You wouldn’t have some of modern music’s major hits without Grammy winner Raphael Saadiq.
The prodigy bass player and vocalist has been a driving force behind the many smash records of Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. He’s also revived his beloved Tony! Toni! Toné! trio with his brother D’Wayne Wiggins and Timothy Christian Riley for a tour. They’ll be at Radio City on Sept. 30.
Raphael became quite sentimental on this week’s “Renaissance Man,” reflecting on his journey toward stardom, one that began when he started playing bass as a 6-year-old. Sporting an Oakland Raiders jersey, what he told me was also a vocal love letter to his hometown of Oakland, California – it’s a musical city that made this R&B super talent what he is now.
“Every block had a garage with bands in it, [talented] people who play with Natalie Cole … I tell people all day, I’m lucky that I made it,” Raphael told me. “The bar was so high.”
It was those “Oakland legends” who inspired the young bassist to not only pursue all aspects of melody, but to fall in love with them as well.
“I was trying to work in a record store just so I could be around music. I just wanted to be around it,” he said. “All the singing stuff? That just happened, bro … and I was like, ‘Oh, I better rock with it.’ ”
Raphael’s outstanding skill set didn’t go unnoticed for long. School teachers even began preparing him for life on the stage in what he described as a reminder that the Bay Area looks out for its own.
“Some of my teachers would pull me to the side and tell me what I need to do in music, how I need to move in life, what kind of people I’m going to be around if I [am going to] become a professional,” he said.
Though, Raphael made it clear that the Oakland love can dry up pretty fast if you’re not giving it all you’ve got while performing – especially at city-stopping events like the KMEL Summer Jam from back in the day.
“The town is a hard place to play for. They love you and they respect you, but you have to bring it,” he explained. “They love you because you’re from the hometown, but if you’re garbage, you’re trash, they’re gonna treat it like that.”
But, of course, my brother Raphael had his A game on then and always. As time went on and his fame grew, Raphael began hitting it off with some of the industry’s biggest names – like MC Hammer.
“I love Hammer, Hammer was down for me,” Raphael said, recalling a time that the “U Can’t Touch This” artist went to bat for him over a record label issue.
“At the time, he was on tour and on his day off, he flew back to have a meeting with these people, with about four or five people. I got the biggest love for MC Hammer.”
Raphael also recalled his working relationship with the legendary Tupac Shakur, a rap icon who called Oakland home for some time. He said the moments they spent alone just shooting the breeze, especially at parties, had always come as a breath of fresh air.
“He sees me, he walks away from everybody and he walks up to me. And we have a really great conversation away from all the noise,” Raphael said. “He’s so amazing. ‘How you doing? You good? I’m good.’… We just talked about life.”
After his blissful stroll down memory lane, Raphael has a message to the world about his home nabe: Don’t you dare sleep on it.
“I always like to remind people about how beautiful Oakland is, how much it could teach you,” he said. “Hip-hop sort of saved my life.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before transitioning into a media personality. Rose executive-produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.