independently. He did it on his own. He had the opportunity to take some other routes, and that’s the route he chose. So when I did that, originally, he could relate to that. He was a great ear, and most importantly, he was very supportive of what I do. He was a retired jazz musician, so it’s a different genre. But that hustle doesn’t ever change. You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to go out and get that bread, and support the kids, that type of thing. So he was definitely very encouraging and supportive.
Your upcoming release is entitled The Love & War MasterPeace. Taking the title into consideration, I was reminded of Stevie Wonder’s 1995 album, Conversation Peace. And after watching the video for “Bulletproof,” I thought of Marvin Gaye as well. In what way did these two artists inspire The Love & War MasterPeace?
Those two artists in particular are definitely inspirations. I had an hour-and-a-half long conversation with Stevie about a year-and-a-half ago, right around my birthday last year. When I was in Miami, I called him about something else and we wound up talking. I told him what I was up against and that I wanted to do this double CD album and, “Everybody’s telling me not to do it because of song caps,” this, that and the third. Basically, after talking to him, with him giving me his advice and letting me know what he went through, and how he put together – I believe, it was Songs in the Key of Life, his double LP album — he just gave me the advice that you can’t get caught up in the money of it. Sometimes, the artistry takes over. And the message is so potent that you’re trying to get across, that you just gotta do what you gotta do and hold your ground to it. They’ve definitely been inspiring, you know – Marvin, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Bob Marley. I can go on. There is a list of artists that their music used to move. James Brown — like the Spike Lee of music — they had a message. It was uplifting. I know the outcome, and it’s what I do. Somebody has to do it.
You recently released the video for “Bulletproof,” which serves as the lead single for the MasterPeace. Did you consider it risky to build the album’s promotion on the back of a socially conscious single?
Oh man, I have always had socially conscious songs on my albums. But I can see where some people might think it’s a risk. The label didn’t always necessarily feel comfortable with that. Maybe it was that the times hadn’t caught up with the music yet. But like my first album, for example, the first single was a song called “Until” – for which I didn’t get full support. The record really didn’t flourish like it could have. But “Until,” “Who,” “Green Leaves,” and “Catch 22” – those records were the socially conscious records that I had on my first album. The others were about love. When I was doing the second album, I was working on this album, too. “Bulletproof” has been recorded since then. They were thinking about maybe doing a double CD, but they were saying it might be a little premature for my audience. So, now we have my third album. It’s called The Love & War MasterPeace. It’s a double CD: half socially conscious, half love, and I think that the first single was very appropriate. It not only speaks to America as a country, but it speaks to the people as a world. It’s a record that reflects upon the times. At the end of the day, it’s another piece of history recorded lyrically.
Interesting. There is a line in the chorus of “Bulletproof,” where you state that we are “living like we bulletproof.” How did the concept originate?
To be honest about my songs, they don’t come from me, they come through me. I’m blessed to just be able to capture that moment, to be able to be a man, be a man of God and be a man of positivity, of the Creator. That is the Creator moving through me, so I can’t really put it to you more than just like that. I don’t physically sit down and write songs. Kenny “Dope” [Gonzalez], who did ninety percent of this album, who produced that record – he’ll be the first to tell you he even tries to sneak the cameras in there, sometimes. It’s like we’ll have formal audio recordings because I’m not too conscious when I get in that zone or I get in that flow. It just comes together. And in a matter of hours, we have a record. That’s just my recording process.
With this particular album, what impact do you hope it has on the listening audience?
I just want people to get a sense of love, a sense of consciousness, to wake up, understand that we all need love, the planet needs love. You’ve got to pay attention to the signs of the times: regardless of your ethnic background, whatever it is you went through, regardless of your religious background, those times that they speak of, are now. They are now in existence. So you’ve just got to be conscious of that. From an artist standpoint, if we don’t choose to talk about the right things, you’re just doing a disservice to your art, to your talent, to this planet and to its existence. It’s like slapping God in the face. At the end of the day, to have a talent – that’s something that we have as artists, and that’s going to put some type of substance in your music. It gets old, it gets boring, if you don’t.
Looking forward, which song touches on a social issue that you want to take the charge on?
I’m touching on so much on this album, but one in particular – it’s called “Black & Blue.” It’s directed specifically to bring attention to domestic violence across the board – not just physical but verbal. A lot of times when we think about domestic violence, we think about the man being physical with a woman. But you’ve got women out there, they’re getting physical with the men. You’ve got domestic violence with the youth and that type of thing. My theory is this: it’s something that can be prevented, but a lot of times with domestic violence people are already in the situation. So we’ve got to start to not only think about prevention, but about intervention, in terms of people getting help in that situation. If somebody knew beforehand that they were going to be with somebody that was going to be violent with them on a daily basis, they wouldn’t be with the person from the get-go. A lot of times you don’t know who you’re dealing with until you’re six months into the relationship. So it’s about intervention, as well. The song “Black & Blue” is being picked up by a lot of different foundations and organizations that have been created to fight that cause.
Having started out as an independent artist, your career is very inspirational, because you have been able to maintain a great deal of creative independence, in spite of being signed with a major label. What advice do you have for other artists who may be trying to walk in your shoes?
Right now, I’m working with Phil Ade’ — he just turned twenty-one in August and he’s such a dope talent, man. I try to definitely keep in his head that, “You’re real talented. As talented as you are, what’s going to make you stand out and what’s going to make people gravitate to you, above and beyond your humbleness and your talent, is your grind.” People respect that grind, especially because a lot of artists don’t have it anymore. I still rock the mixtapes after the shows, wherever I am, if I’m able to do it and the time permits. You’ll catch me in the lobby of venues. I just did a yacht party in Miami: myself, Melanie Fiona and the ‘Young Lioness,’ Teedra Moses. When the boat docked, I was the last one to leave the boat. I’m usually the first one to get to the show and the last one to leave it. You just gotta get out there and hustle. Nobody’s going to give you anything in this business – or in life. So the things you want, you’re going to have to definitely work for them.
For more information on Raheem DeVaughn, visit his official website: http://www.theloveexperience.com/