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taking high chances
in this divine dance
in this divine dance
– “God” from bleuphoria
The passage above plays in a loop in my head as I wait for Rahsaan Patterson (Rah to his friends) to arrive at Casbah, the Moroccan-themed café where we’re meeting to talk about bleuphoria, his latest CD. That potent snatch of lyrics sums up both the high-wire aesthetics of the new disc and Rahsaan’s approach to his entire career (itself a gift within the gift of life): taking high chances in this divine dance. bleuphoria, whose sonic tapestry ranges from the retro club funk of “Ghost” (featuring the divine Jody Watley) to the avant-Broadway spiritual “Mountain Top” (featuring the great Táta Vega), has been my soundtrack for weeks, pushing me out of the realm of on-the-grind journalist into that of unadulterated fan. It’s one of those gifts that true artists routinely bestow on the faithful, justifying our love, reminding us anew why we’ve taken them into our hearts and ceded real estate in our spirits to them. With bleuphoria, coming almost four years after 2007’s cult favorite Wines & Spirits and three years after his acclaimed 2008 Christmas album The Ultimate Gift (played year-round by the devoted), fans are getting synthesis and evolution of all that’s come before—leftfield experimentation, centerfield grooves and soulful meditations on inner and outer space.
Longtime fans have watched Rah grow from the skinny, wide-eyed boy with the big eyes and bigger voice on the classic children’s show “Kids Incorporated” to one of the most influential yet underrated soul men on the planet. (His career is riddled with paradox and irony.) We’ve watched him sport blonde-streaked hair and cutting edge fashions while strolling through European-set music videos, and then hung on to his every note in clubs and concert halls around the globe as he, shorn of hair and clad in the simplest of gear, bled out in song—joy, pain, longing, despair, ecstasy. We’ve kept track of the Who’s Who of talented folks he’s written and produced for and with (from pop diva Brandy to fellow under-sung MVP Van Hunt), with whom he’s collaborated (Ledisi, Lalah Hathaway) and of the icons who have sung his praises (the awesome Chaka Khan) and ushered him into the hall of the greats.
All of that comes to glorious fruition on bleuphoria, an ‘80s-tinged collection comprised of his trademark gorgeous ballads (“Goodbye,” “Miss You”), head-noddingly hypnotic mid-tempo tracks (“Stay With Me,” first single “Easier Said Than Done” and second single “6 AM”), funk-drenched club grooves (“Ghost”), and genre-defying studio experiments that pay off in a couple of career high-points (“Crazy [Baby],” “Mountain Top”). While being rooted in the classic principles of melody and poetic lyrics, and while gently laying bare the influences of everything from ‘80s electro to vintage Prince and Michael Jackson, bleuphoria pushes Rahsaan to dig deeper as singer, songwriter and producer. It’s the sound of personal fears being conquered and artistic growth unfolding—beautifully.
After he arrives and while he’s sipping mint tea, I ask him to describe the sound of and inspirations for the new work. I initially hesitate because I’m reluctant to bring up one of the strongest influences I’d detected—Prince.
The Purple One’s name has become shorthand and lazy reference point for music writers. It’s an almost meaningless citation these days. But something of bleuphoria’s tremulous sensuality, vulnerability and spirituality, its earthy religiosity and unbridled playfulness, is an unforced and welcome throwback to the days when Prince towered over the world. Rahsaan pauses before replying.
“As an artist,” he says thoughtfully, “you know that influence and inspiration come from any and everything. And just how much something influences and inspires you can’t really be put into words and it can happen so quickly. You don’t even have to study it. You can see it, read it one time, hear it one time and it’s a part of your fiber. Prince has been that for me. Michael Jackson, the same thing. Of course, when you talk about artists of that caliber, you listen and you learn. Michael Jackson, the way he danced, I would pick up that phrasing but it would come out vocally ‘cause I’m not a spinner—I’m not gon’ be doin’ all that. [He laughs.] But I got it and could interpret it vocally. Prince—I don’t play all those instruments at all. I can’t do what they do. I do what I do, influenced by them and what they taught me. And because it’s pure and it’s from Spirit, the message is always the same—which is Love. I don’t get bothered by those comparisons at all because they taught me what I do.”