I’m starting to find it a little disconcerting that some of Black music’s most talented artists have decided to live so totally in the past. Musically that is.
Take Raphael Saadiq:
I was with him when he interpolated 70s funk for As Ray Ray, but he somewhat lost me on The Way I Am because, unlike As Ray Ray, it felt like homage instead of inspiration. It felt almost ripped off. Like he had taken whole songs from the 60s and changed a chord progression or two and called it something his own.
And worse, I don’t feel like Raphael Saadiq is telling us anything. Listening to “Radio,” I have no sense of who he is and what he thinks right now.
That’s the danger in homage. I think that recreating the work of our forebears is too easy. It’s lazy. You know what the finished product should sound like so you write to that and know that there are people who love that sound who will enjoy the music. It isn’t like when you are trying to do something completely original and you give yourself over to the reality, the freedom – and yes, the terror – of not knowing if people will enjoy it. With homage, you rely on nostalgia for pleasure.
I really would like to hear what Raphael Saadiq’s brand of 21st century soul would sound like now. We got a taste on Instant Vintage and on so much of what he has done in collaboration with other artists.
But perhaps after 25 years of doing his own thing, Raphael Saadiq just wants to spend some time in homage. I get that. Even though it makes me think of his new work as a missed opportunity.