It was eight years ago when Rahsaan Patterson’s Bluephoria came out and offered more of the concentrated soul he is known for within a landscape of rapidly disappearing R&B stars. When he emerged in the ’90s he was among a group of artists classified as “neo-soul” keepers of traditional R&B making music after hip-hop. His albums always took inspiration from soul icons of the past but his discernable voice brought his influences into a contemporary world of sound.
When he wasn’t working as a solo artist he wrote hits songs for people like Brandy and Tevin Campbell. Patterson’s daring spirit and bottomless creativity is still invested in exploring unapologetic R&B in 2019 and he re-emerges May 17th with the release of Heroes & God. The Bronx native has grown as an artist since Bleuphoria with a newfound interest in film and a greater focus on expanding his sound. In the following interview, Patterson talks about how the loss of various family members, cultural heritage, relationships and everyday life sparked the creation of Heroes & Gods.
“I’ve never been one to put myself in a box”
Why do you call the new album Heroes & Gods?
It’s a title that came to me a few years ago when I started cultivating ideas for the album. The foundation of some of the music essentially it’s about recognizing the power and strength of who we are as spiritual beings and as Black people also the power we have and informing younger generations and reminding those who have been here a long time and may have forgotten. And the power we possess so it’s important for me to regain that knowledge myself for myself about myself and to share that with others.
You took more time with this album, what was different about this creative process?
I allowed myself more time to let the music show me what it needed. I also didn’t feel pressure to have to rush for any particular reason. I gave myself a space to create and I also suffered the deaths of members of my family over the last five years every year and that definitely impacts being inspired and wanting to go into the studio. So in the midst of feeling all those emotions and pains that come with loss, I allowed myself time to grieve also and find inspiration again and when it was time for me to go back and record I would.
What inspired the cover of Luther Vandross’ “Don’t You Know That?”
That has always been my favorite Luther Vandross song since I was a child when the Never Too Much album came out. Of all of his songs which he has many and they’re all beautifully produced and sung and arranged that one has always resonated with me since I was little and I rarely cover songs on my albums because of the parallels in our careers one, being from the Bronx, two having started in the background particularly for me when I started moving into the music industry more so than having started on television. I started doing background vocals and I did a few jingles for commercials things like that and my respect for him my admiration for him I felt that it was only right for me to pay homage to him and what he left us his legacy the beauty of his ability and to honor him.
I started covering the song in my live shows probably about four or five years ago and this is the first time that I was ok with the idea of re-recording a song that another artist has recorded that I’ve covered. I’ve also covered Sade in my shows, covered Al Jarreau, but I’ve never felt the need to re-record on record songs that I feel are already perfect in their natural state. But because of the parallels in our careers because of his gift and talent, I thought it would be wise to honor him and record the song because they respond so well to it and because I have denied myself and others covering other songs in the past I figured why not do it now.
You worked with Rachelle Ferrell and Joi on “Break It Down” how did the three of you come together?
Well, they are both friends of mine and I love them as human beings as spirits as artists. On this one particular day Joi and I were going to the studio to work on something and then Rachelle happened to call me the same night Joi and I were in there and she came to the studio. As soon as she got there Joi and I had already come up with the chorus and started laying the hook down and all we needed was to add a first verse a second verse and Rachelle walked in and immediately started singing the first verse and so I then went into the booth and started singing what she came up with and that’s how that went down.
The three of you that’s a powerful combination.
Yes, I was so grateful not only to have them in my lives personally, but their gifts are so unique and I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with and establish bonds with artists such as them and others that I’ve worked with in the past and have grown to love. They’re just very very gifted individuals and I’m honored to share space creatively with them so for them to contribute to my record only make my records that much better.
You’ve been around for a while now since the ‘90s, do you still have the same excitement about music considering how the music industry has changed so much?
There was definitely a period where my passion kind of waned for the industry and making music, however, once my creativity is sparked nothing can hinder that once I’m stimulated creatively that takes precedence over any thought or feeling about the industry. And from that point I have to execute my vision and once I get into that mode I have fun with it because I have to see my vision through but of course in between time I’m living life so that I have something to write about something to sing about the hardships of life can play a part more than the industry being the focal point or the reason why there may be unhappiness or hurt I’ve been in the industry long enough to have come to the conclusion that the industry is the industry it’s a business and it is what it is. And nothing will ever change that so I have to remain focused on the things and the people that conjure up love for me, people that inspire me things that light my pilot so to speak that’s what’s most important for me.
Your music career goes back to the ‘90s but you’ve been working in entertainment since you started as a child on the TV show Kids Incorporated are you interested in exploring any other avenue in the creative world today?
Oh absolutely, over the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to explore different aspects of my creativity. The television show was a great place to start because it not only consisted of acting it consisted of dancing it consisted of singing and I learned so much about my creativity at an early age and the first thing that I learned was not only are you a singer but as you develop as an artist you discover that all of those aspects of creativity are a part of who you are and you have access to them once you discover that you’re capable of implementing each different aspect.
Once I was on the show and got with the choreographer and started dancing I realized oh ok I can dance I can learn to do this oh I wasn’t an actor before but I can act now and I can learn and I can go in that area and get better. So over the course of my career I have gone into different aspects like getting behind the camera and during those down periods when I’m not singing or making music that’s what I choose to do. I choose to take photographs I spend directing and just shoot things and strengthen that muscle. I have found that the same passion that I had initially in making my first few albums I have found a joy and passion behind the camera.
Will we ever get to see any of those photographs?
That’s been the beauty of social media platforms because Instagram, in particular, is basically a gallery your own personal gallery so you can share whatever you want to share. I have multiple pages on Instagram and on my Rahsaan Patterson Instagram I definitely post little movies that I make with my little cousins in New York and I do mashups of mixed media art where I’ll use a clip of some classic film like The Wiz and insert a different song on top of the iconic and once they get to Oz the colors scene so I’ll do things like that and I will share my photographs that I take on that page but I also have a raw visual page which is strictly my photography and my director work. The raw visual is R A H_Visual.
Would you say that Heroes & Gods has a particular theme that runs through it?
There’s a consistency throughout all of my albums which definitely reflects my growth and discovery not only of love but of self and there is always these transcendent themes through all of them this is no different. It’s easy for me to write what I know and love happens to be something that I’m naturally drawn to and that’s what tends to come out of me when I write and make albums. But I also make it a point to share my personal growth and in doing that it’s important for me to be transparent and in me being transparent I’m aware that influences and inspires others to do the same so that’s a consistent theme for every record and Heroes & Gods is no different.
“Sent From Heaven” was such a strong song to come back with, what inspired it?
I had been lit by someone who came into my life who re-entered my life at a time when I was at the tail end of heartbreak. I was thrilled to have been inspired and there was a joy that I was replenished with and I had to share that there was no way for me to feel the re-merging of that joy without being able to articulate it and share it It was one of those moments where I was intensely inspired and had to give it back.
Times have changed since the beginning of your career, how do you feel about an out artist today?
It’s not something that I think about anymore because times have changed and I’ve been able to witness the evolution of particularly the music industry as it relates to the realm of Black music and Black art. I get to witness what it has meant for me to have been out as a Black male singer and it’s influenced the younger generation and to see them explore who they are and also just be free in who they are without having to wear a cloak of pretense to appease or attract an audience. There’s a lot of young guys who can just be who they are and so that makes me very happy to see.
I saw you years ago for the first time in New York at The Roxy and you were opening for Meshell Ndegeocello. Have you two ever been in the studio together?
We have not collaborated together In the studio yet but we have done shows. We did that tour that was my first tour actually. And last year we did a show together in North Carolina which was the first time we did a show together since ’97 so it was a long time. I hope to collaborate with her in the studio one day that would be nice but I love her and I love sharing space with her she’s such a beautiful person and spirit and I look forward to the day we get to do more.
Is there anyone else on your radar?
There’s always Sade and just the other day I thought to myself I would love to record a song with Anita Baker that would be great. But I’m glad you appreciate the versatility of the album because that has always been a problem with labels in the past to try to put me in one area
Especially Black artists.
Especially Black artists but even for us as Black audiences sometimes we tend to think when we discover someone in one spot and we fall in love with them there we want them to stay there. I’ve never been one to put myself in a box because people can have their opinions and desires of what they like you to do or where they’d like you to stay but the minute you do that you actually put yourself in that box. It makes me happy to know you can hear a song like “Sent From Heaven” but then hear the rest of the work and still appreciate it and not just get stuck in the Rahsaan Patterson of 1997 because “Sent From Heaven” is definitely in the vein of how I was introduced to people and that was certainly a conscious thing in making this record.
I wanted people I wanted to take them back to where they met me and then take them through the course of my growth in making the records that I’ve made and this record for me is very much like going to get your masters and you get it and you accomplish something truly meaningful and with that you position yourself to be able to make change and influence.
What’s next for Rahsaan Patterson?
I have shows coming up one in Atlanta on April 20th, and then I have a couple at the end of May in Nashville and Chicago and then June I’m going to Europe the first week.