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Soul music - the way he sees it

Raphael Saadiq borrows judiciously from the past.

Raphael Saadiq will open for John Legend tonight at the Tower Theater. His new album is "The Way I See It."
Raphael Saadiq will open for John Legend tonight at the Tower Theater. His new album is "The Way I See It."Read moreKATHY WILLENS / Associated Press

Raphael Saadiq is in a good mood. And why shouldn't he be?

Soul-hop's finest player and producer put out his first solo CD in four years,

The Way I See It

; he has songs in Beyoncé's forthcoming film,

Cadillac Records

; and he is opening for John Legend. We dig Legend, but the order should be reversed.

Saadiq's no dummy, however. He knows people have short-term memories, despite the mega-hits his band Tony! Toni! Tone! recorded between 1988 and 1996. Saadiq, 42, realizes he barely toured for his previous solo dynamos, 2002's

Instant Vintage

and 2004's

Ray Ray,

while he was producing records for Whitney, D'Angelo, Joss Stone and the Roots.

"I never got out and promoted that stuff, which makes it even funnier now," Saadiq says. "I'm not really singing

Ray Ray


Instant Vintage

now. People scream for that stuff. Sad thing - I didn't even rehearse the old songs."

Saadiq insists he's not ignoring listeners. He just didn't think they cared about his past.

That's doubly funny, as

The Way It Is

borrows liberally from soul's past without being lamely retro or kitsch. Smokey Robinson, Gamble and Huff, David Ruffin and the Delfonics influenced Saadiq's new CD, yet


is way fresh.

Saadiq doesn't know how he forged his own originality in the face of such rich sources. The sounds of soul, bebop, doo wop and funk have always been in him. "When I was 3 years old, I'd be driving with my dad singing the choruses and bridges to songs I didn't know. My dad thought that was amazing. How did I know to go to the bridge?" he says with a laugh.

Saadiq says the process for

The Way It Is

began two years ago and started with the clothes on its cover, a vintage sharkskin suit worn during a show in Oakland, where he covered Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar?"

"In every sense, the word


became me - the look, the sound," Saadiq says. "I remembered being in church and seeing men in suits singing and clapping. Growing up, I'd see quartets with one man leading and three men behind him in suits bearing down on their instruments. I started playing in bands because I like what they represented."

Now Saadiq is offering young listeners what his heroes gave him when he was a kid. "I'm not giving it to you soft or all grown-and-sexy. This is the hard stuff. I want everyone to feel it."

While in town, Saadiq will show his appreciation for Gamble and Huff by singing to the duo at their Philadelphia International Records studio. This taped performance, hosted by Philly DJ Butterball Tamburro, will be broadcast 7-9 tonight on WDAS-FM 105.3.