Raheem DeVaughn – R&B and soul’s ‘last man standing’

During a concert tour stop in Memphis last weekend, neo-soul artist Raheem DeVaughn made time for a conversation that included sharing aspects of his musical and personal life journeys.

Bernal E. Smith II, besmith@tsdmemphis.com | 10/15/2015, 1:43 p.m.
During a concert tour stop in Memphis last weekend, neo-soul artist Raheem DeVaughn made time for a conversation that included ...
Raheem DeVaughn interviews with TSD President/Publisher Bernal E. Smith II. (Photo: George Tillman Jr.)

Three-time Grammy-nominated neo-soul artist Raheem DeVaughn was in Memphis last Saturday (Oct. 10) for a stop on his concert tour with Leelah James. During a conversation with the TSD, he shared aspects of his musical and personal life journeys.

Bernal E. Smith II: What is your approach to music?

Raheem DeVaughn: I just want to be the greatest or one of the greatest. I want to go down in history as one of the greatest. It’s crazy. It’s the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March and the 10-year anniversary of my first album.

B.S.: So since 2005?

R.D.: … I’ve been out for ten years and I still feel like a fetus in the game, in this art form. I just realize that there is no limit to the sky. There is no limit to the universe; it’s just space. And so I just want to be able to do this as long as I can.

I am very competitive. When I put out a body of work, it’s important that when people listen to it they feel like they got their money’s worth. It’s an experience behind it, a message behind it, it’s a purpose behind it, you know? The next best thing to creating it is to be able to go out and perform it and to hear how people take to it; how different songs move people for different reasons. I’ve had people tell me that my music saved their life. I’ve had people tell me that they conceived their first child to my music or that they had their first dance to my music; so these are all of the things that growing up I experienced with artists like Marvin Gaye or like Prince – my other musical influences.

B.S.: In this album, man I heard you channel Prince, Marvin Gaye, Jodeci and R. Kelly. I mean I heard so many of your musical influences come through, but then you were able to do them in your own unique way.

R.D.: Yeah, there’s an art to that. I won’t pretend that it’s something that’s easy. It’s not something that I figured out how to do over night. It’s really understanding who you are as an artist and how you want your music to be defined and how you want to sway the culture. I feel like I’m one of those artists that dictates the culture – where music is going, where it should be and what it is – whenever I drop an album.

B.S.: When I listen to you what I hear musically is that you go against the grain. Music is so cookie-cutter today. Everybody is doing this real heavily computer-generated music kind of stuff made for the club. You could do that but your music is so much broader. Tell me how you go against the grain to create your unique sound.

R.D.: It’s easy to get bored with what we do when it is too monotonous, too robotic. I have this last man standing philosophy. I used to keep it a secret but it don’t matter; philosophy is philosophy, right? I already have in my mind that I will be the last man standing. … You can stand with me or I can stand by myself, but I will be the last man standing. It’s a level of determination and it’s a craft. It’s about harnessing your craft. When I’m not on the road, and even on the road on days off, I’m trying to figure out when I can get in the studio to work. When I’m not on the road I’m on my grind. I record every night if I can.