Since the release of his debut album The Love Experience 13 years ago, singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn has stayed constantly busy touring the world, crafting catchy singles (“You,” “Woman,” “Bulletproof”) and building his brand into a household buzz. Nominated for three Grammies—most recently for Best R&B Album with The Love & War Masterpeace—the Washington, DC soulman has been musically quiet for some time now.
But with his fourth album, A Place Called Loveland, 37-year-old DeVaughn shows he still has the energy and emotion to put out grown folks music that matters. Gearing up for a tour while overseeing his own label, he stopped by the EBONY.com offices recently to preview his new material and talk about what’s been going down in his world.
EBONY: You were signed to Jive Records, which folded into the RCA label. Your last album through them came out in 2010. What happened with your situation over there?
Raheem DeVaughn: For the record, I wasn’t dropped from the label. But there was a lot of contractual issues. We were supposed to do the album for one price, but they tried to change it to another price. And basically that became my loophole to escape. It was an opportunity to gain my independence. Since then I’ve started my own label, 368 Music.
EBONY: You were one of the originators of R&B cats doing mixtapes. Are you still doing that?
RD: Yeah, I’m still doing it. I currently have a compilation coming out. It’s going to be an anthology of the greatest hits from the mixtapes. Over 150 songs, MP3s, beats, remakes and my interpretations of whatever.
EBONY: Do you plan to sell it on your website?
RD: Primarily at the shows. But we’re also going to have free downloads available. If you can afford, cool. If you need it free, that’s cool too.
EBONY: You’re also doing a radio show now.
RD: Being an innovator with the mixtapes, it was time for me to reinvent myself and do something else. Doing the radio show has been very rewarding. I was soul searching, trying to fall back in love with music and figuring out what my next move was going to be while enjoying my independence for a little while.
EBONY: How had the music business changed since you started?
RD: Social networks didn’t exist when I started. Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist. It was all about MySpace when I first got in the game. It’s great now to have these platforms to launch and promote anything you want to do to expand your brand, that’s what The Raheem DeVaughn Show is all about. I don’t just play my music, but also my peers, as well as artists you might never have heard of before.
EBONY: In the last few years, R&B has gone through many changes. What’s your opinion of where it is now?
RD: Seriously, I feel as though I’m part of its rebirth. Reclaiming it, reinventing it, whatever. I think we’re going to see a huge surge of R&B using the sound of the 1990s with a twist of right now. If I had to describe my new album, that’s what it would be.
EBONY: Lyrically, R&B seems to be getting smarter as well.
RD: There’s only so many ways to tell a story before the story gets boring. Everything I do has to be poetically done. I just performed a record for the [EBONY.com] staff called “Pink Crushed Velvet.” I make grown folks music and I’m cool with that, I accept that. I try to be witty while also delivering a message.
EBONY: Are you writing lyrics all the time?
RD: Well, when I’m in a studio listening to music, my mind can come up with a song so fast that I just go into the booth and record. I’m fast, and as I try to sit down and “write” it, the whole song would come out different.
EBONY: What are your needs in the studio?
RD: I require a great engineer who kind of already knows what I’m thinking before I do. It’s good to work with someone who understands my vibe and spontaneous ways. It’s a very creative process.
EBONY: If you’re a student of soul, who are your teachers?
RD: My teachers are Marvin Gaye, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross. Luther wasn’t trying to be out there dancing, but while he was on stage doing his thing, you could hear a pin drop. He could stand in one place all night and women were throwing their panties, crying and passing out. There’s a method to that. The dopest singers aren’t they ones who be crawling out of their clothes, but the ones who can stand there and croon.
EBONY: What female R&B singers are you checking for?
RD: Erykah Badu takes me to that place. Janelle Monáe is another one. I have a huge crush.
EBONY: Are there any collaborations on A Place Called Loveland?
RD: Not really, man. I recorded a lot of hip-hop features, but I didn’t put any of those on the album. I did a nice record with Pusha T, but I left it in the vault. The album will hopefully be a popular as the first, but with a lot more attention.
EBONY: What does it feel like to write a song you’re proud of?
RD: Every time I’ve written a great song, I know that God exists, because that doesn’t come from me, it comes through me. Especially when I get into my social conscious, political mode. [laughter]
EBONY: You’re well known for your live performances and the high energy of your fans. What were your wildest moments while performing?
RD: Just the phenomenon of women throwing panties is unreal. I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s how you feel?” I’ve had a few panties put in my pocket at the after-parties too.
EBONY: Are you married?
RD: Naw, man. I’m single and just enjoy dating. Just enjoying life, enjoying doing radio, making music and running the label.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.