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Tony! Toni! Toné! keep the new jack swinging 

click to enlarge Still tony after all these years: D'wayne Wiggins and his bandmates keep the faith.
  • Still tony after all these years: D'wayne Wiggins and his bandmates keep the faith.

One of D'wayne Wiggins' fondest memories of his Oakland youth was going to the park across the street and seeing Sly & The Family Stone play a concert organized by the Black Panthers. Those kinds of cultural experiences would resurface years later when Tony! Toni! Toné! — the band he co-founded with his brother Raphael Saadiq and cousin Timothy Riley — went on to create the neo-soul "new jack swing" movement with hits like "Feels Good," "If I Had No Loot" and "Anniversary." And while Raphael left for a solo career in 1996, D'wayne and his cousin have kept the band going, while also producing artists like Alicia Keys and working on a forthcoming Tony! Toni! Toné! box set. We caught up with D'wayne last week to talk about his band's legacy and what we can expect next.

Indy: When I first saw the "Little Walter" video on MTV, I was really surprised to hear a new group drawing upon the old gospel song "Wade in the Water." How did that all come about?

D'wayne Wiggins: Well, that was our first song that we did in the kitchen of one of our producers, Thomas McElroy, on Outlook Avenue in Oakland. What happened was that one of my brothers passed away when we first got a deal, so we just wanted to really say something to folks in the community of Oakland, where a lot of negative things were happening at the time. We got a lot of heat from people for using a spiritual song like that, and we were like, "You guys need to listen to the lyrics." Because even though we do music that people can dance to — and make love to, and whatever — we always want to have something to say to the public.

I've always had the impression you were more influenced by the blues while Raphael was more into soul. Was that the case?

Yes, but the blues was kind of the foundation for me and Raphael, along with funk and jamming. We did start incorporating drum machines and deejays into some of our music. But on our second album, we got a chance to get back to where we started.

At what point did you realize that you and your brother would no longer be working together?

It's not really like that. I just think we have a lot of things to figure out. He's living in LA and I'm in Oakland, but I'm sure we're going to be working together. We were just in [David] Foster and McElroy's studio right before Christmas jamming and having fun. We came up with a couple new songs, including one about cannabis called "The Plant That Saved the Planet."

You've had a dozen Top 10 R&B hits over the course of a decade, which is pretty amazing. What was that like for you?

It's just been a groovy roller coaster ride, and even the downs still feel like ups to me. I've also had the opportunity to work with a new generation of great artists. All of the time that we were doing our own music, we'd never won a Grammy. And then out of nowhere, we won a Grammy with this young lady Alicia Keys. So it's just been a beautiful ride, and I'm looking forward to the future.

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