Raphael Saadiq Talks STEP Documentary, Working on HBO's Insecure and More

by Brad Wete

Raphael Saadiq | photo by Evita M. Castine

Raphael Saadiq | photo by Evita M. Castine

Longevity is arguably the greatest testament to an artist’s skills. Raphael Saadiq is one of the figures in music who can say he’s been around for several eras. Since hitting the music scene in the early ‘80s as a young bassist touring with Sheila E., singing lead vocals and producing for the R&B trio Tony! Toni! Toné in the ‘90s, and then reintroducing himself as a soul star in the oughts, his talents and titles have continued to evolve and flourish in various ways.

Saadiq was tapped to co-produce the soundtrack for the STEP documentary, which chronicles the true story of a Baltimore-based step team whose girls are striving to win a state championship and make it to the next chapter of their academic careers. It received awards from both the Sundance and AFI festivals before releasing in select theaters early August. Saadiq worked alongside longtime collaborator Laura Karpman and Taura Stinson on the project. The two first partnered while working the score for the 2013 drama Black Nativity. “They just sort of reached out to us and I looked at the project and I really liked [it]--the subject matter and the story of the girls,” Saadiq recalls of how they became a part of STEP.

 The musical genius got his first opportunity to break into the film world with John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood. “I think John Singleton was the first director that told me I could score," Raph says. "'Just Me And You,' that was actually my first solo record, but the label wouldn’t let me use my name. I had to put Tony! Toni! Toné. But that’s my first actual solo record and the first time to ever put something against film.” Singleton continued to use Saadiq on some of his other projects including Higher Learning and Baby Boy. “I give [John] a lot of acknowledgment for introducing me to [the film world].”

@issarae and I, talking @insecurehbo after this week's episode. #winedown #InsecureHBO #insecure

A post shared by Raphael Saadiq (@raphael_saadiq) on


When Saadiq isn’t working the film industry, he can be found providing musical direction in the TV world. He’s a composer for WGN’s slave drama Underground and a key musical component to the hit HBO series Insecure. Solange Knowles, whose album A Seat At The Table Saadiq executive produced, is also involved with the Insecure project as a music consultant.

“I worked on Solange’s album and she is really good friends with Melina, the director. Solange asked me one day, ‘Are you interested in working on Insecure?’ and I was like, ‘Sure! I love Issa Rae.’ They had a really cool team. The next thing you know, I’m sitting with the cast.”   

#Afropunk! 📸: @cont4ct

A post shared by Raphael Saadiq (@raphael_saadiq) on

Saadiq is a key architect in the Black, R&B soundscape, both behind the scenes and on stage. Last Sunday (August 27) the multi-talent headlined day two of the annual Afropunk festival, his first major US performance in more than five years. Set in New York’s Brooklyn neighborhood at Commodore Barry Park, Afropunk is a celebration of Black alternative spaces in music, fashion, and art. Saadiq kept his set funky donning a black and white leopard print suit and made it clear that he shows no signs of stopping.