The Source Magazine sat down with super producer, singer and songwriter Raphael Saadiq to discuss his role as the Executive Music Director of the film “Black Nativity.” While Saadiq has worked on many original songs for film, this is the first time he has supervised every facet of a film’s music. “Black Nativity” hits theaters this Wednesday, November 27.
Q: How did you get involved with “Black Nativity”?
Raphael Saadiq: Steven Baker is a friend of mine and he introduced me to Kasi and then Kasi came to visit me and we talked about it. She stalked me for about a month and then I said “Okay.”
Q: Speak about the creative about the process. Obviously, there’s a script, but you had to fill in all the music, right?
Raphael Saadiq: Right, I did have to fill in all the music, but I had a lot of good people around me to help me develop it. Kasi, you know, it was her baby for like 5 years…the script… and she’s really close to it. So I thought I’d listen to her. I could feel her passion in the script and I read the script a few times. From there we just kept reading the script and filling in the blanks.
Q: So how did that go? Did she say “We need a song here?”
Raphael Saadiq: No, It wasn’t like, you know, certain spots. Of course, it ended up being put in…different places. It was more like…let’s just get the songs that we need for each character.
Q: Oh so worked on the music by character?
Raphael Saadiq: I did it by character. Then we scored it…We need music here. When you score a film, you need to raise this up, no music here, but most of the songs were character driven.
Q: Can you share what you love about creating music for film?
Raphael Saadiq: I just love having this vision. You get to test your vision, everybody says they have a vision. But when you get a chance to actually put that vision on the canvas and people are going to see it right away, it’s kind of a good feeling.
Q: Do you have some favorite film scores?
Raphael Saadiq: I like the score of this movie called “Come Back, Charleston Blue.” It was done by Donny Hathaway. It’s not a very popular movie at all, but it’s one of the movies that really made me notice scoring. Even I would say “Super Fly.” I’m a huge Curtis Mayfield fan. To me that was the ultimate soundtrack…A musical that wasn’t a musical. It could have been a musical “Super Fly” because…every character had a song, but they were walking through it and that’s what really got me thinking about plugging music to film.
Q: Can you speak about touring with Prince and playing for Sheila E.? How did you get your start in music?
Raphael Saadiq: I played with Sheila E. [Prince] was involved. We would play with him. He was around. He was paying us you know…It was his thing. It was his whole operation and we opened up for Prince for Sheila. I have to give that credit to Sheila actually. She took us on tour, but they weren’t my first start. I mean I was playing in Oakland my whole childhood life. I would say my start was playing in clubs in Blues clubs and playing for gospel groups and playing in school…traveling with my high school Jazz band and choir. We traveled a lot. I think that was really the start. In the beginning, Sheila and that whole thing was like the beginning of something, but I already had it from my high school teachers. I think they were more responsible for who I am now.
Q: Can you speak about an important mentor in your life?
Raphael Saadiq: Definitely! It would be a guy named Roy Tylor. He’s from Oakland and he was in a group called “Gospel Hummingbirds” and he was one of my mentors growing up and even now, he’s still around.
Q: You worked with Mary J. Blige before, so what was it like collaborating with her again for the film?
Raphael Saadiq: It’s simple…It’s always a challenge working with Mary because Mary has a huge following and I always want to give people what they love about Mary. You know? So I’m glad we got a chance to work together because I want to work with her again. So this is like a whole new…door to work again.
I also want to talk about each of the musicians separately.
Q: Jennifer Hudson is another power house talent. Tell me about collaborating with her for the music for “Black Nativity.”
Raphael Saadiq: JHud she’s like family you know what I mean? We’re on the same team, we work in the same management group and we’ve done a couple of little things that people wouldn’t know. I mean we’ve always dibbed and dabbed. She’s a big voice and I’m glad, you know? The selection of songs we got to use for her because she has a big voice and I always love putting music around a big voice like that. That can, you know support her voice and then I get to play more music because not that many artists can take a lot of music these days.
Q: Can you speak about collaborating with Nas on the “Black Nativity” soundtrack?
Raphael Saadiq: That’s an all time great….and this movie is based around Harlem and you know Nas is a poet himself. A man of many words, a storyteller, so it was great, I got to bring out my nephew Dylan Wiggins and he helped with that piece for Nas. So it was like getting a younger generation, also jumping on something with Nas.
Q: And Jacob Latimore is a fabulous young R&B talent. What do you think of him?
Raphael Saadiq: I like Jacob, the way he walked on the set, he seemed so relaxed like he’s been doing this for a long time and it’s hard him singing “Coldest Town” you know? We had to change it a little bit. He’s a younger dude and we wanted to give him something that producers could listen to it and go, “Okay, we like what he did in this movie,” because it’s a film, so you really couldn’t go where he should be…but we really just wanted to have some fun with him, so all the producers can look at him as an artist and say, “Wow! This dude is in this movie, he’s actually an artist. You know Raphael worked with him and did this, but you know we can take him and do this.” He’s a little veteran. I think he has a promising future in both music and acting.
Q: Can you speak about working with Tyrese?
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah Tyrese is an exceptional talent. It’s one of my favorite songs on the score because Laura Karpman is a lady I’ve done a lot of scoring and composing with for the film and she did this beautiful string arrangement around “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” that Tyrese sang and it’s a great piece. It’s really is one of my favorite pieces. We really didn’t have to do that much you know…We played with the piano, he sang it then, we stripped the piano and just put strings around it. I think it brings a great complement to the actual score of the film and the movie and the soundtrack.
Q: Last, but not least, we have Grace Gibson and Luke James. Grace is a new face on the scene and Luke is Danja’s artist. Can you tell me about collaborating with both of them?
Raphael Saadiq: Well everybody knows Luke James got some huge pipes. He sang “Silent Night.” Him and Grace and their characters in the movie are super important. That’s one of those other pieces of the puzzle that really makes this thing like glow. Even on “Be Grateful,” Luke comes in and does this crazy riff. He didn’t sing that much, but when he came in, it was powerful.
Q: Also we have Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, who people don’t necessarily know to be singers, but they did some singing in this. Can you tell me about that process?
Raphael Saadiq: Angela was a little nervous in the beginning, but we worked with her a little bit and we didn’t have to work with her that much and she just came in like a veteran. She took on the personality and I think it carried her where she wanted to be and she feels just like somebody in that day that would be singing a song like that and Forest just kind of blew everybody away a little bit. Everybody was like, “Who knew that Forest can sing?” I heard he had a little bit of training, but it was a perfect song “Be Grateful.” “Be Grateful” is a song that originated out of Oakland from Walter Hawkins and it’s great to hear him sing that song. It’s a big song amongst the gospel community and for him to pull it off in that fashion is impressive.
Q: Can you speak about your Gospel influences? What are your favorite gospel songs?
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah, “Be Grateful” is one of my favorite gospel songs. The Clark Sisters is one of my favorite groups. The Winans from Detroit. The Detroit gospel scenes is one of my favorites, but the classic is Walter Hawkins & The Love Center Choir. That’s our roots from there then, it goes back to the quartet. I played in a groups like “The Gospel Hummingbirds”, a group call “The Superior Angels”, a group called “Corinthians”, a group called “The Gospel Messengers” from the age of eight years old or nine years old, I did that. It’s called gospel quartet, it’s groups like “The Soul Stirrers” like what Sam Cooke would have been singing before he started making R&B records. I played that music as a kid my whole life until I left to play with Sheila and Prince. So that’s really my background, it’s almost like blues, but its always like three guys and a mic and a lead singer, but it’s gospel. I think that’s my real background.
Q: You’ve also composed original songs for films like “Boyz in da hood” and “Precious”. What has been the highlight for you?
Raphael Saadiq: I think one highlight for me was definitely working with Forest Whitaker. I’m a huge Forest Whitaker fan. I didn’t even want to tell him like that, but I love Forest Whitaker. He’s so down to earth, I always see him in ArcLight Cinemas because I’m a movie buff, I watch a lot of movies, he’s always at ArcLight and he’s always like “Hey!” Super cool, super nice. I saw him when I did “Precious.” I went to talk to Mary J. and he was in the room sitting with his wife, Mary and her husband and I walked in and he was like “Hey man, I love your new album.” Dude is just always even-keeled. I think another highlight was working on “Epic” the cartoon. I did a song with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and that was crazy…it was way cool!
Q: What was it like having full control over a film, musically?
Raphael Saadiq: Yeah I just never looked at it like that, even though I knew it was a huge role. I think it would have scared me or made me feel a little uncomfortable. So I just acted like it was another day at the park. Just breathe, just do it. Yeah, just go through. It’s all the same. If you look at it any different, it could cause problems. Maybe one day I’ll be able to look at it and be like that was…Big!
Q: You’ve been apart of so many iconic R&B groups like Lucy Pearl and Tony! Toni! Toné!… I’m interested to know what you think about the state of R&B groups today?
Raphael Saadiq: I was talking about that earlier, I just think that you need to be able to click up and go put something together. Kids are probably frustrated and egos are too much involved and kids don’t know how to get together and be kids and start a group and it’s kind of sad because I feel like if you come out with three or four people in the beginning, you can be protected and everybody can shield each other. Before you get out there by yourself and get all these people coming at you. I just think it’s not really there. I’ll say this – in black music it’s just terrible, I just think they are being led the wrong way by A&R’s, executives…I’ll say this because I can. I just think they are being lead the wrong way. Kids need to go back in their room find three people, find three or four girls themselves and stop letting companies put them together. You can put friends together, the audience is not silly they can tell if you started it. Like with Tony! Toni! Toné!, they could tell we came out the garage on our own, wearing whatever we wanted to. I feel like you just need that again. There’s too many things too contrived and the consumer is really smart now.
Q: What are some upcoming projects that you would like to share?
Raphael Saadiq: Adrien Marcel, it’s already out, a guy from Oakland “7 Days Of Weak.” My nephew has a group called “Smashing Hearts” and my new record has no title yet, but it”s going to be the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s new movie, the new one the kickstarted movie that he did called “The Sweet Blood of Jesus.”
RCA Inspiration released the soundtrack to Fox Searchlight Pictures holiday musical drama “Black Nativity.” Music From The Motion Picture “Black Nativity.” Executive Produced by Grammy Award winning artist/producer Raphael Saadiq, features Gospel classics and brand new songs performed by award winning cast members Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige and Nasir “Nas” Jones.
Music From The Motion Picture Black Nativity track listing:
Be Grateful – Forest Whitaker & Jennifer Hudson
Coldest Town* – Jacob Latimore
Test Of Faith* – Jennifer Hudson
Motherless Child – Jacob Latimore feat. Nas
Hush Child (Get You Through This Silent Night) – Jennifer Hudson, Luke James, Grace Gibson & Jacob Latimore
He Loves Me Still* – Angela Bassett & Jennifer Hudson
Can’t Stop Praising His Name – Forest Whitaker
Sweet Little Jesus Boy – Tyrese
Rise Up Shepherd and Follow – Mary J. Blige & Nas
Fix Me Jesus – Jennifer Hudson
Jesus On the Mainline – Forest Whitaker
As – Cast
*New original song.