Raphael Saadiq: Shaping R&B's Legacy and Crafting 'Miracle' for Candy Cane Lane

The Grammy Award-winning singer discusses his collaboration with U.K. songstress Kelli-Leigh for a new Christmas standard and his impact on music.

The imprint of Raphael Saadiq has been all over contemporary R&B and soul music for more than 30 years. Hailing from Oakland, one of the country's great music cities, the renowned bassist, singer, songwriter, and producer is one of his era's most revered musical visionaries.

A founding member of the legendary trio Tony! Toni! Tone!, Saadiq became a superstar as the group’s lead singer on classic cuts such as “It Feels Good,” “It Never Rains In Southern California,” “Anniversary,” “Lay Your Head On My Pillow,” "Get Down”, and many more.

After Tony! Toni! Tone! disbanded in 1996, Saadiq continued as a sought-after songwriter for other artists such as Beyoncé, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, D'Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Houston, Solange Knowles, and countless others. As a solo artist, he would go on to release several critically acclaimed albums such as Instant Vintage (2002), Ray Ray (2004), The Way I See It (2008), Stone Rollin’(2011), and Jimmy Lee (2019).

This year, Tony! Toni! Tone! reunited for the first time in more than two decades. Titled Raphael Saadiq Revisits Tony! Toni! Toné!, the Just Me & You Tour, the trio has been playing sold-out shows across the country and will conclude with a series of shows in their hometown of Oakland and San Francisco in November.

For his latest endeavor, Saadiq co-wrote and produced “Miracle” featuring Kelli-Leigh for the soundtrack of the forthcoming film Candy Cane Lane starring Eddie Murphy and Tracie Ellis Ross. The song captures the essence of the highly-anticipated film and the true spirit of Christmas. spoke with Saadiq about the creative process behind “Miracle,” how he fell into producing Christmas music, and Tony! Toni! Tone!’s reunion tour. After all these years, Tony! Toni! Tone! Fans finally get what they’ve always wanted with a reunion tour. When you, your brother Dwayne Wiggins, and cousin Timothy Riley played your first show, did it feel like you were rigging a bike again?

Raphael Saadiq: I wouldn’t say that [Laughs]. I guess the more complicated part was putting the show and songs together. We didn't have a lot of time for a bunch of dress rehearsals. So I think the first show was really weird, too, to look at each other and go, “Okay, we're about to do this. You know we have to walk out in front of these people.” I don't think it hit us until that very second.

Raphael Saadiq Compares Tony! Toni! Toné! Reunion to 90s Bulls' Big Three: ‘Like Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman Getting Back Together’ I’ve always thought of Tony! Toni! Tone is one of the standard bearers of the band tradition in Black music. Along with vocal groups, we just don’t see as many Black bands as we did in years gone by. What do you think was the cause of this shift?

Raphael Saadiq: It was an imperfect storm because I didn't like being one of the only bands. Hip-hop started to dominate the airwaves, and the coins were different labels. It seemed like they were trying to downsize on bands,  especially Black bands. We are fans of all those bands before us and were on the tail end of that. We still had that dream about being a band. It starts with a dream. Are you dreaming about bands now? When did we stop dreaming about bands? We weren’t trying to be standard bearers. We were doing what we knew. Over the last few years, you have worked on great Christmas music, such as John Legend's A Legendary Christmas. When did you realize you had a penchant for making and reinterpreting great holiday tunes?

Raphael Saadiq: I wasn’t my thing at all because I wasn't that big on Christmas. But growing up, of course, we played The Temptations, the Jackson 5, and all those songs so I  grew up with a lot of great Christmas music. So I sort of welcomed the challenge. John Legend is such a pro at what he does and he’s just a really solid dude. I met John before his first single ever came out. He came to my studio and he played me “Ordinary People '' on the piano and then he came back when he got big, and I just put on my first solo album, Instant Vintage. He asked me to come out on tour with him. We just kept a really good, great friendship between us, and when he had this idea for this Christmas album, he came back and asked me if I wanted to produce the album. I was like, “Of course.” He makes everything easy because he’s such a professional, and we complement each other. We like the same music, so he made the Christmas experience good for me. I had a chance to meet his mom, his grandmother, and his entire family from Ohio. So it was a great experience, so John got me into making Christmas music. For your latest venture into Christmas music, you wrote and produced “Miracle” for Candy Cane Lane. How did you become a part of the film?

Raphael Saadiq: I came on the project towards the end. Reggie Hudlin, who I worked with Reggie on House Party 2  with the Tonys, wanted me to be in the project earlier on, but I was moving around. He already had Marcus Miller scoring, so the score was already done, and I'm a huge fan of Marcus. I worked with Marcus on Boomerang. So he got a hold of me and said, “ I got this part in the movie and  I need this song.”  I was like, “Okay, cool.” So I watched the movie, and I really loved this film. It's a film that speaks to all the different dynamics in a family and a house. If you live on the East Coast, and it's snowing in December, are you at home, and you want to stay home with your family, this is one of those films that you could enjoy. It's the type of film you must see for yourself, and I knew I had to deliver. “Miracle” is not your average Christmas song. It’s more like a holiday anthem, and Kelli-Leigh gives a tremendous vocal performance. How did you connect with her to create the song?

Raphael Saadiq: Jane Hancock is a writer with whom I work a lot. She wrote some of the lyrics with me. We collaborate a lot on projects, and she's an amazing songwriter. We researched singers in the UK, and Kelli-Leigh was the first one who could really stick it and she was incredible. She's an amazing vocalist and it just worked out. Lastly, what do you want to leave with after they hear “Miracle?”

Raphael Saadiq: The part I was writing for, without giving it all away, something that happens in the film without giving away, is sort of like a miracle. And that was how I came up with this miracle. And it feels very energetic, like a sports event. And I want to have that. I want to have the same energy. Somebody could run, somebody could sing, somebody could dance, somebody could rejoice. It had to have all these elements to fit the film because it has so many different elements.            

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