Everyone has the potential to be a Top 40 artist; what’s more important is that their music live forever…
Harlem. Gospel Uptown. New Year’s Eve.
An unforgivingly frigid, snowy December night made the set that much more enticing—as if celebrating the pinnacle of new beginnings, soulfully serenaded by two of music’s ingeniously talented artists, wasn’t enough. Times Square had nothing on this. On New Year’s 2009, Gospel Uptown was the place to be.
Fans and lovers of true feel-good music trickled in, escaping the cold, to create an intimate ardor warm enough to melt even the iciest of hearts. But it was the concert that was about to heat things up. Two of the industry’s hidden jewels met once again to create their audible artisty. Lalah Hathaway and Rahsaan Patterson, though underrated by the world that defines them, are celebrated by their world. A world that understands, accepts, and appreciates musical genius.
No strangers to one another, Lalah Hathaway and Rahsaan Patterson have a relationship that has lasted for many years. With a duet album in the works and an appearance by Lalah on Rahsaan’s newest project slated for summer release, it’s no doubt that the two work well together. In addition to collaborating musically, they speak the same language and have an understanding of each other that has produced an enduring friendship. It was no surprise that the two appeared together that night and of all the news making events taking place in the Big Apple on New Year’s Eve, “heed” wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Lalah and Rahsaan before the concert.
Lalah was in her dressing room as several others lounged in the waiting area outside her door. More like family and friends than her management/production team, we squeezed through as they laughed and joked. After a few moments Lalah emerged from her dressing room, wearing black and gave us a smile as she said, “give me one second.” From the bathroom you could hear her voice, singing as most of us do in the bathroom. Once her manager found us a quiet place to interview, Lalah was ready to talk to us before she took the stage. “Heed”, very much a fan of Ms. Hathaway, was excited to sit with her and fortunate for her time; especially with her packed schedule which includes touring, working on a live album and the start-up of a personally owned label.
Modestly surprised at the label legendary, she maintains the description of her childhood as normal; though at the time of her developmental years, her father Donny Hathaway was at the top of Pop and R&B charts. Her life didn’t take the course it did necessarily because her parents were both musicians (her mother a classical singer). But it was a natural trajectory for her; she was always a creative person. What is phenomenal is that her and her father followed that same trajectory, not that they sound the same doing it. Lalah doesn’t believe she sounds any more like Donny Hathaway, than anybody else may sound like their parents.
Unlike her father, Lalah isn’t at the top of the charts. When asked whether that was a conscious decision or not she claims to not dwell on it. “Everyone has the potential to be a Top 40 artist,” she says but what’s more important is that “the music live forever and mean something to people.” Lalah is happy with her career and says after 20 years, she’s just at the beginning. With her first Grammy nomination for best female R&B vocal performance—song “That Was Then” from her latest CD Self Portrait—is a great place to start (she lost to Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It.”)
It is near impossible to be an artist in the music industry and not be affected by its mammoth loss of Michael Jackson. Lalah spoke to us briefly about what his passing meant to her. She likened the influence on a soul singer by Donny Hathaway to Michael Jackson’s influence on virtually everyone. She and Rahsaan also have a set in their show where they tribute Mr. Jackson.
Who is Lalah listening to right now? Everyone, she says but names that she dropped specifically are Kierra Sheard, Ryan Leslie, Teela? (she stresses that this is not for kids), Shirley Horn, Herbie Hancock, and some “ambient electronica W-hotel bathroom style music” (don’t ask for a specific artist; she has no idea, she just likes it and downloads). When asked how often she listens to her father she said during the holiday season she hears him a lot, as well as everyone’s cover of him. Will she actually take out Everything is Everything or Extension of a Man and listen from start to finish? Doubtful. Making the decision not to record any of his music may have something to do with the desire to not be compared to Donny Hathaway. Not listening to his music often probably helps.
For those trying to “make it” and be successful, Lalah advises to just “declare it.” She continues, “everybody has their own path. Don’t listen to someone else about how to get there…follow your own because there’s no other path but yours.” It’s evident that she has found her own path to follow when she speaks about her religiosity (or lack thereof). Not subscribing to organized religion, she has a special relationship with the Creator and has chosen to maintain the quest for peace every day.
Rahsaan (not Rashaan for those who may be unknowingly dyslexic) emerged into our interviewing space shortly after our time with Lalah eager to share with his fans. We didn’t hesitate and jumped right into the life of Mr. Patterson. Any song you’ve heard from the accomplished vocalist is from a page right out of his diary. Life is his writing inspiration. His father’s passing was a pivotal moment that provided plenty of song material. As well as everything else in between; the highs and lows, joys and pains. It all pours into his music.
One aspect of his life that seems to be an issue for many is Rahsaan’s sexuality. However one person who isn’t bothered in the least is Rahsaan. Openly gay, he has come to terms with who he is and has accepted his reality. An interview that aired on BET’s show Lift Every Voice gave a different perspective. The show gave the impression that Rahsaan was struggling with being homosexual. “I had no idea that [BET] was going to present it like I was struggling with myself,” he says. But it was during this interview that Rahsaan realized that, aside from recording music, being comfortable with himself and his sexuality enough to share it with the world would be a major part of his purpose.
Though there was a point in Rahsaan’s life when he questioned his sexuality and God (he comes from a very spiritual family) he has, much like Lalah, found his own path towards peace. This New Year will find Rahsaan no longer exerting as much energy that leaves him exhausted and falls on deaf ears. He is however now allowing himself to just be loved. And we can’t help but to love him for that.