Old Soul

Frankly, it's a damn shame that there even has to be such a thing as a "neo-soul" movement -- that certain younger artists feel that it is their duty to preserve a form that never should've been endangered in the first place. But these days, contemporary R&B has formed an inseparable alliance with hip-hop, rendering the former bereft of the sort of subtle imagery and poetry typical of the '70s pioneers of the genre. And now, it seems a strong-willed cadre of passionate, nuanced soul saviors is required to right things.

Apparently the campaign has gotten so serious that Time magazine even ran a story signaling the emergence of back-to-basics soul. Meanwhile, Maxwell, Tony Rich, Des'ree and neo-soul newbie Rachid all have new releases coming out this summer. Neo-soul high priestess Erykah Badu is touring with the Lilith Fair, and D'Angelo's long-awaited second album is coming in the fall. Then there's Rahsaan Patterson, a 24-year-old New York native currently living in Los Angeles who's had precious little commercial recognition lately -- or ever, for that matter. Last year, his self-titled debut CD was well received by the industry and critics, but it failed to become a hot seller. And while it might be easy to lump his sweetened organic stylings -- soulful, spiritual, spritzed with a tantalizing funk seasoning -- into the same introspective crooner category that Maxwell and D'Angelo are in, the singer/songwriter refuses to be corralled into that retro-groove camp.

"I don't wanna label myself as anything, quite frankly," Patterson says in a calm, measured tone that's a far cry from his sassy/saucy singing style. "But, I'm very aware of the fact that people can't help but label those things. They do that partly to understand them better. So, as far as soul and all that stuff, soul never went anywhere, you know what I mean? It's always been around; those artists have always been around."

Music has been an indelible part of Patterson since birth. His parents named him after pivotal jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. At age six, he was singing in the church choir. Four years later, he landed a job as a cast member of the children's TV show Kids Incorporated, and the Patterson family relocated to L.A. When the program's four-year run ended, Patterson had the good sense to know that his life was more than television.

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"It would remind me of where I came from," Patterson says, "not that I would lose sight of that. But growing up Pentecostal, having faith in God and that whole thing, made me a lot more careful not to get lost in that whole TV-star world."

The Patterson clan returned to New York in 1990, but, in 1992, on the suggestion of songwriter/producer Les Pierce, Rahsaan moved back to the West Coast to try to cut it as a musician.

During the early part of the '90s, Patterson wrote songs (occasionally with collaborators Keith Crouch and Jamey Jaz) for the likes of Tevin Campbell, Christopher Williams and Brandy. The latter scored a 1995 hit with Patterson and Crouch's "Baby." It was around that time that Patterson began farming out his demo tape to anyone who'd listen. "I had a relationship with this A&R person here in California," he says. "She got a hold of my tape, liked what she heard, and asked me to come in and meet with her record company." From that, a few other companies started taking an interest in Patterson, and he eventually found a home at MCA.

It wouldn't be wrong to call Patterson a soul enthusiast, and by all means he's a firm believer that hip-hop is not the only urban legacy the '90s ought to leave behind. "That'll be their only musical knowledge," he predicts, if things keep going the way they are. "I don't think that will be very good."

But don't get Patterson wrong; he's not anti-hip-hop: "Everybody has a right to make whatever kind of music they want to make. I just feel that there is so much space and time for everybody to share some kind of limelight."

And, of course, that includes himself, who, like any serious artist, will continue to shrug off any attempts to define his sound. "It should just be perceived as what it is. It's just music," he says. "I mean, it's a mixture. There's gospel, a little jazz influence, pop, R&B, that element of classic soul in there. For me, it's real, you know. It has been real for me since I was a child. Because this life, you know, has been beautiful, but at the same time it has been a mess."

A mess, really?
"Well, the shit ain't been a fairy tale. I don't think anybody's life has been a fairy tale," Patterson says. "I don't think anybody on earth is saying, 'Oh, shit, It's just beautiful and perfect every day of my life,' you know what I'm sayin'? [But] whatever you open your mind to, that's what's possible to believe and achieve. That's what I believe, you know. That's what I've achieved so far."

Rahsaan Patterson performs with George Duke and Rachelle Ferrell on Thursday, July 30, at the Houston Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $40. For info, call 988-1020.

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