The Philadelphia Inquirer
Fans were skeptical when Raphael Saadiq announced that Toni! Tony! Toné! was reuniting for a tour.
It had been more than two decades since Saadiq, his brother D’Wayne Wiggins, and cousin Timothy Christian Riley performed their litany of solid gold hits (“Feels Good,” “Anniversary,” and “Let’s Get Down”) together on stage. Over the years, there were several New Jack Swing reunion concerts that promised fans a performance by the original Three T’s, but mostly, it was one T flanked by stand-ins.
Has Toni! Tony! Phony! done it again?
Even Roots drummer Questlove shared Saadiq’s March Instagram announcement with caution: “Man … they better stop playin and make this happen dag nab it.”
Well, the Tonies ain’t playing this time: The band is in the midst of a 25-city tour.
“This show is for the fans who have been waiting for us to get back together,” Saadiq said to The Inquirer, in his trademark Oakland, California, twang.
The “Just Me and You Tour” takes its name from Toni! Tony! Toné!’s Grammy-nominated ballad from the 1991 “Boyz n the Hood” soundtrack. The tour promises to be a nod to that era. Don’t expect any new music, Saadiq said, although Toni! Tony! Toné! is working on a new album. “Fans don’t want to hear that,” Saadiq said. “That’s for festivals.”
The classics — “Little Walter,” “It Never Rains in Southern California” and “Whatever You Want” — will sound nearly identical, Saadiq said, to the way they did on our ultra worn-out cassettes and CDs. But audiences, Wiggins said, should “expect a few tweaks.”
“We have so many songs, we can’t play them all,” Wiggins said. “But, we are going to give you a full-course meal. How about that?”
Toni! Tony! Toné! broke up in 1996, yet members kept their hands in the industry. Wiggins helped discover Destiny’s Child and wrote many of their early songs. He’s also written songs for Keyshia Cole, Alicia Keys and India Arie. Riley has written for Tevin Campbell and Karyn White.
After leaving Toni! Tony! Toné!, Saadiq formed the supergroup Lucy Pearl with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson. He released his first solo album, “Instant Vintage,” in 2002 and three more followed. Saadiq wrote the score for Netflix’s Black superhero saga, “Luke Cage” and HBO’s Jim Crow horror, “Lovecraft Country.” He wrote Philly’s Jill Scott’s 2005 Grammy Award-winning single, “Cross My Mind,” and Beyoncé’s 2023 Grammy winner, “Cuff It,” a song he originally wrote for Toni! Tony! Toné!
“But even with all the hits we’ve had as individual artists,” Wiggins said, “the real magic is when we all perform together on stage.”
I talked to Saadiq, Wiggins and Riley last week before they kicked off their reunion tour in Birmingham, Alabama. Saadiq was insightful. Wiggins was ready to party. And Riley was reserved, but he did pipe in with fond memories of running the Rocky steps with his “core 9-to-5 Philly fans.”
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
Q: Why was Toni! Tony! Toné! gone so long?
RS: There are only 24 hours in a day and it’s kind of hard. When we first started we couldn’t imagine what would happen with our careers, as far as getting record deals, making records, having hit songs, being on tour, getting new friends, parents getting older. Our lives took different courses. I was doing different things. The group was doing different things. But music was always going to get us back together. The industry pulls people apart, but we couldn’t let it beat us.
Q: Why is now the time?
RS: It was time we come back and show our fans who we truly are now. We always stayed close. We never had any love loss, we just did different things. Now we were all in a position to come back so we decided to pull the trigger.
DW: I can still remember how we started in a room jamming. The three of us in a room, hanging out. I wanted to get back to that truth. I just didn’t want someone to steal our legacy. That happens to a lot of groups. They walk away from their music and people are taking credit for the work they did. I didn’t want that to happen to us.
Q: What are your favorite Philly memories?
DW: Hanging out with Charlie Mack at different shows.
RS: My favorite memory of Philadelphia is hanging out at Gamble and Huff’s studio. I wrote a song once that lifted a sample from [The Intruders’] “I’ll Always Love My Mama” and I had to go to the studio. To walk in that building and know all of the great music that has happened there … That was the most memorable thing in Philly I’d ever experienced.
Q: You have so many hits, what are you most looking forward to performing on tour?
RS: “I Couldn’t Keep It to Myself.”
DW: “Gangsta Groove”
RS: There were a lot of songs on “Sons of Soul” and “House of Music” that we never really got to perform together, so this concert is a first for the fans. It will be a first for us and a first for everyone else, too.
TR: This is a homecoming for us and we are looking forward to being home together, performing on stage, together.