Raheem Devaughn's 'Love' Revolution

Raheem DeVaughn may be a newly minted Grammy Award nominee, but he still considers himself an underdog.

Raheem DeVaughn may be a newly minted Grammy Award nominee, but he still considers himself an underdog.

"I enjoy being slept on," he says during a recent soundcheck break in his native Washington, D.C. "It's like being on the verge of a cult movement. But making the underground-to-aboveground transition is cool. The best thing I can do is stay on the road and build a grass-roots following. I'm constantly about building my brand."

That perseverance underscores DeVaughn's Grammy nod for best male R&B vocal performance for "Woman." It's the lead single from his second Jive album, "Love Behind the Melody" (Jan. 15). Peaking at No. 34 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, this laid-back yet potent anthem of respect also signals growing career momentum.

"Woman" is DeVaughn's highest Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs showing, besting "Guess Who Loves You More" (No. 38) and "You" (No. 53). Both songs are from his 2005 Jive debut, "The Love Experience." Netting sales of 224,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the album reached No. 9 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and No. 46 on the Billboard 200.

While "Love Behind the Melody" expands on the relationship themes of "Experience," substantive lyrical messages and strong melodies remain DeVaughn's forte. That's evident on "Woman," produced by Chucky Thompson. Additional tracks, like heat-seeking ballad "Mo Better" (produced by newcomer Jack Splash) and the atmospheric "Marathon" featuring Floetry, call to mind another soulful D.C. native, Marvin Gaye.

However, as with Gaye, love ballads aren't the only thing on DeVaughn's mind. Hooking up for the first time with Scott Storch, he shifts into midtempo on "Energy" featuring OutKast's Big Boi.

"This album definitely shows more of my R&B side as well as my growth as an artist, writer and producer," says DeVaughn, who calls himself an "R&B hippie" for fusing a rock, guitar-driven vibe with his old-school leanings.

"I don't just make music for one audience," he continues. "I'm constantly trying to create timeless music that many people can gravitate to."

It was DeVaughn's mellow singing voice on a demo that caught manager Jerry Vines' undivided attention. They met in a studio where Vines was seeking new songs by local songwriter/producers for a project with R&B group Dru Hill.

"I knew Raheem could write," says Vines, of Washington, D.C.-based 1228 Management. "But I didn't know he could sing until he sang that demo."

After signing with Jive, another challenge remained, however: breaking an R&B artist in a music world dominated by hip-hop.

"Raheem's whole thing is live music," Vines says. "At first the label didn't know what to do with him. But I understood his live aspect, so we grinded it out at coffeehouses and little spots to build a fan base for his live shows."

Jive urban marketing VP Lisa Cambridge-Mitchell says the label now has a keener understanding of DeVaughn the artist and his potential.

"Beyond his talent, his strong draw is his live performance—a lane not many artists can survive in right now," she says. "It's also not about the first week. It's about the next 18 months, getting him in front of as many people as possible. Raheem has the opportunity to be an artist who makes a difference. Our end goal is to make him iconic."

DeVaughn will face some of his biggest audiences when he opens for Jill Scott on her U.S. winter tour. Looking further down the brand-building road, Vines says he is shopping a DeVaughn-hosted radio show tied to his underground mixtape/live performance roots.

"The show would give DeVaughn the chance to reach back where he started and expose records by artists who are trying to make it to the mainstream like he did," Vines says.

With second single "Customer" in the wings, DeVaughn remains a veritable music machine. He's 14 songs deep into another album, a socially conscious-themed effort he calls "The Love & War Masterpeace." He hopes to release that around election time, followed by a Christmas album for which he's already recorded one song.

"Where music is at right now, you have to work a lot harder," he says. "It is what you make it."