SB: OK, since I brought it up. You covered Luther. That’s territory that many are afraid to do. So were you apprehensive about doing it and why that particular song [“Don’t You Know That”]?
RP: That song because it’s always been my favorite Luther song of all time. Even when the Never Too Much album came out, as a kid, “Don’t You Know That” struck me and was my favorite song then and still is now of all of his work. I started covering it in my shows about four or five years ago. He has not only been a major influence on me as an artist, as a singer, as a background vocal arranger...he’s from the Bronx also. I was born in the Bronx also. He did jingles. I did jingles prior to moving into singing background for other artists. And so I wanted to pay tribute to him in my way. I wanted to also showcase how strong he walked in covering a song and making it his own. I could’ve easily recorded the same arrangement that he did on his album of that song like I perform it in my live shows and called musicians in and said, "OK, let’s do it just like this." But it would defeat the purpose of tributing him to do the same arrangement. So, I had to think about approaching it in a way that still kept the integrity of the song, paid tribute to him and was still my own.
In terms of apprehension, the only apprehension that I’ve ever had about re-recording classic songs that I feel don’t need to be re-recorded is only because the original artist has made them a classic. Learning from Luther, too, is that you can touch one. You can touch a classic, but you have to make it your own.
SB: You definitely did. I was listening and was like, "Oh, OK, he put a little bump in this! Alright, I see you!"
SB: Speaking of songwriting and songcraft, you’re one of the best in the business at doing that. Especially a song like "Sent From Heaven," which has an old school feel with a modern verve to it. So, how do you approach the songwriting process?
RP: I go with my first instinct, always. I don’t over analyze what comes to me. I allow the spirit and wherever that gift is being received from — to hear the lyric, to hear the melody, to know instinctively like "whoo, this feels right" — I don’t question it. I let it flow how deep it flows and make sure that my heart is in it. And make sure that wherever that inspiration came from, that I honor it.
SB: With "Heroes and Gods," that title track is one of my favorites on the album.
SB: Yeah, because it ties it all together. And also hearing you speak about the passing of Whitney, George Michael and Prince kind of puts that all into context. Did you always know it would be the title track?
RP: Prior to me coming up with that song, I had a whole other idea for the album title. It had more to do with the fact that it would be my seventh recording and the number seven was going to be included in the title. But what happened was, I started coming up with the track for "Heroes and Gods" and as I was coming up with the track, I heard the melodies and the chorus and I heard the lyrics simultaneously. By the time I got to "we are heroes and gods," it struck me and I was like "This has to be the album title. It just does." It was strong and it also represented the power that we do have as artists in various facets of culture — politically, as musicians, as solo artists — people in positions who have power to influence is a big deal. Aside from that, it’s definitely a reminder for us as brown folks of our history, where we come from. The very reason that they omit some things from the textbooks is because of the fact that we were heroes and gods, literally. It just was very powerful. The creation of the song preceded the release of Black Panther, actually. So when Black Panther came out, I was like "Oh, this definitely has to be the title of the record because it’s just perfect." And it continues the importance of the influence that Black Panther did have as a film and the role that it played for other black folks and the young generation, just to empower them. And that’s what that song and title of the record meant as well.