Rahsaan Patterson Releases First Album in Eight Years – Heroes & Gods – A Richly Inspired Soul/Club Song Cycle Regarding the Arc of a Relationship
by A. Scott Galloway
As a singer, songwriter, producer and performer, Rahsaan Patterson has always gone his own way. It’s what has made his seven albums to date (including a great Christmas project) stand the test of time and he a true artist with which to always reckon. His brand new, long awaited album Heroes & Gods- his first for Shanachie Records – drips with seasoned mastery, confidence, style and unbridled soul, deftly mixing danceable grooves with mental massage musings on the ticking time bomb of love relationships. A generous 13 songs deep, it will more than satisfy his fans while also hopefully reeling in passionate new converts. This writer loved the album from first listen – a rarity given so much “R&B” music today – and was eager to reunite with the artist I’ve been interviewing since album one.
I chose Kenneth Hahn Park on a sunny mid-day afternoon for the convo. Rahsaan chose the park bench that was under a shade tree just off the parking lot. There, we commenced to catch up on life, love, art, business and what lies ahead. Enjoy.
A Scott Galloway: After bumping into you several times over the last few years and you telling me about this album coming, it’s finally here. In your bio, you state you took the extra time to marinate on the concepts you wanted to bring. Given the marketplace as it stands today, do you feel taking the extra time was worth it?
Rahsaan Patterson: Absolutely. Ultimately, the process was different in the time that I took to make the record. The outcome – the music – is very much the same as the previous records even though I made those records faster. This time I just allowed myself space. I allowed myself the time to let the music tell me what needed to go where. In the past, I would go to the studio with the intentions of leaving that day with a song – completely written with a vocal on it and backgrounds. But this time, I didn’t do that. I would go in and listen to the tracks, let the tracks develop and then from there, hear melodies. Maybe I would sing a chorus. Then I would leave the studio and not come back for a while. Just live with the chorus, then go back to the studio and write the verses.
Scott: What did you ultimately glean from the change in approach?
Rahsaan: That I control my creativity. I dictate when my creativity is in flow. I wait to be stimulated and inspired so that I have something to say.
Scott: Heroes & Gods is the title you’ve been sharing with me the last few years. But while the album is more about relationships, this song is like an outtake from the “Black Panther” soundtrack – a message of uplift for Black people.
Rahsaan: “Heroes & Gods” was actually one of the earlier songs when I started cultivating the music. It’s interesting because even though Black Panther wasn’t an influence on my song, I knew I was on the right path when that movie came out. That’s what confirmed for me that it should be the title of the album. But the song came and lyrically, in the chorus, that is what I heard and felt: a strong message to us – people who need to be reminded of who we are really.
Scott: Is that always “us” or can it be other people as well?
Rahsaan: It’s also other people…but in reference to being “beautiful ones made of the sun” lends itself to us! I just feel with all of the injustices that we deal with and all the strain and pain that comes along with being us, we need affirmation and reminders that we will succeed and be triumphant. We just have to hone in in our power and strength, and remember where we come from.
Scott: I’ve always wanted to know more about your process for layering vocals. “Heroes & Gods” has some stellar meshing of leads and backgrounds – all done by you. After you’ve done your leads on verses and choruses, where do you go mentally for the ad libs and coloring?
Rahsaan: It’s very much like painting. Once the musical arrangement is there and the melody for the lead vocal, it’s pretty much the same in terms of when a melody strikes. The placement of it is different because it is background. But then again, depending on how you arrange backgrounds, they can be standouts as well. They can be a co-lead simultaneously with the lead vocal. It’s a natural thing that occurs when I’m in the vocal booth with the headphones on and I set my mind to coming up with vocals to surround the lead…playing with the lead.
That’s a very fun thing to do actually.
Scott: Truly! I can’t sing a lick but that sounds to me like the part where, beyond words, your voice becomes an instrument to further express the feeling behind the words. There is structure yet it feels like the freest part of the song.
Rahsaan: I stack my vocals. It’s wonderful to watch it blossom – each individual part – then harmonizing to them. Once they’re all done, listening to them in full bloom is really a beautiful experience.
Scott: How does one go about writing the song, “Break it Down,” with Joi and Rachelle Ferrell – two very independent spirits?
Rahsaan: Very unique. It was beautiful to share in that creative space. Joi and I had never collaborated before. She and I went to the studio specifically to write for this record. The lyric came once we got there. Nothing was thought about prior. We didn’t discuss anything. We pulled up the track and Joi started singing the chorus, I went in and laid that down, she harmonized to it and laid it down too, all in the moment. While we were there, Rachelle called me. When I told her that I was recording with Joi, she didn’t live far so she came on over. As soon as she came in and heard what we already laid down, she immediately started singing the first verse – lyrics, melody, everything. I went in the booth and laid it down. It happened all in one day. We were engrossed in creativity. The only photo we took was one with the studio owner/engineer/mixer.
Scott: You still go in the studio?
Rahsaan: Well, I’ll start things at home. The foundations for the majority of the tunes then take that into studio and embellish them.
The bass on “Catch Me When I Fall” was actually recorded in an airport bar! I sent the track to Cornelius Mims so he could put bass on it. He recorded it while he was on a layover…and it was great.
Scott: The song I need some clarification on lyrically is “Soldier.” It has two tempos. The first part sounds like it’s about how a breakup can make you stronger in the end. But the second part sounds like it’s going somewhere else.
Rahsaan: That song represents the stage of a breakup – because there are “stages” – where you still have hope. The beginning half is very much what you stated. At the transition into a whole `nother mode, groove and feel, the sentiment changes. Because you still have hope, I felt that the chords and mood should shift into that.
Scott: Is this album pretty much all about one relationship?
Rahsaan: Uhm…for the most part. There were other songs that were inspired by being in a state of newfound friendship – the development of the friendship, getting to know the person, being stimulated by the possibility of strengthening that bond. Seeing the beauty in a person and them seeing the beauty in you and what that feels like. Then being able to articulate that and put it into song,
Scott: The overture of a relationship.
Scott: Do you see yourself presenting this project live in its entirety, like a concept album?
Rahsaan: Do you hear this as a concept album?
Scott: I see it as a song cycle of love songs…up until “Heroes & Gods” which is a complete 180-degree turn.
Rahsaan: Similar to my previous records…as you tour, you insert new material. Play around with them and see which ones feel good – obviously the single and fan favorites. It’s definitely trial and error. There have been songs over the course of my career that I’ve never done live. It can be a challenge when you have so many songs that people want to hear. I do my best to do the ones that reflect where I am at the moment but also the ones people fell in love with or were introduced to me by.
Scott: Your cover of Luther Vandross’ “Don’t You Know That” is one you’ve been performing for several years now. You truly made it your own.
Rahsaan: Yes. It’s my favorite Luther song. When I was a kid, it was my favorite. The groove, the melody…it’s very seductive to me. I could pick that up even as a child. It was important to me to keep the integrity of the song yet still make it my own.
Scott: “Sent From Heaven” sounds to me like it has aspects of Michael Henderson/Norman Connors’ “You Are My Starship,” a taste of Switch, and some Teddy Pendergrass – that mid to late `70s sophisticated Soul thing.
Rahsaan: (chuckles) That folks here “Starship” in there is so funny to me. People have made reference to that – a classic song – but it’s one of those songs I don’t necessarily care for. I mean, I get the mastery of it and how great it is. It’s just not a personal favorite. People on social media have referenced it and I laugh to myself `cuz it’s one of those songs that I never have to hear again. (laughter)
Scott: Your album is coming out in Spring, a time stereotypically defined as “great to put out a love album because people will be falling in love…” Whatever. However, your album is also coming out in a time where the marketplace has a “lost” Marvin Gaye album, You’re The Man, dropping digitally – more a compilation being marketed as an album. Any thoughts on what it feels like to be a contemporary artist dropping an album at the same time as a deceased soul legend?
Rahsaan: Wow. I had no idea. I’m not mad at it. He has definitely been influential as an artist for me. He was very intense and prolific, and I grew up listening to him. I understand his heart and gift. I relate to it. He was really an awesome talent; a great singer and his versatility was really something – from his Motown days to what he evolved to. He gave himself the room to explore all those territories. As an artist, I think we should allow ourselves that. We have to, really. `Cuz if we don’t, we get trapped in one specific style or genre. And people want to keep you there. That’s something I learned early on. Even in the making of my first album I knew that if you succumb to the expectations of others, you set yourself in the trap. Defy those expectations and you are free to explore different musical landscapes. People will adjust and respect that that is what you do.
Scott: It feels like you’ve always had that freedom since your very first album.
Rahsaan: Yes. As a songwriter and an artist, I’ve always had a clear vision of who I am, what I do and how I do it. It’s my right. That was respected and always has been by every label that has supported me. It wasn’t always easy in terms of turning in the product and then them marketing it. What has always come easy is creating, writing and producing the material.
Scott: So, your records have always been a 100% representation who you are?
Rahsaan: Without a doubt.
Scott: Is it better for you now being a completely independent artist?
Rahsaan: Well, I was initially on Artistry/Mack Avenue Records. The first record for them was Wine & Spirits (2007). Then came my Christmas album, The Ultimate Gift (2008), then Bleuphoria (2011). I actually made Heroes & Gods under contract to Mack Avenue. After the mastering of the record and turning it in, they decided that they didn’t want to release it. So, from there, Shanachie came to the table and basically purchased the record.
Artistry Records was started as an independent label by myself and three other partners. That’s the label I put After Hours (2004) out on. We then sold the label to Mack Avenue. My stipulation when we were bought out is that we maintained the imprint of Artistry because I am not a Jazz artist. I wanted to have something separate from what they normally produced and marketed. They allowed that. So, my subsequent albums were under Artistry/Mack Avenue. It also afforded them another area to release non-jazz music (Jeffrey Osborne, Jonathan Butler).
Scott: When you debuted on MCA Records in 1997, there was never a doubt in my mind that you would still be a viable artist into the present. It’s been 22 years. Is your creativity spilling over into any other areas of late?
Rahsaan: I’ve always had an interest in A&R and supporting talent. Other than that, I feel like I have accomplished what I set out to as a musical artist.
In terms of other facets of art, I started developing a passion for being behind the camera in 2005. To have over the years been exercising that muscle and getting better, it’s exciting. It’s thrilling and scary at the same time. Unlike music, (film directing) is new territory. I believe I’m capable…but it’s scary because I have such respect for filmmakers. When I see great films, I’m like, “They may see what I do and think it’s (crap).” But I know it’s not.
I’m happy to have found another passion that is comparable to the passion I have for making music. I have found that – when I open myself to it – picking up a camera, shooting and having friends involved, it comes naturally. That’s when I realized it was something I have to do at this stage. I’ve also found that with filming things, having the right soundtrack underneath and good editing, as long as you have enough compelling images, you don’t have to have a clear intention. As you edit…the story will reveal itself. I find it very similar to being in the studio and the universe giving you a melody. There’s this little vortex where this info comes from that you just have to be open to and know how to settle in that space so that you can receive it.
A. Scott Galloway
The Urban Music Scene
May 16, 2019