Raphael Saadiq talks Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion, creating music for ‘United States vs. Billie Holiday’

'Andra Day was able to pull out some of the reference and some of the feeling that Billie was able to pull out in all of her music,' the producer says about the film's track

Raphael Saadiq has been a mainstay in music for more than three decades and his influence on Black music and culture continues to transcend generational gaps.

His latest work, “Tigress & Tweed” with Andra Day, is featured in the movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday. The song garnered the two musicians a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. Saadiq has received a number of awards and nominations before, but he says this time around felt different.

“This song came about in the middle of the pandemic and during that time, my mom was also sick. So I was spending a lot of time at home and I put this song together on my childhood piano,” he said to theGrio

Read More: Andra Day began drinking, smoking, lost 40 pounds for Billie Holiday role

Saadiq’s musical journey began at an early age and it became the family business when he and brother Dwayne Wiggins paired up with their cousin, Timothy Riley, to form the mega hit group Tony! Toni! Toné! Since then Saadiq, who is known by close friends and family as Ray, has gone on to produce and create music from a number of artists, including Solange and Mary J. Blige, who he collabed with for the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated track “Mighty River.”

In The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Day plays the title role of Holiday in her film acting debut. Saadiq lended his hand in curating music to accompany the film and recalled his initial thoughts when he received the lyrics Day created to his music.

2019 Global Citizen Prize at The Royal Albert Hall - Red Carpet
Raphael Saadiq attends the 2019 Global Citizen Prize at the Royal Albert Hall on December 13, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Global Citizen)

“The lyrics are powerful and strong. She [Day] was able to pull out some of the reference and some of the feeling that Billie was able to pull out in all of her music,” he said.

Saadiq added that Day was able to embody the spirit of Holiday not only on screen, but through the music:

“Wow, she really brought the depth in the small circle of cords that I put together, and bodied the vocal and the title ‘Tigress & Tweed.’ She broke it down to me that it was a fragrance that Billie Holiday liked to wear and that just added more meaning to it.”

Outside of creating music for the film, the singer-songwriter has also been working on other projects. He is in the process of getting music together for the final season of the HBO hit series Insecure. Saadiq has been music supervisor for the show since it premiered in 2016.

United States vs. Billie Holiday
The United States vs. Billie Holiday promo photo. (Credit: Hulu)

“One of my secrets from working on that show is that I often think about the music last because once I get the script, I’m reading it to find out what’s happening before anyone else,” he says. Saadiq was mum on spilling any secrets from the upcoming final season, however.

The musician’s work doesn’t stop with Insecure. He revealed that there are more television projects in the works and his music is coming full circle as he and the original members of Tony! Toni! Toné! are reuniting to record new tracks.

Saadiq says the group has been working in the studio and fans of their music will be pleased with the outcome. “We’ve already started recording some stuff and we are going to release an EP likely under a different name,” he explained. 

Read More: Lee Daniels unveils ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ trailer

What isn’t changing is his drive to inspire people through his music and after more than 30 years in the business, he has helped define a generation of soul music. “I hope that I’m leaving my mark in music history because that’s what Motown did for me, so I would hope that I’m giving something back to the culture as a whole,” Saadiq says. 

The United States vs. Billie Holiday will be released on Friday, Feb. 26, and “Tigress & Tweed” is streaming now. 

Kelsey Minor is a 2x Emmy award-winning freelance reporter and writer based in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter @theKELSEYminor. 

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!