The music industry has never really known what to do with guys like Rahsaan Patterson.
Patterson is one of those rare soul/R&B crooners who writes subtle-yet-emotive songs, belts out intricate vocal arrangements and refuses to project a clichéd hyper-masculine image. As a result, his music is absent from most of the nation's radio stations and you won't see his face on many TV video networks either; those broadcast entities cater more to artists who are concerned with flash instead of substance. Like, for example, wack cats like T-Pain and The Dream.
But despite this lack of understanding, Patterson has managed to survive -- and even thrive -- in the unfriendly waters of the music business. Not only has he crafted songs for his own string of solo albums (starting with his self-titled debut in 1997), but he's also produced hits for artists like Tevin Campbell ("Back to the World") and produced music for films like Two Can Play That Game.
Currently on tour in support of his newly released CD, Wines and Spirits, he recently took time to talk with Creative Loafing about his career and the ways of the industry. (And yes, for the TV buffs out there, this is the same Rahsaan Patterson from that cheesy Kids Incorporated TV show.)
Creative Loafing: It seems like there's no room for artists like you in the industry's big marketing machine of radio and video. What are your thoughts on that?
Rahsaan: "My thoughts are that it's simply unfortunate that we are in a phase where the music industry really doesn't support the art. Growing up in New York in the '70s and '80s, it was a time when the music industry was all about supporting art (and) artists who were unique and contributed something. It's definitely something that I'm faced with, but I can't focus on it too much."
But when you look at the success of soulful vocalists like Amy Winehouse, does it give you hope that at least audiences are embracing more real music?
"It could be easy to just say 'yeah.' You know what I'm saying? It could be easy, also, to say that it hasn't changed one bit really. But what I'll say is that I'm happy for anybody who gets that opportunity you know, and I'll say that Amy Winehouse is my favorite."
Well, when I look at artists like yourself, I really see you laying the groundwork for folks like Amy Winehouse. Even though the sound is very different, it's still that soulful foundation.
"And you know the interesting part is that I think that there are other people in the world who see it the same way that you just articulated. But then when it comes time for that to be colorized for the world, we don't really get the recognition that we could get."
There was a time recently where you were said to have become disenchanted with the record business. At one point you even stopped recording. What was the thought process behind all that?
"Well, it was really more so frustrations with life in general, and you know, because my life affords me the opportunity to be in the music industry, the music industry played a part in that. But it wasn't just the music industry, it was a whole lot of things, and I just really was uninspired. And I allowed myself to be uninspired, so that I could get back to a place where I could allow myself to be inspired once again."
Thankfully, you're back to your old prolific self. But looking at all the stuff you've done with your career -- songwriting, television, soundtracks -- what makes you do all those different things? Is it because you have so many ideas, or do you get approached by a lot of different people?
"It's a combination of those things. Being able to be creative and to write songs that move people, you know, that allow people to wanna collaborate with me or want me to be a part of whatever they're doing. And it's about knowing my ability and not being afraid to challenge myself."
How would you so describe the evolution of your sound from your first album to your latest, Wines and Spirits?
"I guess there's a difference. The sound may have progressed a bit over the years, but I feel like I've always given glimpses of what I'm capable of and what I enjoy as far as musical tastes are concerned. I think the obvious difference is subject matter. My previous albums have been much more romantically based; this one sort of goes outside of that environment."
On your new CD, you dabble in rock and hip-hop sounds. Was this due to an organic progression, or did you make a choice to venture out into different territory?
"Well, I had always been a lover of all different kinds of music. I grew up on a TV show singing all kinds of music. Performing on that show and hearing those sings influenced my songwriting as well as my vocal approach to singing at times over certain styles. You don't often get to do that. One of the things that I knew going into making my first album and being in the music industry and being categorized and being boxed into a black-male-soul-R&B box, you kind of have to finesse it and finagle it and gradually embark on some kind of journey outside of that box so people can kind of focus and pay attention and say, 'Who is that kid?' So, yeah, I've always had it in me, and again I feel like on all of my albums I've given glimpses into exactly where this album is right now."
Rahsaan Patterson will play Tempo (4809 Wilkinson Blvd.) on Feb. 15. For advance tickets visit www.charlottevibe.com.