The late ’90s through the early Ohs was a great time for sophisticated R&B. It seems that as attention spans, IQs and SAT scores have fallen, so has interested in the kind of polished style conscious soul music that was being spearheaded by people like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq. Real musicians writing real songs with structure, melody and rhythm has gone by the wayside and in its place juvenile rap. Or at least it seems that way. People like Raphael Saadiq are still around and making music of course, but the audience around him has changed from the days of Why?.
With the demise of Tony! Toni! Tone! In 1997, it was expected that Raphael Saadiq would step out on his own. After all, he was the most influential creative power behind his old band and was beginning to make a name for himself as a producer. His first project was a surprise in that he was part of a super group that was to combine the neo soul talents of D’Angelo with the DJ skills of Ali Shaheed Muhammed (Q-Tip of Tribe Called Quest) and Saadiq himself.
When D’Angelo backed out at the last-minute (but somehow made it to the album cover), Dawn Robinson of En Vouge replaced him and no doubt changed the dynamic of the band. Saadiq’s vintage influences now had a female muse with a matured and slick production.
Despite the heavyweight talents involved, much of Lucy Pearl was no more distinctive than the better R&B at the time. The project did have a number of interesting songs. The dynamic created between Saadiq and Robinson created two hits “Dance Tonight” and the Chic/Brothers Johnson hybrid styling of “Don’t mess with My Man”.
Like a lot of sophisticated R&B, Lucy Pearl actually did better in overseas markets like England. In America Lucy Pearl’s influence was limited to BET, VH-1 and the R&B chart. While “Dance Tonight” broke the mode and got as far as the mainstream top 30. Other songs like “You” featuring Snoop Dog were more likely to be heard in the hood. Although it was never officially a single, it was proof that hip hop’s influence touched just about everything in R&B.
Some critics were disappointed by Lucy Pearl, despite the all-star talent behind it. The songs that were most likely to live up to that star potential were the ones that capitalized on Saadiq’s knack for making ‘60s era styled melodies. “Do It for the People” was nothing more than the title being chanted over and over, but had an infectious chorus that suggested something from the Civil Rights era. It was a delicious slice of what the album could have been at its best. Other songs like “Everybody” made use of Robinson’s vocal talent in such a way that complimented her (En Vouge) style as much as Saadiq’s emerging skills as a producer and musician suited him.
Lucy Pearl only lasted for one album and was potentially a launch pad for other R&B super group projects. Unfortunately the ideal of new collaborations of this type in R&B would lose favor, but the trade off was that we got a string of excellent solo albums from Raphael Saadiq instead.