NEW YORK (AP) — D’Wayne Wiggins and Timothy Christian Riley didn’t realize that Raphael Saadiq was planting the seeds for a Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion when he arranged a photoshoot earlier this year.
“He said a few times before, so we never paid that much attention to it until this fool put up a big-ass billboard in Oakland, and I had to see it through social media,” said vocalist and bass guitarist Wiggins, who wondered if the image was Photoshopped. “I thought someone was playing tricks, morphing our picture.”
Saadiq, the lead singer and guitarist of the beloved R&B group, gathered the trio together, free of any outside influence.
“I didn’t tell any of the managers or team or anybody because I just wanted it to be us. … I wanted to be in a room where the only power structure was one, two and three,” said Saadiq of his bandmates who are also family: Wiggins is his brother and Riley is their cousin. “We have to be us first before we could talk to anybody because that’s what happened the last time.”
Cut to last month, when Tony! Toni! Toné! kicked off their Raphael Saddiq Revisits Tony! Toni! Tone! Just Me And You Tour 2023, the first road trip featuring the three original members in nearly 30 years.
“It’s been really cool, like rehearsals and the actual shows, just playing together again on a stage,” said Riley, who plays drums and keyboard. “A lot of times, we do production and studio work. But just actually being together, you feel the energy, you feel the love.”
But that’s not all: the Tonyies, as they call themselves, are currently planning a new project.
“There’s going to be another album … but I thought we need to really hone in on what we’re doing for touring and then go home and then take like two days off, and then start on the album,” said Saadiq, who once served as a member of Prince’s touring band.
“We got a lot of material and now we just want to make sure that we put out the right energy through our music,” added Wiggins.
Blending R&B, jazz and traces of gospel, the Oakland, California, natives burst onto the music scene with their 1988 debut album, “Who?” with songs like “Baby Doll” and “Little Walter.” But it was their 1990 New Jack Swing-infused “Feels Good” record that gave the group mainstream success, peaking at No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
They released two more studio projects together, with party hits like “Let’s Get Down,” featuring DJ Quik, and timeless slow jams including “Whatever You Want,” “It Never Rains (In Southern California),” “(Lay Your Head on My) Pillow” and “Anniversary,” a standard in the Black music romance canon.
“I’ve always wanted a song like ‘Chestnuts’ like Nat King Cole, something that everybody played at some point, and ‘Anniversary’ was that type of song. I knew the subject matter wasn’t one that I thought was dated, but you couldn’t tell me that it was going to be this type of song,” said Saadiq. “When it comes on and couples grab each other, we know that it took on a whole different life that we couldn’t see.”
The blood relatives also couldn’t predict how their success would affect their relationship. The Tonyies went their separate ways after their fourth album, 1996’s platinum-selling “House of Music.” Fame, finances, miscommunication and creative differences were unsustainable for the group. However, Saadiq is hesitant to use the word “breakup.”
“I didn’t call them and go, ‘I quit! I’m mad at you guys!’ It wasn’t even like that. We’d been around each other our whole life,” said Saadiq. “What everybody saw as a breakup wasn’t really a breakup; we just noticed that we weren’t making music at that time.”
Wiggins and Riley toured under the group’s name between 1998 and 2018, with Amar Khalil taking over lead singing duties. Riley played on tracks for artists like Will Smith and Alicia Keys, and still collaborated with Saadiq on various songs. Wiggins also produced and helped grow young artists who would become some of today’s brightest young stars, including Zendaya, H.E.R., Kehlani, and even Destiny’s Child.
Saadiq achieved remarkable solo success with five solo studio albums, fashioning hits like “Ask of You,” “Be Here” featuring D’Angelo, “Get Involved” with Q-Tip and “Love That Girl.” He produced big records like Erykah Badu’s “Love of My Life” and two of D’Angelo’s biggest songs, “Lady” and “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” and also worked with Whitney Houston,Mary J. Blige, and TLC. In 2000, he joined En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest to form the supergroup Lucy Pearl, resulting in the popular song “Dance Tonight.”
Saadiq and Riley, both 57, and Wiggins, 62, have put the past behind them and are relishing in their reunion. The family members vow not to let outside influences like managers, record executives and the entertainment business as a whole drive them apart again, realizing that time — at least in the professional sense — is no longer a luxury.
“I think it’s been really cool to hear younger kids sample our music and make new songs with our music,” Riley said. “It’s like it lives on and you have a whole new generation that actually knows about you.”
Saadiq agrees and is trying to live in the moment.
“We did always feel the love from our peers and fans and people just in general — it felt really good,” he said. “But it feels different now — we feel the love. We can actually step outside of who we are, and then actually smell the roses.”
Raphael Saadiq’s brother and Tony! Toni! Toné bandmate D’Wayne Wiggins has helped develop numerous major artists, including Beyoncé and her Destiny’s Child groupmates.
But Saadiq is one of the few producers who’s worked with both Knowles sisters. He executive produced Solange’s critically acclaimed “A Seat at the Table” album, and was involved in Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” project, helping write and produce “PURE/HONEY” and the Grammy-winning “CUFF IT” (its funky guitar rhythm was originally created for a potential Tony! Toni! Toné song, he has said).
“If you watch her work, you could get tired. I mean, she’s probably the hardest working person in showbiz. … She knows what she wants visually, she knows what kind of sound she wants,” said Saadiq, who has also earned Oscar and Emmy nods for his film and TV work. “She’s like a power performer. And you just know when you hand something to somebody like Beyoncé, she’s going to take care of it.”
Aside from her pop star aesthetics and Beyoncé as a business, Saadiq praised how she approaches music. He remembers a younger Beyoncé asking to hear some of the music he was working on.
“I was doing ‘Instant Vintage’ and I was in a different room from her in the studio. And she saw me in the hallway and said, ‘Can I hear what you working on?’” Saadiq recalled, saying that wasn’t common between artists. “So, I think she’s very insightful.”
Follow Associated Press journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.