ATLANTA (AP) — If Raphael Saadiq had a choice, he would rather be heard than seen.
But Saadiq’s behind-the-scenes musical work has thrust him into the limelight once again. The musician earned an Academy Award nomination for his co-writing efforts on Mary J. Blige’s “Mighty River,” an original song from the Netflix film “Mudbound.”
Saadiq called the Oscar nod for best original song a “huge milestone” in his career, but he is trying to stay even keel. When he first heard the news of the nomination through a friend’s text message, he just smiled.
“I’ve always worked diligently no matter what,” he said in a recent interview. “I’ve always worked to the highest standards no matter who I am working for. I like to be behind the scenes instead of out front, but this just means to me that the quality of work I have embarked upon speaks to the testament of who I am as a musician, composer and a person who works with a lot of people.”
For years, Saadiq has been creating songs as a solo artist and for many other music artists including Justin Timberlake, John Legend, D’Angelo, Kenny G, Snoop Dogg and Erykah Badu. He made his debut in the late 1980s as the lead singer of R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone!, which had hits like “Feels Good” and “It Never Rains (in Southern California),” among others. He left the group in 1996 and went on to win a Grammy for best R&B song for his work on Erykah Badu’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop).”
Saadiq wrote Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky,” which won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance last year. He’s also the composer on HBO’s comedy series “Insecure” starring Issa Rae.
With “Mighty River,” it is Saadiq’s first Oscar nomination. He said Blige, who is also nominated for best supporting actress for her role in “Mudbound,” approached him about recording a song for the film.
Saadiq said he along with Blige and Taura Stinson co-wrote the song before he even saw the movie. He would normally rather watch the film beforehand, but he was well prepared thanks to filmmaker John Singleton, who groomed him for such situations.
“He started me off with ‘Boyz n the Hood’ and ‘Higher Learning’ giving me notes and never letting me see the film,” Saadiq recalled of Singleton’s method. “He gave me the characters, and I took it from there. All I had (for ‘Mudbound’) was Mary’s storytelling, which was great. She is very passionate on how she speaks and what she wants. Through Mary’s eyes, that’s all we had to go on.”
Saadiq drew some inspiration for the song’s title from a couple of music legends.
“I’ve always liked songs that had something with river in it,” he said. “From Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’ to Neil Young’s ‘Down By the River,’ and in gospel and church, there’s always something about the river that was very powerful. …. We just sat there and added mighty to river. Mary loved it. As we wrote the lyrics, it just kind of popped out.”
When Saadiq attends the 90th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, he said he’ll be thinking of everyone who helped him hone his skills as a musician. He credits all of his collaborators and three high school music teachers in Oakland, California.
Even though Saadiq’s calls the Oscar nod a high point, he’s focusing on upcoming projects. The self-proclaimed “studio rat” said he’s looking to record new music with Solange, the third season of “Insecure” and a studio album, which he hopes to release this year.
“I live, eat and breathe the studio,” he said. “I just want to make records to be played in front of people.”
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MrLandrum31
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