Adrian Marcel hits the right note with Grammy Award
winner Raphael Saadiq, producer Yancey Richardson
By Lou Fancher Oakland Tribune , San Jose Mercury News
Put your ear to the streets of East Oakland and be surprised. Or not, if you've paid attention over the last decade to the likes of music producer Yancey Richardson, multiplatinum producer Raphael Saadiq and 23-year old R&B crooner on the rise, Adrian Marcel.
Sunday they're bringing the sonorous fruits of their labor to Yoshi's in San Francisco for the release of Marcel's 15-track debut mixtape, "7 Days of Weak."
If the three Oakland natives represent an image ironically both exceptional and cliché -- hometown boys choosing harmony over hard crime -- it's one they embrace but refuse to hold up as a handicap they've overcome.
Richardson turned his back on negative neighborhood possibilities from day one, moving from Castlemont High School to the halls of mortgage banking to the AOL/Warner Music Group reality show "TheBiz." He beat out all but one contender.
"The blessing for me was coming in second. I wasn't ready to run a record label. I wouldn't have known jack crap. I would've been winging it," he admits.
More good fortune arrived in the form of mentors who took him under their managerial wings and taught him the steps to becoming a "record man."
"I do promotion, a 9-to-5 art form. A great record man sheds the promo and gives people cultural offerings," the 33-year old Atlantic Records Southeast regional director says.
His passion for music and preoccupation with Oakland's image eclipses his "salesman speak." He and his "El Seven" record label partner, Donnis Frame Howard, represent a fusion of hip-hop, soul, rap and R&B artists like Marcel and El Seven/Atlantic artist Netta Brielle, another Oaklander. The Bay Area, he insists, is like an island: loaded with abundant talent but disconnected from the industry.
"I want to build a big record company right here, a brand that withstands the test of time," he says. "But it's not the music industry of old: nobody's rich. And the Internet means it's cluttered. Ultimately, you have to do it for the love."
For 23-year old Marcel, it's all about love and authenticity, which he says he found in the gritty, splendid streets of Oakland.
"I am only who I am because of what I saw on the streets. It was typical: people robbing, sideshows, distractions. It still gave me more than it took from me," he says.
His family gave, too. His grandmother encouraged him to sing while she washed the dishes and his parents gave him a sure, steady injection of daily love.
"I never did after-school programs, but my father did construction and I helped. He instilled in me humility, hard work. He's my No. 1 hero."
Attending Oakland School for the Arts, Marcel dabbled in everything: acting, dancing, drawing and singing. But the siren song of performing was too sweet to stifle, and the uncut, extreme anatomy of love in R&B captivated him.
"I love love," he boasts, "so I love hard. That's R&B."
He smiles, recalling his first and favorite memory, singing the provocative "Pony" at the age of 8 for tenants at one of his father's properties.
"My mom was mad," he says, laughing.
"My dad made me get back up and sing "Goody, Goody" by Frankie Lymon. Everybody just lost it," describing how he went from a teenage tune "to old school classic."
Saadiq, singer and songwriter and member of the '80s soul trio Tony! Toni! Toné!, is the executive producer behind Marcel's mixtape.
"The thing that initially caught my attention is (Marcel's) unique approach to his vocals and the way that he tells a good love story and paints the perfect picture for people in both the urban and suburban landscape," says Saadiq, owner of multiple Grammy and Soul Train awards.
Tab Nkhereanye, senior vice president of A&R for Universal Republic Records, says Marcel's "lyrical honesty" combined with his "best supporting" backer (Yancey), add up to a formidable team. "The Bay Area should be proud of these two," Nkhereanye writes in an email.
Like Richardson, Marcel has a young man's big dreams.
"Grammys -- who doesn't want that?" he asks. "Whatever I do, I want it to begin in Oakland. I want to bring light instead of shade to this city.