My Journey by Donna Karan

Photographed by: Ray Flor

We all have been in the situation where our friend wants us to see one of their friends perform, and the feeling of dread comes over you. Why? Because usually that friend is about as talented as the popular girls in middle school lip syncing: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” at the talent show.

When I was first asked to go with my friends to a Shaun Q show, I was skeptical as to how good their friend would be. I was in for a big surprise.

When Shaun steps onstage, he instantly has a warm connection with everyone in the audience, and you realize it’s because these people are truly die-hard fans. It’s no wonder why.

When he starts singing, it’s like that moment in “Step Brothers” when John C. Reilly’s face melts off over how good Will Ferrell is, except instead of sounding like “Fergie and Jesus,” Shaun sounds like John Legend with a twist, and all you can think is: “Holy crap, how is this guy not a fixture on the top of the charts?” Ever since that first show, I’ve been a fan.

When Shaun Taper performs, it is a truly selfless experience where he is singing his heart out for his fans, and making them laugh between songs. This man is a true blue performer, and I have no doubt that he is part of the music revolution to bring back real R&B.

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Question: When did you first realize that you could sing?

ST: When I was five, I was at my dad’s church. They had a song this old lady would sing every Sunday. When I was in the shower one day, I was singing it, and when I came out, my mom was like: ‘You’re singing that at church on Sunday!’ and I thought: ‘Well, this is gonna suck.’ So I sang in a church in front of 400 people, and old women were crying, people loved it, I got extra cookies from the bake sale, and I was like: ‘Well, I guess I’m pretty good at this!’ I’ve been singing ever since.

Q: Who have been your singing inspirations?

ST: Singing, I want to say Stevie Wonder. I listen to some of the Little Stevie stuff, and I listen to how he trained his voice and got better, and ‘the change’ is what hurts a lot of people. Like, I sing differently now than I did before puberty. It’s much different after puberty, and he got better as he got older. John Legend is another one. They call him ‘Mr. Dynamite,’ because his voice cracks and he doesn’t care. He still sounds soulful as all hell.

As far as performing, it’s Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra, because I don’t play an instrument, and when it’s just you and a mic, it’s harder to get the crowd to just stare at you. You need to be entertaining like James Brown when you’re not playing a guitar or working on a turntable. So, my inspirations are all different.

Q: That’s funny, because when I first heard about you, my friends told me you sounded exactly like John Legend. I didn’t believe them, and when you opened your mouth and started signing, my mind was blown. You do sound like him! Do you get that a lot, or do you have any other musical doppelgängers?

ST: I get John Legend a lot because I listen to John Legend a lot. Oh, and apparently when I’m sick, I sound like Stevie Wonder. My voice gets raspy, but I sing harder because I’m trying to force notes out; so I was told it’s more soulful. I have performed onstage sick more times than I probably should have, and I’ve been told I sound younger because I’m just forcing notes out. In my head I’m like: ‘Just get those notes out!’ I don’t want to suck!

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Q: What’s your overall goal with your music career?

ST: Originally, it was to make an album for my kids to let them know that if you have a dream, you need to chase it. I’ve been covering so many people’s songs, and passionately signing other people’s songs, so I wanted to put something out that I wrote that came from my heart. I wanted to sing and have it come from me.

I also want to say that over the past 5 years, not to disrespect anyone or anything, but music sounds like s**t. I turn on my Sirius Satellite Radio, and they’re like: ‘The No.1 R&B artist is Drake!’ Drake isn’t an R&B artist; he doesn’t sing! Drake is a rapper. So, now it’s more like a mission statement, more of a goal. R&B doesn’t stand for “Rhythm and Blues” anymore. Now it stands for “Robotic and Beat Heavy.” Drake showed us in his video there is no rhythm. And nobody has the Blues anymore.

Everybody is “rich as f**k” everybody’s ‘got money, got b*****s’ no one has problems anymore, and that just isn’t true. The times haven’t changed, but music has. I want to go back to a time when somebody can say: ‘This is how I feel about you and this is how I express it.’ As much as I don’t like Keith Sweat, everybody wanted to be Keith Sweat because everybody could sing like Keith Sweat, but he was still talking about something. Nobody is talking about anything anymore, and it bothers me. For every John Legend, there is a Fetty Wap. For every CeeLo Green, there’s a Drake, and it bothers me.

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MS (laughing): This is like, the third interview I’ve done where someone has hated on Fetty Wap.

ST: It bothers me. He’s considered an R&B singer, and he’s not. He’s a robot in a studio. If you see him live, it’s like, ‘Oh man, that’s terrible.’ That’s not what music is supposed to sound like. Girls don’t want to make love to Fetty Wap because of his singing; guys don’t want to sing like Fetty Wap. That’s not R&B. It’s definitely not Soul music, because there’s no Soul in that at all. So, now it’s more of a goal. I just want to bring good music back to radio, which apparently is hard to do, but not impossible. Did you know Future talks like he sounds?

MS: Does he really?

ST: He does! My nephew showed me an interview and he was like: ‘Hum-me-dum-my-ni-num-num-be-dum’ and I was like: ‘Who punched this guy in the head a bunch of times before this interview?!’ That’s just how he sounds. He sounds like that in real life, and they just auto-tune the s**t out of it. That should hurt your stomach, because he’s on the radio more than Jill Scott is.

MS: And he got Ciara.

ST (groaning): Ugh, that bothers me so much. Bow Wow? I understand. Russell Wilson? Makes sense. Future? Really?

MS: Well, you’re right though. Music has gotten pretty terrible.

ST: It’s gotten so bad. It’s like, I wish I could go back in time and be like: ‘Yo, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen.’ Maria (Shaun’s wife) and I just had this conversation. T-Pain took auto-tune and tweaked it. He still sings the way he sounds. He just made it sound different so he would stand on the radio. Rodger and Zapp did it first. What they’re doing now is just blatantly disrespecting everything that has to do with Soul music, Rhythm and Blues. But this generation thinks these guys are singing, and they’re not. They’re like: ‘Oh Fetty Wap was so soulful when he sang!’ Really? I don’t want my kids to hear that crap. I don’t want them to think that’s what good Rhythm and Blues is. If I have to put Smokey Robinson on repeat, I’ll do that. ‘Oh, Drake is the greatest!’ Greatest what? What can Drake do better than anyone? Rock a turtleneck?

Q: What has been the shining moment so far for you in your music career?

ST: Meeting Teddy Riley; that was incredible. My lawyer, who is his lawyer, introduced us. We go to some house an hour-and-a-half away in no-man’s land, and we get there and there’s this old dude with grey dreads at the door, and he’s like: ‘How you doing young brother?’ and I’m like: ‘Oh, I’m good. Is this like, the right to passage?’ I felt like I was about to get baptized or something. He was just like: ‘Teddy’s in the back; just go to the back house.’ Now, the house doesn’t look like there’s anything special about it. There’s bars on the windows. You go to the back house, and this studio, which I want to say is like a $4 million studio, is just set up in what looks like a regular garage. I walk in, and he’s on the phone, dressed in all black just pimp status, and he’s on the phone with Kanye West and his people. He’s working on two tracks on Kanye’s newest album, and he was like: ‘Hey, just give me one second,’ and I’m like: ‘Hey, that’s Kanye West. Take your time, don’t worry about me! I’m just going to stare at all of your cool s**t!’ When he got off the phone, he was telling me that Kanye is working on this new Gospel album. Then he said: “It’s a real pleasure to meet you.’ He said it was a pleasure to meet me! It blew my mind, because he could have been like: “Alright punk, sing.’ But no. He was like: ‘Hey the pleasure is all mine, it’s so nice to meet you, I’ve heard about you,’ and so on and so forth. So, I didn’t have a lot to show him. What I had was clips of me performing. I didn’t have anything that I had written recorded; I just had the one thing. So, I showed it to him and he was like: ‘OK, do me a favor and just start writing. Send me some stuff that you wrote and sang. I want to see how you compose a song from beginning to end.’ I was like: ‘Yeah, absolutely!’ He told me about this App I could download on my Android, which is like a studio on your phone, and he told me to download it and just start writing, and I’ve been writing non-stop ever since. That was about a month ago; I’ve been writing my ass off like a madman. As soon as I finish stuff, I e-mail it to Teddy Riley. I don’t plan on switching lawyers anytime soon, so yes, I’ll be in contact.

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Q: I’ve always noticed how loyal of a following you have. Who would you say is one of your biggest supporters?

ST: Nikki Bonomo. I used to work at Rockin’ Taco across the street, and that’s the first piano bar I started singing in. I’d sing maybe one song a week. Nobody really knew I could get down. When I moved to Piano Piano, she followed one of the bartenders over there, and I want to say one of the first times she saw me perform a song from beginning to end, she was hooked. She became, — next to my wife and kids — my number one fan. If I ever did a show and nobody showed up, she would be there. I’ve done a show for four people before, and she was one of them. She brought the other three people with her; she’s the ultimate. She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met. She’s much more giving than anyone should ever be, ever. She truly honestly appreciates and adores my music and how I perform. She’s been there for a lot of ideas I’ve had onstage. In fact, we did the first ever ‘text show,’ because she texted me and asked me to perform a specific song. I figured half the people at my shows are loyal fans who have my number, so I told them if they have a request, text it and we’ll do it in the order it was received. It was a great show for the 50 people that were there, but if she wasn’t there, I would have never done it. As far as support goes, she’s one of my favorite people ever. Besides my daughter of course, who loves everything I sing. She better!

Q: Who would be your dream band if it could be anyone in the world?

ST: Oh, crap. OK; I’d have Questlove on drums. I’d have Prince playing any guitar he wants because he’s Prince. I would have Bootsy Collins playing bass, and Stevie Wonder playing keys. That would be the ultimate band. Then Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Lauren Hill can be my backup singers. (Laughing) I need three! If that happened, I feel like I’d die onstage. If I could put that band together, I’d die that night. I’d be like: ‘Yeah, I had a good run! It was worth it!’

Q: When can we expect your album?

ST: Sometime this summer, for sure. I already have like four venues lined up and ready for it. I’d play it around Fullerton for a while before I take it to the House of Blues or something like that to test it out with the crowd.

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