By Emell Derra Adolphus
Rahsaan Patterson has no qualms when it comes to sharing reasons for not wanting to be a gay music icon. “Why should I be? It doesn’t define me. Any relationship takes work,” he explains.
It’s the passing of gay community stereotypes as music artistry that gets him hot with frustration.
Seconds into our telephone interview, I let the “diva” cliche slip as means of complimenting Patterson’s falsetto vocals on his last album “Bluephoria,” released in 2011. It’s clear I’ve hit a wrong note. An awkward silence follows and I check to see if he’s hung up. Changing the subject to his upcoming performance at Chene Park in Detroit on July 31, I ask if it’s his first time at the venue.
“No,” he says flatly. “Is it yours?” burning a hole through my sorry attempt to recover the conversation.
Patterson may not care for stereotypes, but there is no denying a start in showbiz that fits a pop star-producing formula. Consider the evidence of his childhood stardom: Before gay music icons Beyonce, Britney and Christina walked the “Star Search” stage, a young Patterson won over judges with a voice that seemed before his time. As “The Kid” on the TV show “Kids Incorporated” – think “Glee” set in the ’80s – Patterson showcased impressive dance and lip-sync skills beside fellow future stars Shanice Wilson and Fergie.
But don’t define him as a “pop princess” or a child star. Patterson only wants to be a poster boy for good music. And there may be something iconic still about his attitude.
“Maybe you don’t have enough stereotypes to be popular in one particular musical arena,” I suggest to help him ponder his audience.
“I know, right?!” he says, laughing. “And I ain’t mad about that. I am not your average anything. This has been my life and I don’t fall into any one category. And I am fine with it. But I do see it’s difficult for people to identify with because it’s not so basic.”
Patterson refers to his musical style as being “not of this world,” which is also the name of his official website. But he doesn’t mean alien. Just “Rahsaan.”
“I am simply Rahsaan. That is what I have grown into with my artistry. And I have developed a style and range that is unique unto myself. I know people hear my music and they have their own views on what they think it is and what it sounds like. I understand because the style is so vast. However they want to define it, that’s fine. Ultimately though, it’s just me.”
Patterson’s lyrics are heavy with notes on love, which speaks to a universal vulnerability, he says. He doesn’t shy away from feminine or masculine roles in his songs but embraces them with a voice that layers each where he feels appropriate. Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince, to name a few musical comparisons. “They’ve been extremely influential in my development as a singer and artist,” says Patterson, recalling important advice.
“When I first met Chaka, one of the things she told me was to stay true to my vision of myself as an artist,” he says. “And Stevie basically co-signed that same thought. That’s what I have done, and it’s never been an option to do anything else. It was great to have them affirm that is the way artists need to navigate to maintain integrity.”
Patterson follows this same advice when it comes to separating his sexuality from his musical sound.
“And this takes me to a human place. OK, I know that I am gay. The world now knows I am. But that is not who Rahsaan Patterson is in totality. That’s not who anyone is in totality. Before they are anything else, they are a human being, and sometimes we put labels on ourselves and limit what we can receive.
“A lot of times that is based in fear as well. But not everyone is ready to have that conversation, and there’s a lot of gay people who are not ready to have the conversation either. But they want to point fingers and have issues with your views because they don’t identify. And they are the kings of being gay. Is there a handbook on it? Did y’all motherfuckers write it? It’s like you can’t win for losing sometimes and it’s just a pain in the ass. I don’t have the tolerance for the judgements and how people sometimes are not as compassionate as they could be because they don’t relate to it. ”
With Patterson’s Chene Park performance approaching and the work on his seventh album in the beginning stages, Patterson says to expect surprises and a continuation of character discovery he started with his first self-titled album.
“(My albums) all reflect where I am or what I have just grown from,” he says. “I started writing my first album at 18 years old. It was very much expressive in the ways of discovering love for the first time. Going through the joys and pains of it, at the initial stages of arriving at what you believe love to be. It was still very much a process of self-discovery, so with each album it has been further identifying who I am.”
7:30 p.m. July 31
2600 Atwater St., Detroit