Washington, D.C. continues to welcome the Lexus Listening Lounge event series with open arms, this time with Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter
Raheem Devaughn. While many of our artists have been slow to respond to the very real financial, physical and emotional challenges so many of us face, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn tackles them head on with The Love & War MasterPeace, his most ambitious album to date.
"The Love & War MasterPeace is one half social commentary, one half love," explains the self-proclaimed "R&B/Neo-soul/Hippie/Rockstar." "With everything going on, it just feels like the right time for it. As a country I think we"ve made some progress, but we remain divided —it"s still poverty versus wealth and good versus evil. We"re separated by skin color and religion, politics and control over natural resources. I think of this album as a natural extension of where I am personally and where we are as a nation."
To connect the thematic dots, DeVaughn tapped Princeton professor and public intellectual Dr. Cornel West for a series of poetic, politically charged interludes.
The unlikely pair met at the 2007 BET Hip-Hop Honors ceremony and have kept in close touch ever since. "Dr. West has an infectious spirit. Even if you don"t know who he is, he commands you to listen," says Maryland-bred DeVaughn. "He"s in tune with his power and he uses it for good."
Largely produced by Kenny Dope, The Love & War MasterPeace addresses the social ills of the times and also takes a powerful stand against seemingly endless wars in the Middle East. For example, on the bluesy "Soldier"s Story," DeVaughn sings a dialogue between a nervous young man headed to Iraq and his worried mother. "That song was inspired by a friend of mine in Maryland," he notes. "I saw him in the barbershop right before he left for Iraq. The next time I ran into him, he was missing both of his legs."
For the breathtaking peace anthem, "Nobody Wins a War," DeVaughn recruited a soul sonic force of R&B greats including Jill Scott, Bilal, Anthony Hamilton, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Citizen Cope, Dwele and Chico DeBarge. "I"ve always wanted to do a record like "We Are the World." When [longtime producer] Kenny Dope played me the track, I was like "Yo, this is that record!,"" DeVaughn recalls. "I made a crazy wish list of people and personally reached out to everybody. Most of them said yes. The result is big."
Rounding out the politically minded thread of the album musically are wicked verses by Ludacris, who appears on the lead single "Bulletproof," Bun B ("Wing & a Prayer") and Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley ("Revelation 2010").
Of course, the man behind the Grammy-nominated smash hits "Woman" and "Customer" gives equal play to matters of the heart. Standouts from The Love & War MasterPeace include "I Don"t Care," the Ne-Yo-produced second single about maintaining a relationship in the face of haters; "The Greatness," which features Wale and picks up where "Woman" left off; and "Calling Me," a slinky Norman Connors-style romp that exploits the full power of DeVaughn"s falsetto. DeVaughn displays his playful side on "Lose Control," a sprawling, 11-minute house party jam featuring underground firestarter Phil Ade, and "B.O.B.," the singer"s send-up of his lady"s "Battery Operated Boyfriend."
"I"m getting into a woman"s business with that one," DeVaughn says with a sly chuckle.
The son of renowned jazz musician Abdul Wadud, DeVaughn grew up in Maryland and cut his teeth performing in clubs throughout the Washington, D.C. area. After several indie releases, which he sold on the streets and at his shows, the crooner signed with Jive Records and dropped The Love Experience, his slept-on 2005 debut. DeVaughn broke through commercially with 2007"s Love Behind the Melody, which earned him two Grammy nods, two BET J Awards for Best Male R&B Artist and Album of the Year as well as a prime slot on tour with Jill Scott.
Although he"s become one of modern soul"s most beloved artists, DeVaughn continues to grind. In addition to releasing 8 mixtapes over the past 7 years, he"s co-written songs with funk legend Bootsy Collins, and will be featured in his first acting role playing blues singer Andrew Tibbs, in Who Do You Love, a biopic about Chess Records set to release this spring. He also leads the DMV Movement, an artistic union of D.C.-Maryland and Virginia artists, including Wale and Phil Ade (who is the first signed artist from his newly formed 368 Music Group record label). DeVaughn has taken a philanthropical stance by partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce a series of PSAs about HIV/AIDS prevention.
While narrow minds might find it difficult to reconcile all of DeVaughn"s passions, he remains firmly committed to being every bit of himself.
"Some people may be able to disconnect from their music, to look at it only as a business. But for me, music is my soul," says DeVaughn. "I"m an artist"s artist, and I want to do this thing forever. As long as my venues continue to be sold out, as long as there are die-hard Raheem DeVaughn fans of all ages out there, I"ll be satisfied."