For three decades, Oakland-born singer-songwriter Raphael Saadiq has made a concerted effort to keep his personal tragedies out of his music.
But for his fifth studio album “Jimmy Lee,” the former Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl frontman known for R&B classics “Feels Good,” “If I Had No Loot” and “Anniversary,” was finally ready to address at least one: the loss of his older brother, Jimmy Lee, to a heroin overdose decades ago.
“I wanted to make a record that was reminiscent of what I’ve done for myself, the Tony!’s and other people, but also reflect on my family in a loving way,” says Saadiq, 53, who appears at the Fox Theater in Oakland Friday in a Noise Pop festival show. “[Jimmy Lee] was never heavy; he was my brother. So it wasn’t a record where I’m crying about the struggle. It’s just something I grew up knowing.”
Jimmy Lee was one of four siblings Saadiq lost between 1973 and 1990. First, his eldest brother Alvie was murdered. Then Desmond, like Jimmy Lee, died as a result of heroin addiction, and finally, Sarah perished in a car crash. Her death prompted Saadiq to write Tony! Toni! Toné!’s R&B chart-topper “It Never Rains (in Southern California).”
While every track on the new album was inspired by Jimmy Lee or other unresolved traumas from Saadiq’s past, it was important to the singer-songwriter to expand upon his own story so that the songs would resonate with listeners with varying understandings of drug abuse.
To that end, Saadiq explains the joy and pain of heroin addiction on the meditative “Glory To The Veins,” the complicated dynamic between dealers and addicts on the soulful “Kings Fall” and how the racist war on drugs and system of mass incarceration has impacted individuals like his brother Jimmy Lee on the gospel-tinged “Rikers Island.”
Saadiq — who’s spent the last eight years out of the spotlight quietly contributing material to other artists — including the Grammy-winning “Cranes in the Sky” to Solange and Oscar-nominated single “Mighty River” to Mary J. Blige — says he found it rewarding to put himself and his story in the forefront this time around.
“Some people think I’m really quiet and standoffish, but they don’t know much about me,” says Saadiq. “So I came to this point in my life where I felt I needed to be a little bit more me, where I’m at, and a little more honest. It was great therapy, too, helping me to open up and be myself.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $35 to $49.50