Playfully dubbing himself an ‘R&B hippie neo-soul rock star,’ Raheem DeVaughn has received favorable comparisons to everyone from his contemporaries Dwele and Van Hunt to neo-soul star D’Angelo and legends Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder since reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop album chart with his critically-acclaimed 2005 debut album The Love Experience. He’s kept the momentum going this year with his first Grammy nomination for ‘Woman,’ the Chucky Thompson-produced debut single from Love Behind The Melody, his sophomore album on Jive Records which debuted strongly at #5 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and reached #1 on the R&B chart.
Nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the 2008 Grammy Awards, ‘Woman’ was still high on the charts even as DeVaughn’s follow-up single ‘Customer’ reached the Top 15. The video for ‘Customer’ is also a Top 10 fixture on BET’s 106 & Park Countdown. The New Jersey-born, Maryland-raised singer/songwriter, who recently earned two BET nominations for Best Male R&B Artist and the BET J Award, was also the subject of a half-hour special on the network called ‘The Raheem DeVaughn Experience.’ Beyond the urban world, he’s also has become a true mainstream media darling, performing ‘Woman’ on Jimmy Kimmel Live and also making appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Today Show.
Typical of his penchant for spirited self-promotion, DeVaughn made an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in January wearing a shirt that read ‘Grammy-nominated’ on the front and ‘Love Behind The Melody ‘ In Stores Now’ on the back. He toured with Jill Scott in February and March and is currently headlining the Soul Sessions tour with Chrisette Michelle, which wraps at the end of June.
‘When I hit the stage, it’s all about that passion for the music and connecting with the audience,’ says DeVaughn. ‘When I’m in the studio, it’s about combining the same passion with recording timeless songs. People ask about my sound all the time, and I like to say it’s a fusion of all of the artists I am influenced by, from Prince to Marvin to Curtis Mayfield, Earth, Wind & Fire to Bob Marley. No matter how well Love Behind The Melody is doing, though, I feel like I’m just getting started as an artist and my vibe isn’t fully defined yet. So I’m a work in progress, but I think my voice stands out and you know right away that it’s me.’
DeVaughn’s overall goal in creating Love Behind The Melody reflects the same philosophy he had when he recorded The Love Experience, which spawned the R&B singles ‘Guess Who Loves You More,’ ‘Believe’ and ‘You.’ ‘It’s about good quality and making timeless music that you’ll definitely be able to listen to years from now. But,’ he adds, ‘the first album had somewhat more of a socially-conscious thing going on songs like ‘Catch 22’ and ‘Green Leaves,’ with me using my voice as an activist. Because I already have plans for a third project that’s a double CD featuring a lot of songs about the war and politics, I purposely held back from the issues on Love Behind The Melody and made it a 17-track baby-making joint, an easy grooving collection of songs you could just chill out to.’
Helping DeVaughn, who co-wrote every track, flesh out his dynamic vision is a roster of the hottest producers and rising newcomers in the R&B and hip-hop world: Chucky Thompson, Mark Batson, Bryan Cox, Scott Storch, KWAME, Ivan ‘Orthodox’ Barias & Carvin ‘Ransum’ Haggins, Jack Splash, One Up Entertainment, Blaq Smurf and, last but not least, Kenny Dope, who helmed a total of six tracks.
DeVaughn says he learned some key things like patience working with all of them, and came out of the recording process understanding ‘why they get the money they get.’ Each brought something cool and different to the table. While Thompson – whose resume includes everyone from Notorious B.I.G. to Mary J. Blige – was producing ‘Woman,’ Alicia Keys came by the session and was blown away by the young singer many feel could be her male equivalent. ‘Raheem is a gem!’ she says. ‘A rare find that truly sets him apart from the rest. The minute you hear his voice and songs you have the instant feeling that you’re among greatness. He embodies the soul and raw honesty of the legendary artists we long for.’
DeVaughn also enjoyed joining forces again with his friend Dope, who also worked on his debut disc. ‘Kenny is like my brother,’ he says, ‘so it’s always special when we get to work together.’ Working in a Miami studio with Scott Storch (‘a true genius’) was another thrilling experience for the young singer. ‘We went sailing on his yacht for a few hours, and all we talked about was music,’ he remembers. The result was the midtempo bop of ‘Energy,’ which features an exciting guest spot from superstar rapper Big Boi. Working with Cali-based producer Mark Batson, aka (in DeVaughn’s opinion) ‘the Ferris Bueller of the music industry, because he knows all the right people,’ on the beautiful ‘Butterflies,’ DeVaughn created one of the coolest tracks on Love Behind the Melody with one of the most unusual line-ups. ‘The guitar was played by San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito,’ explains DeVaughn of the amazing solo. ‘You can hear the magic in this song.’
While he’s performed everywhere from Japan to Jamaica and loves being a recording and performing artist first and foremost, DeVaughn – whose live performances feature the compelling onstage murals of D.C. based visual artist Demont Peekaso – has also expanded his artistic and entrepreneurial palette this past year. He starred as blues singer Andrew Tibbs in Chess, an autobiographical film about Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. He also has new endorsement deals with Rockport Shoes and McDonald’s and is currently involved in a part-time business venture as a distributor with the Five Lakes Corporation, a company that sells video phones, which DeVaughn describes as ‘the technology of the future.’
As DeVaughn looks forward to numerous recording, multi-media and business ventures in the future, he has some very simple advice for aspiring artists and songwriters: ‘Be self-sufficient and invest in yourself because it’s the best investment you can make. If you fail, it’s cool because you have to keep your eyes on the end game and keep on moving towards it. Sometimes you just have a sense of what you’re supposed to do. Music was always around me. I can remember at a very young age, standing in my mother’s living room, listening to music and saying to myself, ‘I’m going to be an entertainer.’ It was that simple for me. I think I just always knew.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+