After a seven-year break between albums, one of contemporary R&B’s enduring talents is celebrating his 35th anniversary in entertainment with a new project. Rahsaan Patterson returns on May 17 with Heroes & Gods, his first album for Shanachie Entertainment.
“I didn’t say to myself that I’m going to take seven years between albums,” says Patterson of his recording hiatus. “But it was intentional in that I always allow myself time to live and experience life so that I have something to say when I come back.”
The singer-songwriter and his supple tenor do just that throughout the 13-track Heroes & Gods, traversing a terrain of topics encompassing love, self-empowerment, spirituality and simple dance-your-ass-off fun. Lead single “Sent from Heaven,” peaking thus far at No. 25 on the R&B Songs chart, recalls the classic sound of such Patterson influences as Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. Coupling electronica, rock, jazz and other elements, the album’s additional standouts include the uplifting title track, the dance-infused “Soldier” and the mesmerizing album opener “Catch Me When I Fall.”
Says Patterson of the latter song, “In terms of love and relationships, most of us desire to be caught if and when we do fall in love. But sometimes we end up realizing we’ve been in a relationship for years and haven’t been caught yet.”
Listen to Heroes & Gods:
Patterson’s relationship with Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop charts began in 1997 with his self-titled debut album featuring the top 25 singles “Where You Are” and “Stop By.” Patterson, whose songwriting credits include Brandy’s platinum “Baby,” has placed 13 tracks on the R&B Songs chart, among them the top 10 “Treat You Like a Queen.” Trivia fans will recall that Patterson initially attracted national attention at the tender age of 10 when he began the first of four seasons playing “The Kid” on the 1980’s television show Kids Incorporated. Among his fellow co-stars: Fergie and Mario Lopez.
The young newcomer landed the role after auditioning for the show’s consultant Chip Fields, mother of actress Kim Fields (The Facts of Life, Living Single). “She was asked to find a black boy who could sing,” says Patterson with a laugh. “But she believed in me enough to know that I could sustain a life as an artist and performer.”
Patterson will perform in Chicago (May 24), Minneapolis (May 25) and Nashville (May 26) before heading overseas in June for dates in Amsterdam, London and Paris. Below, he tackles additional questions about the pride movement, finding a “higher power” in house music and his homage to Luther Vandross on Heroes & Gods.
Billboard: What inspired the powerful title track?
Rahsaan Patterson: When I was working on the foundational structure of the music, the chorus came. It was a reminder to myself of my own power and the cultural and political roles that we have as artists to influence younger generations. It’s also a testament to who we are as black folks and queer folks. I’m talking about the importance of growing in wisdom, being able to articulate and share that wisdom with others who may need that as they go through the transitional stages of life.
The LGBTQ pride movement has come a long way since you began your career. Given that, do you wish you were starting out now versus 35 years ago?
Interestingly enough, I feel like it’s a brand-new start with this album because I have a different view on things than I did when I started. Back then I internalized that rejection or resistance. But I don’t take it personally anymore. It’s been a gradual process of growing and understanding that, for the most part, people’s issues usually have more to do with themselves than with you.
What’s behind your longtime love affair with house music?
What I love most about it is that it connects me in similar ways that gospel music connects people to their higher power. I don’t necessarily have to go to church on a Sunday in a building with a minister standing behind a pulpit. I can go to a club on a Thursday with a dope-ass DJ spinning some dope-ass house music and get my life. People in church shout and jump around as they listen to the choir and the word. All of that happens in a club with a great DJ.
The album shifts into throwback mode with a cover of Luther Vandross’ “Don’t You Know That.” Why that particular song?
That was my favorite song as a kid on his Never Too Much album. I’ve always been resistant about doing covers because I feel the majority of my favorite songs have been masterfully written, produced and recorded and don’t necessarily need other renditions. However, Luther has always been an inspiration and influence—particularly in his unique approach to singing, songwriting and background vocal arrangements. I wanted to pay homage as he could sing a cover and make it absolutely his own. In re-recording this song, I had to find a way to arrange the song musically and vocally—maintaining its integrity while also putting a fresh stamp on it.
To what do you attribute your longevity in the business?
I’ve never wanted to throw in the towel. I’ve just always been very clear that my path is my path. And I’ve never been one to compare myself, my music or success to anyone else’s. Having that clarity and self-awareness has helped sustain my career plus my level of comfort with what I do and how I do it.