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Raphael Saadiq: Hip-Hop On A Holy Grail

When the R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone! split up in the mid-'90s, singer and guitarist Raphael Saadiq turned to production work for stars such as D'Angelo, as well as solo albums. Saadiq's latest disc, The Way I See It, offers up a self-conscious rendering of black soul and pop from the '50s, '60s and '70s. It's faithful and welcome — everybody loves this music, and he knows it — but it's not exactly necessary. You know they have Supremes CDs at the library, right?

But the album's bonus track, a remix of "Oh Girl" with a verse from Jay-Z, takes one of the facsimiles and puts it to its very best use. The remix lets listeners pretend that the original "Oh Girl" is one of those Holy Grails that sat around getting dusty in someone's basement until The RZA (see Shaolin Sounds for examples) or J Dilla (remember Bobby Caldwell in "The Light"?) or someone working for Kanye West unearthed the 45, threw a verse or two on top, and sent it back over the airwaves virtually untouched. In "Oh Girl," Saadiq sounds like a quintet of chanteuses in tulle, swaying in unison on a cardboard bandstand. A little bit of saccharine harmony and superfluous harp goes a long way, and it's best leavened with swagger, cut up with machismo. In only a couple of bars, Jay-Z's cocky, shape-shifting diction transforms the song from a syrupy ditty into a wry, inside joke of a serenade. Jay-Z triple-jumps around the beat as laid down by Saadiq, who sounds like ?uestlove here.

The funny thing about hip-hop hybrids like this is the way the rapper's style melds with that of the crooners. Ghostface warbles along with The Delfonics in "Holla," from Pretty Toney, and Kanye West ran roughshod over "Gold Digger." But Jay-Z, who makes most beats sound like they were made just for him, tattoos his name on this one and then lets it go.

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Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.