Black is beautiful. That’s what powerhouse vocalist Angie Stone and R&B crooner Raheem DeVaughn want the world to know. The two commemorated this sentiment on September 23rd at the Atlanta Civic Center with their Black is Beautiful tour.
Highlighting Atlanta Football Classic Weekend, the tour supported the 100 Black Men of Atlanta’s Project Success program, with part of the show’s proceeds. As I was led towards the VIP reception area, images of sparkling Champagne bottles, velvet ropes and “video vixens” danced in my head. But alas, the scene was much more docile than expected. A subdued, yet elegant spread was to be had, complete with a catered buffet and open bar. What a great way to set off the evening, I thought, as I watched friendly staff members scramble to prepare a plate of goodies for actress Jasmine Guy. (Totally shameless “name drop.”)
The scene was ideal for warming up Angie Stone and Raheem DeVaughn’s grown-up audience. As authentic soul music draws its enthusiasts like moths to a flame, so flocked hundreds of fans waiting to hear Stone belt out anthems like “Brotha” and “Wish I Didn’t Miss You.” But just as many turned out to witness Devaughn celebrate his “R&B hippie neo-soul rock star” steez.
My evening began backstage. A bit of typical concert commotion kept me from talking with Angie Stone one-on-one, before the show. But I managed to score a quick chat with Raheem DeVaughn in his dressing room. DeVaughn is the buttery voice behind hits like “Woman” and “You.” I was anxious to hear him wax poetic on the virtues of love, life, and music.
What’s R&B missing these days? I asked him off the bat.
“My 4th album,” came his prompt response. A great answer, considering that his first three have confirmed him as a valid presence in soul music. He went on to explain that many of today’s artists focus on “duality, rather than individuality.” Apparently, the trend dictates that artists opt to sound like and/or compare themselves to other singers, rather than striving for a unique presentation. Perhaps they are so concerned with “who” they sound like, that they fail to create their own thing.
Do you think artists these days are afraid to be themselves? I asked the laid-back singer. After all, his particular style has been compared to everyone from Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder. Surprisingly, Raheem said “no”—alluding to the fact that the industry itself has much to do with how an artist is perceived by the masses. Newcomers to the industry aren’t so much afraid to be different, as much as they are drawn to the “benefits” of succumbing to a trend. Speaking of trends, I found it irresistible to ask him about how sex factors into the equation. How do performers draw the line between raunchiness and sex appeal? Devaughn had a thought-out answer for everything:
“Artists are responsible for the music they put out,” was the short response. But Raheem elaborated, going on to say that a great deal depends upon one’s interpretation of “going too far.” As an example, he told me that even though his video for “She’s Single” caused quite a ruckus when it was released in 2010, he didn’t think it was nearly as bad as people quipped.
“I make socially conscious music,” Raheem added. According to him, the sexy images we saw in that video merely depicted an adult romantic situation with which many can identify.
I wrapped up my chat, to discover host MC Lightfoot revving up the crowd—charming them with his spot-on imitation of late comedian Bernie Mac. Raheem Devaughn opened his set with a booming rendition of “Bulletproof”—backing up all his previous comments with a spirited and soulful performance.
Once the audience was sufficiently warmed, the Neo-Soul Queen made her grand appearance. Upon hearing Angie Stone’s name announced, a man standing nearby appeared to be having a seizure. I was concerned, until I realized that his shaking and hopping about was a result of sheer excitement. He jumped around like a Price-is-Right contestant who’d just won a brand new Kia. Nonetheless, Angie Stone’s well-planned set was worthy of the display.
She sang some of her beginning hits, and then launched into DeAngelo’s “Brown Sugar” (for which she has partial credits)—moving deftly through her substantial catalog. Stone commanded the stage with the aplomb of a seasoned soulstress. Perhaps this is why even after years of enduring a parade of newbie sex symbols, audiences still embrace the purity of Angie’s powerful voice. She teased us with a few singles from her upcoming album and eventually surprised us with a guest appearance from singer Anthony David.
I got the feeling that this atmosphere is what people envision when they use the phrase “grown & sexy.” Angie and Raheem delivered on this vibe, reminding audiences that you don’t need 72 backup dancers to put on a good show.