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There’s a reason Raheem DeVaughn refers to himself as “Mr. February.” February, of course, is lover’s month (Valentine’s Day and all), and the singer—a self-professed “neo soul hippie rock star”—is obsessed with love. It’s a major theme on all of his releases, from his 2005 debut The Love Experience to his new project, Love Sex Passion, which dropped last week.
The local singer has come a long way since the layered passion of “You,” earning Grammy nominations and lending his croons to tracks from artists like Wale, the Roots, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. But DeVaughn’s national success has only strengthened his roots, spurring him to extend a helping hand to local artists with his 368 Music Group label.
Between swigs of Hennessy V.S., DeVaughn and Arts Desk chatted about the future of conscious R&B and how D.C. can earn more respect in the entertainment industry.
Arts Desk: June marks the 10th anniversary of The Love Experience’s release. You’ve said that you weren’t planning on doing anything big to celebrate, and that you’d rather wait until the 15th or 20th anniversary.
DeVaughn: If I’m going to do something, it has to make sense. That’s all. So I have a couple of ideas about things I’m going to attempt to pull off, so we’ll see how it pans out.
How has your experience working with elite artists shaped your evolution from The Love Experience to Love Sex Passion?
I think it’s great. I think the elite work with the elite though—-they don’t request me unless they want that Raheem DeVaughn flavor. If you think about artists like the Roots in particular, it was a dream come true to be part of their album […And Then You Shoot Your Cousin].
Your music has traveled well beyond the D.C. area. Still, you’ve always been accessible, especially in D.C. Do you feel like it’s necessary for artists to leave in favor of major entertainment hubs like New York City or Los Angeles to succeed?
It’s necessary to do business, but it’s not necessary to be successful. A lot of people who leave [are] running from something. I don’t do that. I don’t have to be king of the world—I’m not comfortable, but around these parts, I’m a household name. That’s kind of cool; it’s cool enough for me. But there are different pockets around the world, so it’s always my mission to expand the brand. Every time I drop an album, I try to touch my audience, but also make some new fans along the way, stay embedded in the culture, and create a new lane sonically.
I assume that’s why you and Dre the Mayor created 368 Music Group—to give artists that local platform.
We started the label to give people that avenue and represent our city. We have no intention of leaving. At the same time, the industry hasn’t exactly been coming here to find [musical talent]. So we had to make a lot of noise. When you whisper, people overlook you. But you’re like “Ayo!” they tend to pay attention.
I’ve talked to plenty of people from outside of D.C. who are close to the entertainment industry and say it simply doesn’t exist here. What does D.C. need to do to improve its status as a talent hub?
You have to be loud and you have to be abrupt. It’s here, don’t be fooled by what you hear in interviews from people who don’t have a voice of reason saying “You shouldn’t say that in an interview.” In my opinion, my city isn’t corny. It has an edge to it, and it’s definitely because of the go-go community. There’s a sense of realness, and it’s not a bunch of crabs in a barrel. There’s a lot of talent here. While I think a lot of the artists here could become more educated about the culture of what we do, there are a lot of successful artists from here making waves for themselves. Those who want to unify unify, and those who don’t get forgotten about.
I can say what I’m saying because I’m a legend in the streets of D.C. and I’m accessible. Whether it’s in Southeast at a high school mentoring the youth, doing a domestic violence rally, or at Stadium nightclub, I’m touchable. Growing up here, I really patterned my career after the humbleness of Chuck Brown. He would drive himself to his own shows and walk among the people. Big G from Backyard Band has that same personality. We call each other “twin”—born on the same day, and have the same level of humility.
You touched on some of your activism, which is especially relevant given the police mistreatment of young people of color. How important is it for musicians to accept some degree of social responsibility?
We’re in a new Civil Rights Movement era. There are new leaders being creative in their strategies because it’s a war, really. There’s a war against young black males, and a war against our community. A lot of that has to do with music, too. Artists have to begin taking responsibility and being held accountable by their communities for what they say on records and understanding the domino effects. But the flipside is that they could just be telling stories that they know about what they see in their environments. So in order for their story to change, their environment has to change.
Do you think R&B music—and, really, all music—has become diluted in that way?
R&B is definitely diluted. We’re in the most ratchet period of R&B music ever, where “hoes ain’t loyal,” and more. And I love Chris Brown—he’s another one; we have the same birthday, so I understand him. We’re a product of what we see, how we’re raised, and the culture that’s being created. Far too many times, we accept what we shouldn’t instead of fighting for what we deserve. That’s why it’s great to have artists like J. Cole, who put out [a project like 2014 Forest Hills Drive] that’s so profound and thought-provoking. I’ve been making socially conscious records for years, so if everyone else wants to be socially conscious right now and I want to be on love, sex, and passion, it still has the same agenda because it’s about love, peace, and happiness.
Really, I’m a modern-day hippie, and I like to bring people together. That’s my gift. Some things [that other artists do] could be considered cliché, but that’s not for me to judge. If they’re sparking it off, that’s how movements start. A lot of times when movements start, people are divided about who’s going to be the leader and which direction should be taken. We’re in this new Civil Rights Movement era, and just like we need love songs or anthems for the sisters like “Queen,” we need those radical songs that say “Fuck the police.” That’s what’s necessary to say “Now that I have your attention, I’m not gonna let you keep shooting me in the back.” More important, our forefathers—Malcolm X, 2Pac, John Lennon—they were willing to die for what they believed in. [That sentiment] sounds good on record from a lot of the young’ns, but you can’t convince me that they’re willing to die for it. It’s definitely a time to rally together and stand for something, but, on the flipside, I get it. Sometimes, as artists, we have to get certain things out. So I do understand why Chris said “These hoes ain’t loyal,” it just could’ve been something in him he had to get out.
Photograph by eOne Music