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How Raheem DeVaughn & Apollo Brown Merged Their Sounds on ‘Lovesick’

Raheem DeVaughn singing in front of brown car

Raheem DeVaughn returned with his new album Lovesick, a joint-effort with legendary producer Apollo Brown that’s filled to the brim with lust, vulnerability, and soul. Photo Credit: Jean Marc Photography

We spoke with Raheem DeVaughn and Apollo Brown about their new album Lovesick, longevity in the game, and the importance of connectivity in any relationship.

What does it mean to be lovesick? Is it the yearning for someone you can’t touch? Perhaps it’s when you contain so much love that you simply combust. There are not many who understand love’s madness and complexities like Raheem DeVaughn. Over 15 years in the game, Raheem’s prowess is a result of dedication, growth, and understanding matters of the heart. He sings his verses — which are conversational and confessional — as if he’s alone in the room with a gorgeous woman. His voice reflects the scorching desire and the heart-racing anxiety for the perfect partner. 

Earlier this month, Raheem returned with his new album Lovesick, a joint-effort with legendary producer Apollo Brown that’s filled to the brim with lust, vulnerability, and soul. On last year’s collaboration with Che Noir, As God Intended, Apollo created a world covered in grit and grime that brought Che’s street tales to life. On Lovesick, Brown exchanges the heavy bass, snapping percussion, and grittiness for uptempo jazz instruments, soulful finger snaps, and funky bass lines. Apollo’s ear for production is meticulous, grabbing ingredients like isolated vocals, chopped jazz and soul samples, and enough bass to rattle the chinaware in your neighbor’s house.

We recently had the opportunity to chop it up with both Raheem and Apollo about Lovesick. We spoke on keeping the subject of love fresh, longevity in the game, and the importance of connectivity in any relationship. 

How was working with Raheem a challenge for you from a production standpoint?

Apollo Brown: I mean, it wasn’t really much of a challenge. He had the same goal in mind as I did, and that was just to make good music. It was a little different obviously because I’m not used to working and making beats in and R&B format with bridges and stuff like that, but it was pretty much the same as working with an MC. Raheem’s a hip-hop head, and he’s around a lot of the same people that I am, so he knows what it’s all about.

So working with him wasn’t much different than working with a hip-hop artist. It took a little bit more time because I think R&B artists are a little more feeling based, so you got to get the aura right.. And he came with it. I don’t work with people I got to babysit. He knows what he’s doing, he’s been doing it for a long time, and as soon as he heard the beats, he was on it. 

Raheem, a lot has changed for you since the release of The Love & War MasterPeace. On that project, you moved outside the realms of just love, and you’re paying attention to society’s issues. How have the current times inspired Lovesick?

Raheem DeVaughn: Every other album I may go left, or use the opportunity for the body of work to not only make “love songs” or songs that speak to intimacy, but speak to social conscious music, use the instrumentals as a bed for that. [With]What A Time To Be In Love… I used that particular body of work to address the “new world” that we live in, post COVID[-19], post the election, the climate of what’s going on in the world outside of the bedroom. So for this one, it was easy to keep it light, although the bulk of it — if not all of it — was recorded prior to COVID. 

I kind of wrote it as a storyline piece. I think that also with COVID, in particular, a lot of people have been away from their loved ones. You either got relationships that are thriving extremely well because of COVID — where those two individuals could look within themselves as well as in their partners and find something to connect with that made the relationship stronger — or you have relationships that dissipated. In any case, I think that when you have those situations that happen, you can be lovesick, so it’s very fitting for the title of the album to be called Lovesick.

How has the pandemic affected the both of you?

[I] took that big financial hit because being on the road is our bread and butter as recording artists, and that’s how we get it. But I’ll say that [I was able to] spend much needed time on self, and growing, and becoming a better person, a better human, a better parent, a growing child to my parents — making sure that they’re great in their old age. And really, for me, just saying, “You know what? I’m going to go crazy with the music.” I was doing a lot of recording and whatnot, and I feel like we’re now in a microwave world, to a certain extent, where people can’t get enough of that good stuff. If it’s good, they just want more and more and more and more. So musically speaking I’m really focused on being prepared for that, and being able to continue to outsource great music, and hopefully continue to make music with Apollo, and a lot of my other favorite producer friends.

Apollo Brown: The pandemic was bittersweet for a lot of us, especially a lot of us who are on the road all the time. I’m on the road a third of the year, every year, whether it’s domestic or whether it’s overseas. So you definitely feel that financial loss. That’s good supplemental income and that supplemental income is gone, and you’ve got to try to figure it out and try to either replace it or just make do without it. But I say bittersweet, because a lot of us were able to stay at home with our loved ones more, and really get to know our families and our wives and our girlfriends —  whatever the case may be.

Going back to Lovesick, what was the first track you guys made together, and how did it come together?

Apollo Brown: Oh man, what was the first track we made? Was it “Zaddy?” Or was it… It might have been “If You’re The One.”

Raheem DeVaughn: Unfortunately, and I mean this humbly, I think when Apollo sent me the stuff initially, in a perfect world, I would have loved to have been in the room with him, and I know he would too. But I don’t think he might have anticipated getting it done, because I just remember him sending them to me, and I just running through them. And I do feel like “If You’re The One” was definitely the first record, because I remember hearing the track and being like, “This is what I would start the album with. So what would that feel like, what’s the storyline going to be?”

Being in the game for over 15 years now, what is the key to longevity?

Raheem DeVaughn: For me it’s about the pivot. It’s about being thankful, and I don’t confuse competitiveness with contentment. I’m very thankful for the journey I’ve had musically, for over a decade and a half now, but I’m never content or full. It’s the progression of evolution of life, and either you can become stagnant, or you can actually get better, you can challenge yourself to be better. And that’s something that I pride myself on. My philosophy is nothing moves without the music, and my barometer is the music lovers out there and the people and the fans, and through social media you can kind of test the temperature in real time of who’s checking for what — what your strengths and what your weaknesses are. And I know what those are, and I still feel like there’s still yet another level that I can go to, with the right discipline and work ethic.

My last three projects, in particular — Lovesick, What A Time To Be In Love, The Love Reunion are all examples of the fact that there’s a lot of different shades and textures to me as a songwriter, as a vocalist, as a vocal arranger, and as a performer on stage. And I’m getting better at what I do. I mean that humbly. I don’t feel like I’ve even given the world my best music yet. I’ve often said in previous interviews, no artist is truly defined until you get into your fifth, sixth, seventh, tenth project — your 15th project. And the temperature check for that is the fans.

How have you kept the concept of love so refreshing over such a long period of time?

I won’t front like it’s easy. That’s why I enjoy making records that are socially conscious as well because it gives you a opportunity to break from the monotony of telling the story of love, and intimacy, and sex, and heartbreak, and all of those things that come with relationships and dating and courting. But a lot of times I guess I’ve been my own trial and error guinea pig for that, too, be it matters of the heart, or vicariously through loved ones and friends, things that they’ve gone through they might share with me. I’m inspired in a lot of different ways lyrically for music. I compared it to a Tribe Called Quest’s artwork cover. Remember how they used to have the electric lady on the front artwork? That was like my intention where every time I drop an album it’s going to have the word “love” in it. 

Apollo Brown wearing Nationals Hat

“You got to make the music you want to make, not the music that everybody else wants you to make,” Apollo Brown said. Photo Credit: Jenny Rischer

Similar question for you, Apollo. Being in the game for so long, how do you keep your production from getting stale and repetitive?

Apollo Brown: You’ll never be able to please everybody. That’s one of the things in this music industry. I’m some people’s favorite producer of all time [and] some people hate me. They can’t stand my music. So knowing that, you just got to be true to yourself, and you got to make the music you want to make, not the music that everybody else wants you to make. I care a lot about the music, and I do care about how people feel about it, but first and foremost I have to like it. I have to enjoy the beats that I make, I have to enjoy the music that I make, in order for me to even put it out. For me to even send it to Raheem, I got to like it first.

I got a certain sound that I enjoy listening to and there’s a certain sound that I enjoy making. Both of those sounds are pretty much the same. It’s just like DJ Premier. You know a DJ Premier record when you hear it. You know a 9th Wonder record when you hear it. You know a Pete Rock record when you hear it. You know a RZA track when you hear it. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I’ve always wanted a signature sound. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. What I do, it’s been done millions of times — it’s not something that’s new. I would say maybe it’s refreshing, but it’s not new. 

One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever gotten from a fan was, “Yo, man, if I could describe you in one word it would be reliable.” For me, being called reliable was like the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten. 

Raheem, you use vulnerability as a strength in your music, you’re not afraid to show that side of you. How do we remove the stigma against Black men and vulnerability?

Raheem DeVaughn: I don’t even know if it’s just a Black man thing. I try to say things for the men who might not have a falsetto or might not know how to convey it or put it into words, of how they feel or what they want or how they want to express themselves to a woman. When I do the lyric and the delivery of it, that’s the intention. I think as men, though, we’ve been taught and programmed to believe a lot of different things, one being that we’re not supposed to cry or that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. When we get in relationships, it affects our relationships with our women, it affects our relationships with our children.

So I think that there is a way to break that cycle, and music is just one of those templates to do that. For me, music is therapy. And I hope that it hits the same way for men that absorb it, and understand that regardless of what culture you come from, your background, it’s cool to have empathy, it’s cool to cry, it’s cool to talk about your emotions, it’s cool to do therapy. I think it’s breaking the norm of what the new cool can be.

On “Just Fall In Love,” Raheem, you sing about the double standards women face when engaging with multiple partners As society grows, do you think the younger generation are more respectful in that regard, or is that something that needs to be further addressed?

Like I said in the lyrics, “I’ve been faithful. I’ve been cheated on. I’ve cheated.” So I’ve been the template for a lot of different things. I feel like that was a record that women would be able to appreciate, but it’d also be that it could tap into the psyche and give us men something to think about at the same time. Again, I think we live in a world of a lot of different double standards, and I just thought it’d be a really cool concept for a record and a message.

Apollo Brown: There’s always a double standard, and it’s too bad that women are a lot of times on the shit end of that stick. The disrespect — it’s been one of those things that’s been going on for a long time. It still goes on today. I can’t really say that today is worse than yesterday, or vice versa. It needs to stop. And we’re not all perfect, but I think as we grow older and we get wiser, we have more experiences and we start realizing some of this stuff we did when we were younger or said when we were younger was out of line. And we got to teach our young brothers, whether they listen or not. You can’t really make them, but as long as you put it out there, hopefully it’ll get better.

Raheem DeVaughn wearing suit and bandanna

Raheem DeVaughn has released eight albums since his cult classic debut, The Love Experience, in 2005.  Photo Credit: Jean Marc Photography

On the same song, you mentioned that you’re a “player,” and how you and your dad share that same blood in that regard. How has your dad influenced your lifestyle choices as you entered adulthood?

Raheem DeVaughn: I probably wouldn’t refer to my dad personally as a player, in the literal sense. But my dad has had a huge influence on me musically. He’s a retired cellist. He dropped music during the pandemic, some new vinyl under the artist name Abdul Wadud. Dad is the homie because he has a musical background, and has been an independent artist his entire life, as well as an educator and a teacher of music. A lot of his students hit me up about my dad, like “Can you set up an interview for me?” Or “I just got his vinyl.” Or “Your dad taught me how to play, and I’m this big musician now over in Russia.” I always get people tapping cool things about my dad, and we’re able to have real discussions about music or publishing or different things that he just understands.

Apollo, you seem to be selective with who you choose to work with. Why Raheem, and how would you describe the chemistry between you two?

Apollo Brown: I only work with people I’m a fan of, so that’s one thing right there. And I’m a big fan of Raheem. That’s one of those things that everybody around me knows. The Love Experience is my favorite R&B album of all time, and Raheem himself as an artist is one of my favorite singers of all time. So it was nothing but an honor to be able to work with him in the first place. But getting to work with somebody who’s like-minded, somebody who has the same goal in mind, just making good music, and making music that stands the test of time, that’s always a great experience. 

When A Man” has to be one of my favorite beats on the project. What was the first thing you look for when you make a beat?

It’s all about feeling for me. Feeling first. If I don’t feel it, then I’m not going to continue making it. Whether the feeling’s a good feeling or whether it’s a sinister feeling, whether it’s a sad feeling. Being older and being a husband and a father and all that stuff now, I don’t make a lot of “bangers” any more, I make a lot of life music that just reflects on my mood. When I’m making music, it’s all about feeling for me. So “When A Man” just had that feeling. Obviously [Billy Brooks’ “Fourty Days” has been sampled] before, but I’ve never heard it as an R&B or soul track, and I just thought it would sound really good in that genre. And with Raheem and what he did to it, I can’t hear it any other way. I’ve listened to it so many times, and the people love it so much, I couldn’t hear it any other way. He dropped just magic on it, pretty much. So that’s just the way I approach production, it’s all about feeling for me.

I always like working with somebody I don’t have to babysit, somebody that I know they know what they’re doing, and somebody who has done this for a while, like Raheem. I don’t need to check in on Raheem. I don’t need to babysit him and wonder what it is going to sound like. He does his own thing, he does what he does, and I do what I do, and it comes together, and has this marriage about it. Like I said, we both have the same goal in mind — to make good music.

Is there anything you both would like to touch on that we haven’t spoken on today?

Raheem DeVaughn: Yeah, it’s all about this album right now. I think that was another great thing that came out of the pandemic. If you’re noticing, [there’s] been a lot of collaborative projects happening. And I think [the pandemic] woke up artists a little bit. Life is fragile. Life is short. It’s like a light switch. One minute you on, one minute you off. We don’t know the moment, the hour, nor the time. So what we do is very special, and it’s about building a legacy. We just put out something that’s going to outlive us. I know a lot of dope artists that just make music for themselves. Either because of their own insecurities, they might not put it out, or they don’t understand the climate of where we are in music, and the culture now.

So I think the pandemic was eye-opening for everybody. Get your ass to work, get back to work. 

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Anthony Malone, is a music journalist based in Brooklyn, NY with a love and passion for everything hip-hop, especially from NY. Rap music is his life and he couldn’t want it any other way.

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