Thursday, after a long day of rushing to meetings and getting stuck in Los Angeles traffic for much longer than necessary, my last stop of the evening was a listening party for Raphael Saadiq’s new album, Jimmy Lee.
Preparing myself to smile, mingle and take notes during another industry gathering in Hollywood, I somehow fall asleep in the back of my Uber, and wake up just in time to see us drive past a sign that says “Crenshaw.”
Moments later we pull up to a coffee shop. Both the Uber driver and I do a double take. Then we double check the address and confirm that, “Yup. This is it.”
Ten minutes later, after I’ve walked into a sea of beautifully melanated people, and noted both the socially conscious pop art on the walls and the deejay spinning Lil’ Kim and Junior M.A.F.I.A. along with Miguel and Jhene Aiko as if they all belong in the same era (which I’m now inclined to think they do), I walk up to the bar – my confusion now replaced with an unexpected feeling of glee and curiosity.
Like a scene out of a movie, Anniversary by Tony! Toni! Toné! is playing at the exact moment I turn to the left and realize Raphael Saadiq is standing right next to me.
Before I can finish saying, “Hi, I’m Blue from theGrio,” he’s already pulling me into a warm hug that makes me momentarily wonder if he’s mistaken me for an old friend. But either way, his reaction eases my nerves more than the red wine I was about to order ever could.
“So, I gotta ask” I say, now feeling emboldened. “Of all the places to throw a listening party, why here? It feels like you’re making a statement by having us come to this coffee shop in this neighborhood.”
Without dropping the smile, this flesh and blood musical genius shrugs and replies, “I love my people. So I wanted to come and celebrate this with them. AND I love coffee.”
I chuckle at that last part. And just like that he’s gone, off to charm someone else in the crowd and make them a believer.
“This record is called Jimmy Lee. Jimmy Lee is my brother, and he was a funny guy so i swear this is not a sad story,” the singer later explained while standing in front of the eager crowd.
“My brother was an addict. He was addicted to heroin. And I always thought everyone was too hard on him. You know what I mean? Cause we all have addictions. Everybody has a little bit of Jimmy Lee in them,” he continued. “So I named this after him. Because the entire record is about just growing up and acknowledging all your frailties. Being vulnerable to different things, separating the boy from the man, then looking at your career and appreciating how long you’ve been doing it. I looked back at my work from, Tony! Toni! Tone!, to Lucy Pearl, to my first solo record, Instant Vintage, and now I just have all these new ideas and music.”
To his point, some of the songs are quintessential Saadiq, while others are clear examples of the music vet experimenting and exploring new ways to play with his signature sound.
The stand out of the project is its first single entitled, Something Keeps Calling Me; a breezy mid tempo head bop you could easily find yourself playing while driving down the Pacific Coast highway with your beloved on a warm summer night.
Jimmy Lee, isn’t a safe album by any means. But it does make listeners feel as if they’re being reintroduced to an old friend. For that reason alone, it’s worth a listen.