Every songwriter worth his weight in catchy hooks has a story to tell (one that is gripping and compelling in its intensity). Raheem DeVaughn is that gifted storyteller, a young man with volumes of short stories that have found their way to 'The Love Experience,' his stellar debut album.
DeVaughn’s story begins with music—his mother’s vinyl collection to be exact. “I always loved music so I would sneak into her record collection when she wasn’t around and play her stuff," says DeVaughn. Although his parents were not together, his father, noted jazz musician Abdul Wadud, was an influence as well. “Music was just always around me," says DeVaughn. “I can remember at a very young age, standing in my mother’s living room, listening to music and saying to myself, I’m going to be an entertainer. It was that simple for me. I think I just always knew."
The dream would have to wait some time to come to fruition. DeVaughn graduated from High Point High School in Beltsville, Maryland and then headed to nearby Coppin State. It was the first day of college that would change the course of his life. “I saw a group of guys standing outside singing, Boyz II Men style," remembers DeVaughn. “I just went up there and started harmonizing with them. Before I knew what was going on, I was in a group, cutting class to write lyrics and record."
Although the group did not last, the direction DeVaughn’s life was about to take would have a lasting effect on his music. After winning $2,000 in a talent show at Bar None, a Washington D.C. nightclub, DeVaughn decided to go for broke and invested all of his winnings into a CD burner. Several independent releases led to a showcase with Jive Records and the road to a major label debut finally caught steam.
'The Love Experience' is a raw, no-holds-barred record. Every emotion that DeVaughn has experienced is hidden in plain view. Every scab is peeled fresh and every open wound is salted. The result is a well-written diary, set to amazingly lush production and vocal arrangement.
Forget about placing Raheem DeVaughn in the neo-soul category. DeVaughn’s voice, velvety, chalky, pristine and gut wrenching borrows heavily from generations before him. From the hypnotic and soulful, “Catch 22, to the party-ready flirtatiousness of “Nice To Meet You, (featuring label-mate Nivea), DeVaughn recreates a time in musical history before hip-hop existed, when revolutions were recorded on vinyl and Marvin, Donnie and Bob Marley were all at the height of their creativity.
Raheem vacillates between love songs with urgency and socially conscious songs that show love for all people. Lyrically, DeVaughn is a pistol, a take-no-prisoners songwriter who goes for the jugular. Questioning the woman who bore a child believed to be his, only to be confronted with the truth three years later, DeVaughn takes this true-life tale and mixes a blend of bewilderment, despair and rage on “Until." One of the album’s highlights is “Breathe," an unabashed tribute to Prince, heavy on guitar and synthesizer but smooth enough to belong in any modern soul library. The production—intense without being overbearing—is subtly sensational. And Raheem’s voice, flittering from deep alto to pure falsetto is both soothing and profound.
Raheem takes it to the bedroom on “Ask Yourself," a romantic ditty that finds him daring a woman to deny the physical electricity between them. In an era where lovemaking often comes in four letter proposals, it’s refreshing to hear an artist who remembers a time when sexual proposals were understated and special. With a baseline reminiscent of one of the The Isley Brothers greatest, timeless classics, “Ask Yourself," has the live guitar and horns that make great R&B exactly what it is—fresh and innovative. The tinkling piano introduction on “Position" introduces a haunting mid-tempo track that could have easily been a B-side record on Prince’s seminal Purple Rain. Convincing a woman to throw caution to the wind has never sounded sexier.
Guitar-driven hard rock finds it place on 'The Love Experience' as well, and rightfully so, since its roots are forever intertwined with the roots of soul. On “Cadillac," a rockin’ romp in the vein of Prince’s Darling Nikki, or Little Red Corvette, DeVaughn belies his age with a mature composition worthy of artists many years his senior.
DeVaughn does deliver—an album that is at once raucous, romantic, innovative, groundbreaking, complicated, obscure, simplistic and accessible, all wrapped up in pristine vocal arrangements and superior lyricism by the artist himself. “My record is very much me. I want people to get into the lyrical content. I’m a struggling man. I’m just trying to be the voice of people who can’t speak for themselves. Kids who are stuck in the ghetto and don’t know why, people who don’t understand why we have to go to war. I’m the person who is going to talk about all of that."