#LongPlayLove: Celebrating 10 Years of Raheem DeVaughn’s ‘The Love Experience’ [FULL ALBUM STREAM]

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By Justin Chadwick | @justin_chadwick

Happy 10th Anniversary to Raheem DeVaughn’s debut album The Love Experience, originally released June 28, 2005.

In a recent interview, the self-described “R&B hippie neo-soul rock star” and “Love King” Raheem DeVaughn confided that he has no grand plans for celebrating the 10th anniversary of his debut album, The Love Experience. Instead, it seems that DeVaughn has something tucked up his ambitious sleeve for the LP’s 15- or 20-year milestones. But soulhead and yours truly just couldn’t wait another five to ten years to extol the many virtues of DeVaughn’s fantastic first long-player.

In revisiting The Love Experience ten years on, we’re also reminded of just how remarkable of a career the Newark-born, Washington DC-bred DeVaughn has cultivated for himself in a relatively short period of time. Not to mention an intensely devoted fan base that includes soulhead founder Ron Worthy, who explains that he has a “deep connection to Raheem personally and as a fan.  Even before releasing his first LP, he was a staple in our shared hometown of Washington, DC.  Everyone around town always spoke highly of his talent, passion, and soul. Who would have known that in later years, he nearly sang at my wedding. Love his energy and the continued respect he pays to the ladies in his music.”

A lifetime music aficionado, DeVaughn earned his singing stripes by diligently ascending through the ranks of DC’s local club scene throughout his early to mid twenties. As the story goes, he ultimately caught the ear of the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff and former Roc-A-Fella A&R executive Kenny Burns, who together with managers Cliff Jones and Jerry Vines helped him secure his first recording contract with Jive Records in 2002.

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Since then, DeVaughn has released five stellar studio albums, the most recent of which is Love Sex Passion unveiled this past February. Beyond his own work, the in-demand vocalist has proven a ubiquitous and revered fixture across the hip-hop landscape, contributing to projects from an impressive crop of artists that includes De La Soul, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, Big K.R.I.T., and the late great Guru, among a host of others. Additionally, he was one of the pioneering R&B artists to embrace the mixtape medium, traditionally a staple component of the promotional arsenal for his hip-hop peers.

The Love Experience served as my and many others’ introduction to DeVaughn’s music a decade ago, and for many of us, it was this album that transformed our casual curiosity about the then up-and-coming talent into a lifelong allegiance. The album’s title could not be more apropos and the title track perfectly encapsulates the LP’s central thematic thread: the undeniable and universal power of love in its many permutations, from the romantic to the platonic to the familial to the cultural and beyond. According to DeVaughn, “we are all experiments of the love experience.” Indeed we are, and the “experience” is a recurring theme that pervades all of his albums since.

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From the aforementioned title track that opens the album to the closing credits and shout-outs of “Thank You,” The Love Experience is a consistently captivating and memorable listen. Soaring atop a balanced concoction of breezy ballads, bluesy jams, and midtempo grooves, DeVaughn’s commanding, versatile, and undeniably soulful voice shines throughout. His songwriting skills are worthy of praise as well, in that he wisely opts for straightforward, thoughtful lyrics free of superfluous embellishment. In a 2013 Ebony interview, DeVaughn shared that “My teachers are Marvin Gaye, Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Luther Vandross.” Even the most cursory of listens to The Love Experience reveals obvious echoes of these influences, as DeVaughn’s sound merges his ‘70s and ‘80s soul inspirations with contemporary neo-soul and hip-hop sensibilities.

Chivalry is in full bloom on a handful of tracks, including the album’s first single “Guess Who Loves You More,” “Where I Stand,” “Believe” and second single “You,” with its endearing chorus that promises “Girl, every word in this song’s / Gonna be about you.” The relatable “Is It Possible?” explores the excitement and vulnerability of fledgling love, that rush you feel when you’re not exactly sure where a new relationship is destined to go in its early days, but you’re willing to take the leap of faith nevertheless. Meanwhile, “Sweet Tooth” and “Ask Yourself” examine love experiences of the more carnally adventurous variety, if you know what I mean.

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The album’s most compelling fare, in my opinion, is founded upon broader themes of communal love and empathy for one’s fellow brothers and sisters, as heard on standout tracks “Catch 22” and “Until.” Bolstered by a smooth sample of The Isley Brothers’ classic “Footsteps in the Dark,” the latter tune is a poignant, presumably autobiographical piece of social commentary. As best exemplified in the song’s second verse, DeVaughn encourages the listener to recognize and appreciate the struggles of others:

What you know about hittin’ that block and dodging them cops to make ends meet
What you know about the lights being off, the gas being off and no food to eat
What you know about Goodwill clothes, while all your friends dressed fly in junior high
What you know about Grandma’s words when she said One day, boy, you’re gonna shine

The Prince-evoking “Who” is arguably the album’s strongest all-around track, both lyrically and sonically. On the uplifting guitar-drenched track, DeVaughn’s impassioned pleas remind us to exercise humility toward – and extend a helping hand to – the more marginalized folks among us. Sage advice, for sure.

The Love Experience stands as one of the stronger debut soul albums of the new millennium, and augured great things to come from DeVaughn. It’s a refreshingly confident and mature record for an artist’s initial offering, perhaps owing to the fact that DeVaughn was a world-wise man of thirty years when it was originally released. Each of DeVaughn’s four albums since has reinforced just how special of an artist he is, and if you haven’t discovered his magnificent music yet, there’s no better time than right now.

My Favorite Song: “Who”

Bonus Videos:

“Guess Who Loves You More”

“You”

“Where I Stand” (Live Studio Session)

“Guess Who Loves You More” & “Until” (Live on VH-1)

BUY Raheem DeVaughn’s The Love Experience via Amazon | iTunes

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