Soul provider Rahsaan Patterson has never been afraid of exploring his artistic depths and dimensions; ever since his 1997 debut, the 34-year old New York native had combined his elastic tenor with an eclectic approach to lyrics and musicianship. His fifth studio set, The Ultimate Gift, is more than just a typical holiday collection---it encapsulates his uniquely urbanized view of the Christmas experience. During a recent listening party in Dallas, Mr. Patterson sat down to share his approach to the recording process, when to expect new tunes and, besides the CD, what he also considers to be this year's Ultimate Gift....
Whose idea was it to record a holiday CD----yours or the label's? How did you shape the sound and the style of the music?
"I was approached by my label to do a Christmas record. Ultimately, I had always envisioned recording one. I didn't know when I would, but this was the time for me to do it. I knew I didn't want to take the traditional approach to it because times have changed since a lot of those classic Christmas songs were written. They definitely have their place, but I wanted to write new ones for the generation I grew up in. We lived in the inner city and didn't have chimneys, so we didn't think Santa was coming. We knew our parents bought our gifts and we heard them put them together as we were listening through the door. I wanted to be bring that reality to the forefront for the people who understand that."
This had to be conceptualized long before the season, obviously. Was that a hard thing to do?
Considering that I had to record the album in the Spring, I thought it would be a challenge to write at first, but it was actually very easy because the root of what I wanted to convey was the spirit and the essence of Christ---love."
There you go: l noticed that The Ultimate Gift is pretty varied, since you have sensual songs for the adults and some peppy tunes for the kids. Was that deliberate?
"Anything that I do musically, I like to keep the diversity there; and because I'm from New York, that's who I am and the root of what I do. Some of my previous work, like my first album, was very sophisticated and very adult, which my music still is that, but as I've progressed, in a lot of ways, I've regressed, just to take people into who I am and who I've always been. This album gave me the opportunity to do that even more, because the holidays really conjure up memories for everyone, particularly when they were young. And when people have their own children, that adds to the joy of Christmas, when they watch their own children open their gifts and see the excitement and the anticipation that they have for the holiday. 'This is The Season' was intentionally sung as a lullaby for the kids, and 'Wonderful Christmastime' is one that a lot kids gravitate towards, and one of my own favorites as a kid. I even wanted the album cover to be attractive to children, as well as the inner child in the adults who are listening."
You managed to not make it overly-sappy though, and it's about more than gift-giving and good times.
"There's one song called 'That First Christmas' that's somewhat sad. It's the first song I recorded for the album, and it talks about the first Christmas after my father had passed away. It helped to share a lot of the aspects of Christmas that people go through; for some people, the holidays are a very depressing time, because they've lost loved ones, they're broke, homeless....there are a lot of things. So I wanted to explore the full gamut of feelings that people have over Christmastime, as well as being joyful and grateful for what you do have."
You know this whets the appetite for the next Rahsaan masterpiece, right? (Rahsaan cracks up) When can we expect that new one to come along?
"Things are being done to cutivate my next release, it'll drop sometime next year. This CD is actually a segue as to where I might go next, into the state of my mind, how it works, how I think....more personal insights. With each album, I take people further into the person, just like any relationship; you go out on that first date, share more with each encounter and learn how they are, what ticks them off, how insane they might be (laughs)..."
That's definitely intriguing. Who doesn't drive you insane music-wise these days, and do you love or loathe today's soul music?
"I gravitate to whoever appeals to me. Rihanna, what she does and how she does it, appeals to me. There are certain artists here and there with songs that I like, but overall, I'm not one of those people who tend to put down what someone else is doing, because I'm able to accept people and their talents for what they are, and find the good in that.There will always be artists that do retro-sounding music, like my first two albums definitely paid homage to those artists and to my parents for giving me that. Some people call that neo-soul....."
A term that you don't care for too much, I've heard.
"(Laughing) Not really. I mean, I understand it, but I just don't think it applies to me as a singer or an artist."
So what would you call your particular sound, if anything?
"Art. My music is art."
That's for sure. Anyway, whatever you create, you're inarguably one of today's most slept-on and underappreciated soul stylists. How do you feel about that?
"I find it perfectly okay. I'm very satistfied with whoeever appreciates what I do. I didn't set out to be the biggest star in the world. At the end of the day, when you have family and friends who love you...not everybody is fortunate enough to have that."
Amen: when you entitled your CD The Ultimate Gift, you had more in mind than just goodies under the tree, right?"
"Oh, definitely; The Ultimate Gift would be have hope again. For a lot of people, the ultimate gift was in even having a black president, and now we have that. Children will be born in the near future, along with those who are adolescents now, will grow up with the knowledge that Barack Obama is our president, and realize that maybe one day too, they could become president. That reality makes it possible now, right there on the wall for us to see, it's tangible."
It's a beautiful thing, no doubt. And when up-and-coming artists approach you for inspiration, what advice do you gift them with?
"The one thing I say is to know your craft, be open and it's not about wanting to be an artist; either you are or you aren't. I was a singer before I even knew I was a singer. I was forced to sing in church because my grandmother and sister made me, but I did know that's what my joy was, where my God was. I didn't have to aspire to be that. I think there's a difference between people who want to sing and those who are singers, people who want to paint and those who are painters. You can educate yourself in any field, but there's still a passion that has to be there, an innate ability to see past now."
Thank you for such a wonderful holiday collection and for just doing you, Rahsaan. What do you want to leave your fans with?
"I just want to thank anyone who takes the time to listen to what I have to say, who spends their money and gives me the time of day, really. It means a lot to me. Thank you so much."
by Melody Charles