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Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Raheem DeVaughn

The three-time Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter has long been one of the few artists capable of making us feel every lyric, every verse, and every chord progression in what many consider timeless soul music. With a honeyed vocal range dipped in one of the smoothest falsettos around, DeVaughn has been compared to such legends as Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

As if his skills in the studio and on stage weren’t impressive enough, the enigmatic DeVaughn is, without question, the master of his own brand. Respected for his zealous work ethic that includes hosting an internet-based weekly radio show and managing an impressive social media presence, DeVaughn creatively engages fans and releases new music under his independent label, 368 Music Group. To broaden his reach internationally, he recently formed IRP (International Rat Pack), a movement that will include artists from around the globe.

Learn more in my interview with Raheem DeVaughn, also known as The Love King, on how he influences and inspires, while continuing to elevate urban music one sensual song at a time.

LeslieWrites: Raheem, you call yourself The Love King? Where does the name come from?

Raheem: Every couple of years I reinvent my brand, how I define myself and my music. In the past it's been the R & B/Hippie/Neo Soul/Rock Star, which is the fusion of all different genres of music that represent my brand and what I do. The name Love King embodies the message of love. Stereotypically, people assume I'm talking about love from a relationship standpoint but more so, I love women, I love the children, and I love my community, so for me it's a whole different definition and it's the combination of loving all of these things.

LeslieWrites: Talk about your latest project, A Place Called Loveland. What was the inspiration behind this, your fourth studio album?

Raheem: The idea is that in A Place Called Loveland, every man should be treated like a king and every woman should be treated like a queen. I wanted to create the soundtrack to people's lives, you know? I like to think that music is reminiscent of certain time periods in your life. Your first dance, the prom, your first child, your first breakup, whatever. You can listen to music and it just gives you a flashback on your life. I think about the music from the 60s or the 70s and some of us wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Motown era. So, that's what I was trying to create.... a moment. I was also making a statement that R & B isn't dead. This is something I was hearing a lot, so I went out of my way to purposely make a very dope R & B album.

LeslieWrites: What was it like collaborating with Boney James on the track, “Maker of Love?” How has the song been received?

Raheem: Boney James and I actually met through Twitter and started DM'ing each other back and forth. He reached out first and asked if I would be interested in possibly working with him. I told him I was, and the collaboration turned out great. “Maker of Love” was first on Boney’s album, The Beat (Concord Records, 2013). The record became so big that I eventually made it part of my album.

LeslieWrites: Is there a future Raheem DeVaughn/Boney James collaboration in the works?

Raheem: Yeah, I've been trying to court him to possibly do an album somewhere down the line. He has some commitments with his label that won't allow him to do it just yet but he'll definitely be part of my next album, A Place Called Loveland Part II. I did send him a song recently that he killed and he sent it back to me so I'm excited about that.

LeslieWrites: Raheem, you released King of Loveland2 as a mixtape last month. Why a mixtape and why now?

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO MIXTAPE

Raheem: Yeah, the mixtape I released on my birthday [May 5] is called King of LoveLand2. There was a mixtape I released two or three months prior to that called King of Loveland and both of those tapes are considered a prelude to the next album. I feel like we live in a microwave world now and people's attention spans are short so releasing a mixtape is a quick fix. It's free downloadable music so it costs the fans nothing and if they want to purchase a hardcopy in person we take a donation, but technically it’s free. It gives me the opportunity to stay fresh and brush up on my chops in the studio.

Different artists have different processes. Some record an album when they're in the studio and when they're not in the studio they're not in the studio, you know what I mean? Me? I like to stay in the studio constantly. I feel like you should be growing at your craft and you never know what idea you'll have when you're in the studio. It's always good to have more songs and not know what to do with them than not have enough songs, and the phone rings and you're not prepared for an opportunity that comes.

LeslieWrites: Raheem, I see you everywhere especially connecting with your fans on social media platforms. As of this morning you had 857,000+ followers on Facebook.

Raheem: Yeah, I’m trying to crack a million...

LeslieWrites: And you’re almost there. You also have 155,000 followers on Twitter and 74,000 followers on Instagram. I realize you're the man behind your brand and you have a team and all, but talk about your work ethic and your ability to constantly communicate with your fans through social media.

Raheem: I'm solely responsible for my brand. I’m not like other artists that have these big machines behind them. It's a numbers game and I constantly try to find ways to do different things to increase my following because it helps in terms of endorsements and different opportunities. That's the first thing they look at in terms of strategic partnerships. How many followers does he have? How engaging is he on the social networking sites? But you know, aside from that I love my fans, I love my music, I love my supporters. Staying connecting through social media is a great way to have a direct impact over your fan base, but also over the things you love and the things you want to speak out about. I think having five followers versus having 500,000 followers would definitely make you want to be more responsible. Having said that, sometimes in the past I feel like I may have made one or two bad decisions on social media.

LeslieWrites: Can you give me an example?

Raheem: On the last mixtape, the cover art was a remake of an Isaac Hayes cover but people that may not know art or aren’t familiar with Isaac Hayes’s work didn't know that. I took it as artistic expression but some women felt some kind of way about the cover. I didn't know that until after I put the cover out. I read comments on Facebook that some people posted before they heard the music. Some fans—actually a lot of fans—came to my defense and said, "Well, its just art. It's not that serious.” But being a parent and a person who started a foundation, I'm big on respecting women so I had to say to myself, it’s too late to change the artwork but moving forward it gave me something to think about. I always try to make sure I'm doing things that are responsible.

LeslieWrites: Tell me about The LoveLife Foundation. You met with a group of our future leaders at Paul Public Charter School in Washington, DC last week. What message did you share with the students?

Raheem: The question of the day was, What's your plan? We asked the kids, How many more years to do have here before you're in the real world? What are your dreams? What are you good at? What do you need to work on?

This is a group of kids that some refer to as “the bad ones” or the kids with the most demerits over the school year. It was good to be able to talk to them and I feel like I did connect with some of them. The question is, was it just for the moment? It's one thing to be there for the day but another thing to be there for like three months. One conversation ain't gonna cut it sometimes.

LeslieWrites: That’s one way to look at it, but you're planting seeds...

Raheem: Exactly. To be honest though, I left feeling drained. I felt good and positive about what I did because we made some leeway, and I have to applaud the teachers and the school systems for what they do every day caring for young individuals who might not think someone cares about them and don't know how to care for and respect adults, their peers and themselves. For whatever reason, whether there is a disconnect at home or they are raising themselves or whatever, there's a lot of work to be done and I am planning to do more through The LoveLife Foundation. Our mission is dedicated to improving lives through social development, education, health and wellness by partnering with community organizations and other foundations to raise awareness.

LeslieWrites: It says a lot about you that you're looking beyond your music, beyond your brand, beyond your business and asking yourself how you can reach and impact these young people as a part of your LoveLife Foundation.

Raheem: Thanks. I realize every day how the youth look up to me and I'm spending more time trying to connect with them through my humanitarian work.

LeslieWrites: You traveled to South Africa in April. Talk about your journey. What did you do? Who did you meet?

Raheem: Yeah, it was a great experience. I've been all around but this trip was different because it's Africa, where my people come from. It's very surreal to want to do something, envision it and make it happen, you know? I performed what was supposed to be an hour show and, including the opening acts, it turned into a two to three hour show. And the fans stuck around. It was cool.

I got a chance to meet Speedy The Gift (Harold Matlhaku) from a well-known group called Bongo Maffin. Speedy and I are going to be doing a number of things together and although I'm pretty big in South Africa on the underground level, he's been helping me grow my brand over there. I also met HHP (Hip Hop Pantsula), a huge artist in South Africa.

I wish I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela before he died last December. But just knowing the history of South Africa and the music and how people connect with the type of music that I make—especially the socially conscious music—was great. The thing about Africa is they have a lot of big plans out there for music and when I stepped off of the plane, part of me was like okay, the world is moving and you gotta move with it. That was a big eye opener. I thought it was going to be more rural. Not to sound cliche' but I was looking to see giraffes outside my window and looking to experience their true culture. It felt like I was in New York City.

LeslieWrites: Were you in Capetown?

Raheem: No, Johannesburg. There's so much to see and it's a big world and I pray the creator gives me time just to explore it and see some other things outside of the US.

LeslieWrites: I can imagine that your presence was huge in South Africa. The people that have followed your music and the record executives needed to truly connect with you live and in person. This journey alone is going to change the game for your music in South Africa.

Raheem: No doubt. I mean you can't get the love until you show the love. They've been feeling the love through my music for a long time but when I touched down it was a different feeling. I'm looking forward to going back numerous times and who knows, I may end up living over there for a period of time throughout the year.

LeslieWrites: Like our mutual friend K'Alyn [Kenny Allen] who lives in Ethiopia now.

Raheem: Yeah man, K is a huge star in Ethiopia. I hear stories about him on billboards at the airport. He’s acting and doing films.

LeslieWrites: Your father is the avant-garde jazz cellist, Abdul Wadud, who has played with such artists as Arthur Blythe, Anthony Davis, Julius Hemphill and Michael Franks. Tell me how your father and his music have influenced your career. Did he encourage you to pursue music or did it just happen naturally?

Raheem: I think it just happened because I was around music all my life and I finally got over the fear of pursuing it. My father definitely tried to encourage me, I wouldn't say to be a musician, but I had the opportunity to learn and he aggressively wanted me to learn some instruments. I wasn't with it and I felt like the more he tried to push it down my throat the more I resisted. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had learned everything, you know? But it's all good and he's super proud. More important than playing an instrument, it's good to have a parent you can have a conversation with about certain business stuff. They know what you're talking about, they know where you're coming from and they know why you're holding your ground on certain things.

LeslieWrites: So, you go to your dad for advice about the music business?

Raheem: Yeah, I mean he's not a lawyer or anything but the fundamentals of it like don't sign your publishing away, don't sign your life away, and that type of stuff, it's good to be able to have that conversation with my father.

LeslieWrites: What about your mom? Has she supported your music career?

Raheem: Oh yeah, my mom is my biggest fan and my biggest supporter. Moms is the type of person who will call the radio station and ask, "Why aren’t you playing my son's music?" Or, she would call Jive Records and say, “Let me speak to the president. This is Raheem DeVaughn's mother. Yeah, we need to get this poppin'!" She's known for that. [Laughter]

LeslieWrites: [Laughter] I love it. So your mom is your advocate and your biggest supporter?

Raheem: She's in charge of the Raheem DeVaughn prayer hotline [Laughter]

LeslieWrites: Do you have a special lady in your life?

Raheem: I'm single.

LeslieWrites: You have kids, right?

Raheem: Yes, I'm a proud dad and I believe in the village though so even kids that are not my kids are my kids... There is so much work to be done with the youth.

LeslieWrites: You're performing at Essence Music Festival again this year. What can your fans expect? Are you sitting in with Prince for a set?

Raheem: I wish. I'm doing two back-to-back shows on Sunday, July 6, in the super lounge. I basically do two concerts within 30 - 40 minutes of each other. It's dope. I love it. It's always a challenge figuring out how to make both shows exciting but not the same and still do the hits, you know? It's going to be a great experience in New Orleans. I've done it umpteen times before and it's always good to come back. I'll be down there the whole time.

LeslieWrites: You’ll be there all three days? What will you be doing? Hanging out? Networking?

Raheem: I'll be working and I'm doing a day party and some other stuff. I'm looking forward to having the LoveLife Foundation booth [During the festival at the New Orleans Convention Center] that Essence gave me where I will sign autographs and raise money for my foundation. I'm excited about that.

LeslieWrites: What else do you have planned for this summer? Do you have tour dates scheduled?

Raheem: We have spot dates right now. I'm not on an official tour but the phone is always ringing so that's always a blessing. I’m also looking to transition into doing syndicated radio on a national level.

LeslieWrites: You still host your online radio show on BLIS.FM, right?

Raheem: Yeah, I still have my radio show and will continue with it, but I'm also looking to do more structured syndicated radio. I've been brushing up on my radio skills for the last three years so why not do that as well?

LeslieWrites: You started your career with indie projects and sold CDs on the streets and at your shows in the DC area. What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Raheem: You can do it too, is what I would say to aspiring artists. It's a lot easier now to engage people on a local level and it's a lot easier than selling CDs on the streets, which I think is good. We should all keep that going too but with social networking being what it is, you can create your fan base. People will find you.

Every day a star is born and personally, every day somebody discovers my music for the first time so that's humbling to me. If everyone already knew who I was there would be no work to do.

To purchase A Place Called LoveLand, visit:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/a-place-called-love-land/id681731828

You can find #TheLoveKing online:

- Website: http://www.raheemdevaughn.com/

- Twitter: @Raheem_DeVaughn

- Facebook: www.facebook.com/RaheemDeVaughn

- Instagram: Raheem_Devaughn

 

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