Singing from the soul and singing about the soul, Raheem DeVaughn mines every well of inspiration for his diverse new album...
From the beginning of his career, Raheem DeVaughn has made clear that he's about much more than simple love songs and booty-shakin' jams. He addressed the qualities that men often take for granted in their female partners on hits like “Woman” and “You," and then took his aim to please further with the seductive gems “Customer" and "Text Messages.” Now, the Washington, D.C.-based singer and songwriter is stirring a range of new topics into the mix. On his third album -The Love & War Masterpeace, domestic violence, street life, war, and family heroes are just a few of the issues explored. It's an ambitious two-disc set that the singer describes as a “soundtrack to...trying to master that inner peace in life.”
JK: This is Justin Kantor of Soulmusic.com and today I have the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Raheem DeVaughn, who has just released an impressive new album entitled The Love & War MasterPeace. After capturing the attention of Soul music lovers everywhere with addictive jams like ‘Customer’, ‘You’ and ‘Text Messages’, he’s stepping up his game to the next level with an album that combines his signature love jams with powerful messages of social commentary and future-minded grooves. How are you today, Mr. DeVaughn?
RD: I’m good, man.
JK: Tell me about the concept behind The Love & War MasterPeace and how you ultimately came up with that title.
RD: I think you kind of captured it in the tag, J, but half of the album is socially conscious, the other half is love, and I just feel like, musically right now, that’s where I am. I feel like, as an artist you make message music, as producers you make message music, and I feel like there’s a lot to talk about in the world. When you put out music, there needs to be a sense of uplifting and bringing people together, but it can also be resourceful and chiming out a message for people to take heed of certain things. I came up with the title, The Love & War MasterPeace ultimately just to play on the word masterpiece. I knew that instantly would catch people’s attention. As far as people saying, “Well, this better be a masterpiece”, it’s also a spin off the fact that I felt like that’s something we’re all trying to internalize as artists, as human beings, as professionals. In our personal relationships, we’re trying to master that love thing, at the workplace we’re trying to master our sanity, like there’s people going to the workplace now, and you don’t know if you got a job from day to day, so you’ve got people trying to be closer to God and all aspects, trying to master that peace in their own lives, so I feel like I wanted to make an album just like the soundtrack to that.
JK: Was your approach to making this album different in any way that with your last two albums?
RD: I actually started working on this album while I was making the last album, Love Behind The Melody, so it was like the winter of 2008 that I started working on this album. Because of the fact that it’s a very conceptual album, I was very anal about certain things, making sure I got certain cameos and just piecing it together. There are still about 20-25 songs still sitting that I recorded for this album. I think just the fact that this is a double CD speaks in volumes, you know 28 joints and that whole thing, but it wasn’t a thing where I just wanted to put out a double CD. I think the label quickly chimed in on that, like it’s not just putting out a master deluxe CD. There’s a concept, there’s a flow to the songs, even when you get into the track listings of the songs, the order of the songs, you can pretty much pop it in and listen to the whole joint.
JK: I was going to ask you about the double CD versus the single CD edition. Is it necessary, in order for listeners to get the feel of what you’re doing, to get the double CD? RD: I strongly suggest they get the double CD version. I know originally they were only going to put out a limited amount, and I don’t know if they’re going to stick to that or mass produce it, but you can definitely get the double CD version digitally off iTunes, and you can also order through Amazon.com. I would definitely encourage everybody who has the single disc, do know that there’s another 11 tracks that you don’t have and should check out.
JK: You have a lot of musical depth on this album, as far as the styles that you’re performing. With ‘Bulletproof’, the first single, you have a Retro Soul vibe, and then you have some Hip Hop stylings on ‘The Greatness’ and even a House music-style groove on ‘Lose Control’. Do you listen to all types of music, and if so, do you draw ideas from different genres when you’re making your own music?
RD: Oh, definitely. That’s a yes on both of them. Plus the fact that the producers I worked with on in this album, a lot of those cats are DJs, like Kenny Dope Gonzales for example, who did 11 of the 20 joints. He is a member of Masters At Work, who are known for House music, but he has a passion for Soul and Hip Hop and all that type of thing as well. You know, he produced - on my first album - ‘Guess Who Loves You More’ and he produced ‘Desire' and 'Marathon’ off my second album, so definitely I do try to mix it up and be diverse as far as music is concerned. I had influences from all different types of genres and music.
JK: Speaking of that, on ‘Bulletproof’, you have a sample of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Other Side of Town’, and I was curious, did that song provide the initial idea for ‘Bulletproof’?
RD: It really didn't, but I think Curtis’ music is so infectious. He gets deep on an esoteric level, on a spiritual level. I feel like when you loop certain things, you can create a portal or a doorway for certain things. Spiritually, when I took that record and looped it and what not, his vibe was all in it, and that’s beautiful. It was something that was done purposely, but it’s like this: I don’t write stuff down, so there’s no way I could put some bullshit on top of that. His record stood for something and meant something, so if I’m going to do something over, or sample somebody’s record, whoever it is, I feel like it has to be equally fulfilling if not better, as far as the direction or the artistic vision. JK: So you’re channeling his vibe, but with your own modern edge to it.
RD: Yeah. We were going through records and I always liked that loop. I listen for stuff and say, “Let's snatch that! That could be a hot loop. I could rock the song over that,” so I always wanted to snatch that piece of the record, and subconsciously it just kind of went down. That’s just what I was hearing when I did it.
JK: You said in a recent interview, I believe with the Atlanta Journal, that "we live in a world where everything is cookie-cutter." With that thought in mind, do you think getting across the message of The Love & War MasterPeace is a hard task?
RD: No, I think people want it. They want change. The masses, they want to hear truth, they want to hear love. They want that balance, when they step into a club, they want to hear that Gucci or whatever, they want to party. When they step outside, or when they start their date, they want Raheem DeVaughn as round two. I feel like sometimes the record companies take it for granted or whomever, radio takes it for granted, that people want to hear the same thing, same 10 songs every hour on the hour, and it’s really not the case. People now, the last place they’re going to get their source of music is the radio. They’re going to satellite, they’re going to social networking sites, they’re going to go find something fresh or what’s hot in music right now; what’s happening. Everything is not for everybody; you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
JK: There is definitely a lot more ability to individualize what you buy to your tastes nowadays.
RD: No doubt. I just try to keep it real balanced. I can kick love, I can spit love and give you something for the club, but I’ll kick some knowledge too, because it’s time for it.
JK: Would you say that you’re willing to sacrifice commercial results for a more complete artistic representation of yourself?
RD: No, I think I’ve mastered getting my message across, but packaging it in a trendful (sic) manner - where it doesn't rub somebody the wrong way, where it’s melodic and people still want to hear it, and it still comes off as a hit. I can still make it to radio, we can still do a video for it, it’s still going to be in heavy rotation, and I think that’s the key, to not only know what your message is going to be, but the hardest task is to do it in a trendful (sic) manner, where it’s still marketable and manageable.
JK: Finding that balance. How much of a competitive edge do you feel with other young artists who might have a tendency to do more trendy material and might be in the Top 5 or whatever?
RD: I feel like I’m in my own lane. I feel like I do influence a lot of artists. There are a few out there who I feel like I have influenced in particular, but that’s what it’s all about. That’s the game, and that’s what I love about the game. I’m very competitive, and I feel like there’s a level of intimidation as far as when it comes to me performing live, which makes it hard to tour with certain individuals, because on one aspect, on paper or if they’ve been selling more units or they’ve had a career for quite some time, longer than mine, they may feel like they’re entitled to headline, whereas I’m not big, I’m not pressed to headline, but if the promoter wanted me to headline I would. They might not feel I’m not big enough to headline, but they definitely don’t want to close after me. All in all, it’s the game and I love it. I’m very competitive, and I think the album is a reflection of that, and I’m turning up the heat.
JK: I read that you’re in the process of finding new ways to tell the story of the plight of the black man, so would you say that this record is largely focused on black empowerment?
RD: I won’t say it’s so much black empowerment. I think it’s empowerment over your life in general. I would love to see my audience be a lot more diverse and it is becoming that. There’s an age barrier, where I get three generations at my show. For the souls that are all ages, I’ll get the young ears, I’ll get my generation, I’ll get my Mom’s generation, but I would love to get a lot more of that sprinkled through different ethnic groups, and I’m seeing that at the shows, but when I do speak on any views on the record, whether it’s from a socially conscious side or from a love side, I’m speaking from a black male perspective; my own perspective. In the black community, there are a lot of things that we definitely need to focus on or have concerns about, but also there are issues that are colorblind. ‘Bulletproof,’ for example, that’s a colorblind record; it goes out to everybody. Nobody is bulletproof from HIV or AIDS; nobody’s bulletproof from poverty. I can go on and on about the ailments of the world. Nobody is bulletproof from domestic violence, which is another topic that I touch on with a record called ‘Black & Blue’. I can only speak from a black male’s perspective, but ultimately I’m about world peace and unity for the people and the planet, for the preservation of the planet as a whole.
JK: I know you mentioned Kenny Dope, who did a lot of the album with you, but let’s talk about a few of the other producers you worked with. You have among them The Stereotypes, Ne-Yo, Ronnie Jackson, and Big Bob. What can you tell me about those producers and what you felt they specifically brought to the table for this album? RD: Let’s start with Big Bob and his partner. They definitely gave me one of the hits of all hits that will go down in history, one of my most witty songs to date, which is ‘B.O.B.’ Stereotypes are dope; I think their production is real imaginative, like the drums in that record are crazy.
JK: On ‘I Don’t Care’, right?
RD: Yeah. Big shout out to Ne-Yo, who wrote that record. It’s one of the only records in my career that I didn’t pen, but if I’m not going to pen it, why not go to somebody else with a hot pen? That worked out in his favour. What I learned from that is the valuable lesson for all artists and what have you; sometimes you’ve got to step out of yourself, and the biggest thing about it is being humble, to step outside of yourself and say, “Let me at least try this to see if it will work”. It was like pulling teeth to get me to do that record at first.
JK: Oh yeah?
RD: It was real tough. I’ll be the first one to tell you, because I didn’t hear it off the plate. When I started recording it, that’s when I heard it and said, “Okay, we might be onto something with this one”, and the rest is history. I can attest to that, being a songwriter myself, because sometimes you write a record for somebody, and I might feel like, “this record is alright’, but then the next person might come along and take the record to a whole other level and make it theirs. Prime example: Maxwell: ‘Fortunate’, produced by R. Kelly.
JK: That’s right. Who would have thought that at the time, but now it’s a part of history.
RD: Plus, Ne-Yo got one of my Grammy’s (laughs).
JK: Maybe you can both get a Grammy this time.
RD: Maybe I can get some armor this time. It’s cool man. I wish I could work with a lot more people in the industry and that type of thing. Hopefully that will happen down the pipeline. Moving right along, Ivan and Carvin, who produced ‘Mr. Right’, which we co-wrote, you know Carvin’s a tight writer, and he and myself co-wrote the song. It’s always great working with them. I could never have enough track listings on an album for all the beautiful songs I make with them. I always end up taking that one, we always wind up with that one, but I’ve got a gang of hits sitting with them.
JK: Is some of the stuff that doesn’t end up on the album the stuff that makes it onto the mixtapes that you’ve put out?
RD: It can. I would definitely have to talk to them about that first. Some of the stuff we’ve got sitting, I just feel like it’s not mixtape-worthy, like it has to come out on an album at some point.
JK: I was curious, from a business standpoint, I know a lot of artists are doing that these days, but how does that work, with you being signed to Jive records, but then I know you have your own label that you started up.
RD: With me being one of the spearheads of that, as far as R&B and Soul, as far as being a singer, I was if not the first, like a forefather doing it. I started in 2002 with a total of 8 mixtapes. It’s a great marketing and promotional tool. Granted, the label could, if they wanted to be petty, do a cease and desist or say it’s a breach of contract, but ultimately, I use it as a great promotional tool, which, in turn, made me hot enough for them to put out an album in 2005. It forced them to have to finally put out an album.
JK: I think they put out your first single in 2003 with ‘Until’?
JK: But then it was quite a while before the album hit.
JK: You have someone very notable on this album, with the presence of Dr. Cornel West. Tell me how he came to be included, and about his involvement.
RD: I met Dr. West a few years ago at the BET Honors in D.C., which they do here every year and we kind of just hit it off, kept in touch. We have some mutual friends who helped him put together his last album; I believe he has 2 CDs out now that he put together. I felt like it got to a point where I wanted to have somebody speak in between the records, and I figured he’d be the perfect person. I’ve said it time and time again, I think he has an infectious spirit, and he’s one of those individuals that when he speaks, people listen. He’s very poetic, but he’s also intellectual and he definitely captured what it is that I was trying to capture.
JK: It definitely adds a commanding, spoken presence to the album as well. To close out, let’s just talk about a few of the songs specifically on The Love & War MasterPeace, the ones that grab my attention especially. The first one was ‘Super Hero’, which I thought was interesting because you made references to a lot of cartoon super heroes, but you’re talking about your Mom, and one of the lines in there you mentioned, “Mama’s love was stern. She straightened me up good when I got off track and damn-near died trying to push me out.” Tell me about the makings of that song and what you wanted to get across with it.
RD: I think the more I listen to my music, as artists we make message music; as artists and producers we make message music. With that said, I just try to make the biggest anthems possible. That was actually a Mother’s Day gift to my Mom 2 years ago. I’m big on showing people why they’re alive, how you feel about them and that type of thing, despite whatever ups and downs. My gift being the gift of song, I felt like that was the biggest gift I could give her. She’s been holding onto that for 2 years. It’s pretty self-explanatory. A lot of times as artists, we get pushed into these situations where we become role models, where we’re looked upon as role models and we are, but I think there’s a lot of role models that go forgotten, or people don’t necessarily look at them as role models; they just take it for granted. That’s Moms or Dads, and that’s what they’re supposed to do.
JK: They’re non-famous role models.
RD: I just wanted to shout out to all my super heroes, you know?
JK: Who exactly is the Sound of the City Music Group? They were listed as producers on this album.
RD: Sound of the City Music Group is a group of musicians that I’ve been working with for years. At times they have played for me in my band. I rotate them and I switch up my bands sometimes, so they’ll be in my band, my A-listed band or my B-listed band sometimes. It’s just a group of musicians who are real dope.
JK: Are they your live musicians, for your live shows?
RD: Yeah, they’re my live musicians at times. They’re not currently playing for me now, but they’re in-house, in-studio production partners as well.
JK: I have to talk a little bit about ‘Nobody Wins a War’, because you’ve got an All-Star Neo-Soul cast helping you out here: Jill Scott, Bilal, Chrisette Michele, Chico DeBarge, Anthony Hamilton. The creation of that, was that initially something that you foresaw, or how did that all happen?
RD: I had recorded the record first, there was a version with just me doing it, and I was listening to the record one day, and I had an epiphany that it could be way bigger than just Raheem DeVaughn on the record. I felt like we could make a bigger impact if I had multiple artists, that people would be more compelled to listen and get the message. If you flip to the back of the CD, you see who is on the album, just in the packaging, you’re definitely going to be compelled to chime in a little quicker and make sure when that comes in, you’re going to pay attention a little more to what we’re talking about.
JK: One that you mentioned earlier was ‘Black & Blue’, in which you sing “Love ain’t a 2 in the morning phone call to 911” so was that song something that you were inspired to write from personal experiences, or was it from observing other people?
RD: Both, but that song is very personal. It wasn’t on the album, but then I got a call at 2AM from a young lady who was going through that situation, and that was what made me like that record. Me and Chris Brown being label mates, a lot of people think that’s about Chris Brown or whatever, but in actuality it wasn’t. In short, it’s about abusive relationships, period. My take on that situation is that something ain't being spoken about. I think that was an abusive relationship as a whole on both parts, but him being the man, he had to bite the bullet for his involvement, but I think that was a mutually abusive relationship. There are different types of abuse. You have physical abuse and then you have verbal abuse. You really can’t prevent somebody from being abusive towards you, like if you get with a guy and the woman knew this guy was going to be abusive, she wouldn’t get with him. A lot of times you’re dealing with their representative, like a guy gets with a woman and she’s physically abusive or verbally abusive, you wouldn’t deal with her if you knew. It’s about prevention and people getting help. If you want to stay together, get help. Try to figure out what the reason is that’s making you want to do that, or get away from that person who is ultimately not trying to change and is going to end up hurting you. These records are also therapeutic. They can be used for different situations, especially a record like that.
JK: I think you’ve got a really well rounded album and soulful all the way through, and definitely indicative that you’re in the process of becoming a really important artist of our time. I’d just like to say thanks, Raheem, for taking the time out to talk with me today for the Soulmusic.com listeners, and it’s been cool to get some insights on your music and the creative process.
RD: No doubt. Thank you for the interview.
About the Writer
Justin Kantor is a freelance music journalist with published works in Wax Poetics and the All-Music Guide. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Business and Management program, he regularly writes liner notes for reissue labels.