Singer/songwriter Dwele (pronounced dweh-lay) has carved out a niche for himself in the contemporary soul game as a smooth jazz-minded crooner of introspective and innovative groove. The Detroit-based artist first made a name for himself with a demo he made in his bedroom which led to one of the hippest hip hop soul collaborations of all-time (Slum Village’s “Tainted”), a major label deal. Subsequent work followed with artists that stretch from Roy Ayers (in concert), Boney James (on record) and Earth Wind & Fire (on the Grammy-nominated remake for Thats The Way of the World), to rappers Commons Grammy nominated “The People,” and Kanye Wests Grammy-winning single “Flashing Lights.” On his own, he contributed the single gems “Find a Way” and “I Think I Luv U” to the canon of neo soul classics, but is best loved as that rare maker of fine albums.
His third and latest album Sketches of a Man finds Dwele on the independent RT Music Group (the domain of his managers Ron and Tim, distributed by KOCH), meticulously baking another masterpiece of chocolate soul genius. “With my first album, Subject, I had about three years worth of material to work with between 2000 and 2003,” he begins. “But with the next one, Some Kinda (2005), I didn’t take as much time as I wanted because I was in and out of the studio touring on the road, so I didn’t have as many songs to choose from. This time, I slowed down and marinated in the creative process again.”
Dwele is a very spontaneous and organic creator in that he never goes into an album with a preset concept in mind. Rather he weaves a storyline from the songs he selects and sequences for the album, noting the picture they create for him. This makes him as surprised about the finished project as his admirers.
The album’s first single is a mindbender he calls “Im Cheatin’,” produced by West Coast-based G-1 who helmed his breakthrough hit “Find a Way” as well as “Know Your Name” from Some Kinda. “It’s based on somewhat of a real story that I put a spin on,” Dwele shares. “Unless you really pay attention you might get the wrong idea. From the jump you’d think I was talking to two girls, but it’s really two sides of the same person. It sounds like I’m cheatin’ on my girl, but actually I’m cheatin’ on my girl with my girl You definitely have to listen to this one a few times before you really get it. It’s different…makes your mind work.”
Another surprise arrives with the song “A Few Reasons,” a second single contender that Dwele collaborated on with a producer out of Virginia named Nottz. “Nottz spot has a real homey vibe to it,” Dwele recalls, “no pressure, no glamour but very comfortable. I felt like I was back at my mom’s house. My lil’ brother Antwon (a hell of a trombone player) is going to Norfolk State University there, so when I wasn’t cuttin’, I was hanging out with him and his college crew. I think that played a part in the way the song came out – less jazzy and more hip hop. It’s a fun club song you can get your snap on with. Knoxs track brought the fun out of me.”
Clever as all of the preceding songs are, one of the deepest pieces on the new album is a cut that Dwele composed and produced alone. Titled “Vain,” this jazzy track addresses the psychological toll that being in love with an artist takes on his partner. “This song is like a musical argument,” Dwele expains. “My girl has a problem with me being in the industry. She wants me out for two reasons: one, it takes up a lot of my time, and two, she doesn’t appreciate the arrogant ‘show’ I have to put on by being in the industry. In a relationship like this, both people have to be strong and have a lot of confidence in each other to deal. I sing, ‘Can you blame me for wanting to hold onto something in vain / Because in holding on to this vainness, I’m trying to hold on to you.'” Clearly inspired by personal experience, Dwele draws the line at it being 100% autobiography. “It’s personal, but in my case it didn’t escalate to this extreme. If it had, this is the conversation I would have had with her.
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