How Raphael Saadiq Is Celebrating Activism With His All-Star Cover Album

By James Dinh

December 18, 2020

Way before COVID-19 became a reality, Raphael Saadiq was tasked with an agenda to restore hope, inspire and celebrate the heroism of leaders around the world. As 2020 continued to unravel, his mission to create a compilation record celebrating activism felt even more appropriate for the times and the final result is nothing short of inspirational.

In collaboration with Global Citizen, Saadiq executive produced an eight-song set titled STAND UP, which features reimagined covers of iconic songs of yesteryears that still speak to the sentiments of today. "The concept of COVID wasn't even here yet when I was asked to do it," Saadiq told iHeartRadio of the album, which dropped on Friday (December 18). The set was recorded over two months with a 24-piece orchestra. "We could only use songs that had great subject matters and the songs from the late '60s and '70s happened to be [from] those great artists like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder [and] The Beatles."

The duets featured on the collection include Jordin Sparks and MILCK (The Beatles' "Come Together"), Tori Kelly and JoJo, (Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman"), Andra Day and Chelsea Collins' (Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground"), among others. With the exception of "Come Together," all of the tracks on the soundtrack were originally written or performed by a Black artist or songwriter, a notable feat, particularly amidst the Black Lives Matter movement. It's surreal that the messaging behind the most beloved songs of all time still resonate years after their release, but their impact is timeless. An agenda for activism and unity will forever be invaluable.

STAND UP is much more than just the result of collaborative industry bookings. As Saadiq explained, there was freedom in letting the project contributors execute their covers in ways that spoke to them. "When you're singing the classic songs, cover songs with artists such as Stevie Wonder to Aretha Franklin and the Beatles and The O'Jays, you really have to think about it and also let the artist feel like they're a part of picking who they want to be in the song, and to say and express themself," he said of pairing artists with each respective rendition.

There's also a way to cover the greats and still add a special flair to the mix, an approach Saadiq leaned into as executive producer of the project. "A lot of the creation of these covers have more to do with sonic form, too," he continued. "Some of the effects we use, like on The O'Jays song or like on The Beatles songs, 'Come Together,' there was this sonic phase on the drums. I think that was some of the things that I wanted to add into the project that probably wouldn't have been there."

To put the official Saadiq stamp of approval, the R&B titan penned the closing track on the set, "Humxn Race," a song featuring the set's performers that is meant to bring people together in a similar fashion as "We Are the World" did in 1985. "I thought about the song 'I'm Only Human' by Human League that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis wrote and I felt like this would be a great way, a great blend [of] a lot of different types of harmonies that people could sing to and add their own flavor to it," he explained.

Expect more of STAND UP during the upcoming Global Citizen Prize 2020, which will be hosted by John Legend and premiere on Saturday at 8 PM ET on NBC. The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will honor activists and leaders dedicated to making the world a better place for all. From young activists to world leaders, business figures and philanthropic visionaries, the broadcast will highlight inspirational stories and performances that'll remind us of the power of unity.

Photo: Getty Images

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