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Raheem DeVaughn covers sensual love and political speech in 'Masterpeace'

Raheem DeVaughnSpeaking out: Raheem DeVaughn has some protest songs on his latest album. Above, he's in front of a mural in Northeast Washington depicting black icons. (Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)

By Chris Richards

Sunday marks the 376th day of Barack Obama's presidency, and if you're still holding on to the illusion of a "post-racial America," Raheem DeVaughn has some slap-in-the-face R&B anthems he'd like you to hear. (And some sex jams, too.)

The Washington-based singer is lounging in the control room of Phase, a recording studio nestled deep in Prince George's County, mulling over cuts from "The Love and War Masterpeace," his eccentrically titled new album due in March. The disc will be the Grammy-nominated singer's third for Jive Records and his most political yet, balancing bedroom candle burners with streetwise protest songs.

Much of "Masterpeace" was penned before Obama had announced his candidacy for the presidency, but DeVaughn says the album's themes have no expiration date. "Racism is very prevalent and alive . . . in this country and in this world," he says, swiveling in his chair. "I feel like we'll forever live in a country that's divided. . . . Divided by race. . . . Divided by love and hate."

(Embracing his musical diversity, after the jump.)

The studio speakers erupt with a fiery tune called "Revelations 2010," and DeVaughn rises to his feet as if he can't take these lyrics sitting down. "There's a war going on no man is safe from," he declares on the track, his pillowy falsetto now howling like an angry teakettle.

Next, DeVaughn cues up "Bedroom," a song as salacious as its title suggests. Those steamy high notes come floating back, airy and supple, high-hat cymbals panting along.

DeVaughn carries these two worlds -- outrage and sensuality -- in his pocket with an ease that would seem radical were it not so done so famously by his forebears, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. But DeVaughn sees himself as more of a 21st-century utility player than a throwback.

"It's about being diverse," he says, citing the hook he recently recorded for rapper Ghostface Killah and the album he's producing for Bootsy Collins, legendary bassist of Parliament Funkadelic.

"Bulletproof," the first single from "Masterpeace," captures DeVaughn's transgenerational approach, combining vintage, hot-buttered horns, dire lyrical warnings ("Politicians can't help you") and a guest verse from rapper Ludacris.

The single has been well received, but the album was still a hard sell at Jive. So in the throes of self-doubt, DeVaughn called his most famous admirer, Stevie Wonder. Turns out, Wonder actually had troubles pitching his legendary double album "Songs in the Key of Life" to Motown back in the '70s.

Wonder told DeVaughn that he eventually won the label brass over by playing his magnum opus for them with the lights off. His advice to DeVaughn, more than 30 years later: "You have to draw people into your world."

For DeVaughn, that means asking listeners to take a hard look at their own.

By Chris Richards  |  January 29, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
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Can't wait for his "album" to drop and that of funkmaster Bootsy Collins.

Posted by: no_turning_back | February 1, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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