You know about the ground breaking, but under appreciated 3T (Tony Toni Tone) – It Never Rains in Southern California, Little Walter. And you should know about the short lived, but awesomely original Lucy Pearl – Dance Tonight. And if you were down about two years ago you knew about Raphael’s solo debut record, Instant Vintage. So you know that Raphael is on some next level shit. As Ray Ray, he is still beyond standard soul/R&B, with a record that is more concise and focused than his previous solo effort.

Full disclosure: I am a devotee. So my take on this record is biased. I think the root is the fact that Saadiq is a musical entertainer – a complete package: songwriter, producer, musician, and vocalist. So there are points for that and that doesn’t even factor in the decades he has been in the public eye. For the masses, he remains below the MTV and BET rotation radar. He’s rocking his own independent label; which is great for creating the music he wants. However, his marketing resources for this record have been minimal. I just stumbled on As Ray Ray three weeks after it dropped in the stores (October 5th, 2004).

Perhaps it is the sort of West Coast delivery with a funk layer that speaks to me and takes me back home to some kind of California summer adventure. The record opens with Blaxploitation, a humorous condensed movie trailer type introduction constructed around themes from the film genre of the same name. Don’t be fooled, it starts off with this theme followed by Ray Ray Theme, but transforms and expands beyond traditional Blaxploitation archetypes throughout the final track. It will take at least a full listen to grasp this record; and a couple more to really dig it.

The funk element united with Raphael’s falsetto vocal delivery makes for good fun, seduction, and a well deserved break from the everyday manufactured R&B. One of the notables, Rifle Love, featuring Tony Toni Tone and Lucy Pearl (who would have known) with Saadiq as the fulcrum, juxtaposes a gun shot with a story about how this girl’s love is the simile for how it knocks him out – like a gun. Also note – that I really appreciate that Dawn Robinson (formerly of En-Vogue and back and forth with Lucy Pearl) and Dwayne Wiggins (of 3T) are featured on the track.

For the now requisite “collbos” Raphael comes up with many winners. The two tracks: Chic, and I Want You Back, feature new artist, Teedra Moses are hot – expect to hear a lot more from her. Many of the tracks are about love and the ladies – with vivid images of that kind of woman; four consecutive: This One, Chic Like You, Live Without You, and Detroit Girl. And other tracks include social commentary via the Curtis Mayfield method – Grown Folks followed by the final noted, acoustic simplicity track, Save Us.

Raphael Saadiq is definitely an artist in his own right and As Ray Ray, this record is a welcomed break from the standard feed. Pick up this record if you are a fan of the neo-soul movement – before it was given that name or if you just want a record that is in a word – fun. So sit back, enjoy, and let it ride.