It didn’t rain outside Raphael Saadiq’s Blakeslee Studio in Southern California on the mid-September day I stopped by, but as the legendary R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné! gathered for one of the last practices before their first tour in nearly three decades, there was laughter — a lot of it.
As Saadiq and his half-brother D’wayne Wiggins playfully teased groupmate Timothy Christian Riley about his real middle name, you could almost forget the group hasn’t toured together since 1998. But with a renewed brotherhood, camaraderie, comfortability and teamwork, the excitement of their rebirth has been the trio’s vibe much more than the pain of their divorce.
“I’m a bad boy by myself. Everybody knows that. But I ain’t nothing like I am with them,” Saadiq told Andscape. “It’s completely different. And they got on their own, but together we’re something else. A superteam.”
The group’s nationwide tour, Raphael Saddiq Revisits Tony! Toni! Tone! Just Me And You Tour 2023, begins Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina. And Wiggins can’t wait to hit the road.
“We are different when we perform live. And live is our home,” he said. “So, this tour with the energies that we have, I’m looking to my right and I’m looking at Ray and I’m looking at Tim over there — it’s magical.”
With their soul, jazz and gospel sound, Tony! Toni! Toné! gained popularity and acclaim in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. The Oakland, California, group was led by lead vocalist and guitarist Saddiq with Wiggins contributing lead vocals and on bass and Riley on the drums and keyboards. The group’s old hits such as “Anniversary,” “Feels Good,” “Just Me And You,” and “Let’s Get Down” are still popular.
“Our music is authentic,” Wiggins, 62, said. “It’s very authentic. Yes, it’s very Oakland. But it has a lot of elements to it. Sly Stone is someone we used to watch, and Larry Graham and The Whispers.”
The group’s first album, Who?, attracted national attention with the debut song, “Little Walter” and later “Baby Doll.” The trio cemented their stardom by making the first of several appearances on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1989.
“Looking back on it, things were moving so quick,” Riley, 57, said. “We just had some great opportunities that put us in line meeting the right people. We were on a path and we just stayed on the path.”
The Revival, released in 1990, went platinum thanks to the songs “Feels Good” and the No. 1 R&B hit “It Never Rains (In Southern California).” The group’s third album, Sons of Soul, went double platinum and was named album of the year by USA Today and The New York Times, and the song “Anniversary,” was nominated for two Grammy awards.
Tony! Toni! Toné! toured with singer Janet Jackson in 1994, but left early after frustrations with the singer’s costly cancellations. The group’s fourth album, House of Music, was released in 1996. “Thinking of You” and “Let’s Get Down” made the Top 10 on the R&B charts. The platinum album has been described as the group’s greatest work.
“My dream when I was a kid was just to play in front of a lot of people,” Riley said. “It wasn’t to have a record or be a star, nothing like that. I [wanted] to play my drums in front of a big crowd. So, when I got to play in a stadium, it was like, ‘OK, I made it.’ ”
Plans for a House of Music concert tour, however, never came to fruition as creative tensions, outside influences, poor communication, misunderstandings and financial concerns engulfed the group. Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up when Saadiq decided to pursue a solo career in 1997. Saadiq said that the industry “grabbed everybody” in the group at that time and when “fame happens, it’s the biggest monster in the business.”
“The most challenging things are money, learning about money and having new friends,” Saadiq, 57, said. “And that’s what sort of made us split because when you get a little bit of money or whatever, you start getting new friends and you start having new ideas. And everybody don’t know if those ideas are going to match up for them in the future. And some of us wasn’t even thinking about the future. We were thinking about right now.
“People get married, you got a wife, she got different ideas, you got a girlfriend, she got different ideas. You got new friends who just kind of want to be around you. They got different ideas. So those ideas don’t blend. And that was the most challenging part,” he said.
Of the three, Saadiq went on to the most notable success.
While the hit single “Me & You” is listed as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song on the Boyz n the Hood soundtrack, Saadiq views it as his first solo effort. His official debut, “Ask of You,” from the Higher Learning soundtrack was a Top 20 Billboard hit in 1995. Saadiq went on to release five solo albums, and a gold album with Lucy Pearl, a group he briefly formed with En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest.
Saadiq has also produced songs for Beyoncé, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Whitney Houston, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, and TLC, among others. Saadiq earned a 2017 Oscar nomination for “Mighty River,” a song he co-wrote with Blige for the film Mudbound. In 2016, he produced Solange’s album, A Seat at the Table, and became the composer for the HBO series Insecure.
“Everybody has to make a living,” Saadiq said. “And they got kids and families. And I totally understood that. But this industry is also an industry that just banks on you only lasting for a year or two. So, for me, once I got in, I said, ‘This is the career. I need to be able to expand.’ ”
Riley said the group’s breakup took a toll on him. “It definitely affected me. It was a strange time. You got to a certain level and you’re getting pulled in different directions, different opportunities, and things like that,” he said. “I would say in recent years by us really just talking, a lot of things that were said really wasn’t even true. Everything was communication.”
After the group’s breakup, Wiggins also made an imprint on music behind the scenes, helping to develop Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, Keyshia Cole, Zendaya, Kehlani and H.E.R. early in their careers. Riley produced film scores and music for rapper Mac Dre, Neil Young, Kelly Rowland, Will Smith, Craig Mack and Alicia Keys. Wiggins and Riley have toured as Tony! Toni! Toné! since 1998.
Even with their own individual successes, all three were frequently asked when Tony! Toni! Toné! would get the band back together. And unbeknownst to Riley and Wiggins, Saadiq was preparing for a reunion years ago.
“I’ve basically been scouting D’wayne for, like, the last 10 years,” Saadiq said. “I would drop by Tim’s house, call D’wayne in the middle of the night: ‘I’m in Oakland. Where you at? Yeah. Come meet me at this little bar and then I’ll come by the studio. I’m here working with somebody.’ I was scouting them. I just kept getting them used to who I was as an adult so they could see who I am.”
About five years ago, Saadiq and Riley, self-described “best friends,” began talking about a reunion tour.
That talk got louder during Saadiq’s Jimmy Lee Tour in 2019 when he brought Wiggins on stage during a concert in Oakland. In 2021, Saadiq said his old group had been spending time in the studio together while doing press for the film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, in which he co-wrote a song and was a co-producer for the soundtrack. And on March 22, Saadiq posted a picture on Instagram of himself, Riley and Wiggins sitting on barstools with the words “Raphael Saadiq Revisits Tony Toni Toné” and “Just Me And You Tour 2023.”
“When I wasn’t with the group, I always told D’wayne, ‘You know what? We probably could have made a lot of money,’ ” Saadiq said. “I said, ‘But you know what? I got your back as a brother. That’s more to me than all that money.’”
After years apart, Riley said, the timing finally felt right for a reunion. “We all realize we’re getting older. We’ve been saying this forever, that we go do it. So, we really kind of put everything on hold and said, ‘OK, there’s always other things pulling you away.’ But we really put everything else on hold and said, ‘OK, let’s really do this.’ ”
According to Saadiq, the 25-city tour for Tony Toni Toné will include a curated 2½-hour concert with four sets and an intermission. It will include songs from both Tony! Toni! Toné! and Saadiq’s catalog. The group also hopes to take the tour international in 2024.
On the eve of kicking off the tour, the members of the group said they feel good about finally getting back together.
“Even in the rough times and the craziness, the music industry has never really thrown us off because we do it for the love,” Wiggins said. “The money happens, thank God. But, you know, we feel like we are the money. Take care of yourself, take care of your surroundings and your folks, and you’re rich from that. Life is good.”
Saddiq agreed with his brother’s good vibes. “Even with us coming together now, you can feel the energy. We had nothing to do with it. It’s God’s energy.”