Dwele: On The Fence

It was apparent from the 2003 release of his official debut album Subject that pure harmony pumped through the veins of Detroit’s own Dwele. Whether blessing cameos through singing or production, or engaging in his own recordings, he is proof that soul wasn’t left in the ‘70s. Born Andwele Gardner [Swahili for “God has brought […]

It was apparent from the 2003 release of his official debut album Subject that pure harmony pumped through the veins of Detroit’s own Dwele. Whether blessing cameos through singing or production, or engaging in his own recordings, he is proof that soul wasn’t left in the ‘70s.

Born Andwele Gardner [Swahili for “God has brought me”], he independently recorded and released The Rize as a demo project in 1998. Since then, Dwele has instilled his charm on collaborations with fellow Detroit natives Slum Village, Philadelphia’s Bahamadia, and the now-defunct super group Lucy Pearl. Known for his lively, jazzy vocals, Dwele is ready to make his grand solo return in October with Some Kinda, an album that will spark the love movement – and quite possibly a baby boom!

AllHipHop.com Alternatives recently spent some quality time with Dwele as he shared his thoughts on the Detroit scene, the movement of mainstream sounds, and the ways his own music has grown.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You wear many hats as an artist. Which is your favorite?

Dwele: My favorite right now? It would have to be songwriter. It might change tomorrow though. [laughs]

AHHA: [laughs] Why?

Dwele: Right now that’s really what I have time to do. That’s something I can do pretty much wherever I am. If I’m on the plane, in a hotel, at home, that’s really what I can do, so that’s where I’m focusing my attention right now. As opposed to production, I really like being a producer when I’m at home in Detroit.

AHHA: You started out as an emcee. What made you make the transition [to R&B singer]?

Dwele: Well that’s just where I was at the time when I made The Rize album. People were loving it, so I just kept doing it. Plus, everybody in Detroit in the scene I was in were known for their Hip-Hop. Slum Village, D12, Eminem and them cats weren’t really doing the vocals, so I decided to try something different.

AHHA: So is it a permanent transition? Will you ever go back to emceeing?

Dwele: Who says I stopped!

AHHA: Ha! Ok.

Dwele: Nah I still do it a little bit. I cut tracks and stuff for fun just to keep the tabs up. I don’t think Virgin’s gonna put any of my Hip-Hop stuff out, so it’s just something I do for fun.

AHHA: You have a long history working with Slum Village. How did you first link up with them?

Dwele: I met Slum Village at Café Mahogany. T3 and Baatin used to come in all the time, and one time they brought in Jay Dee and we all connected. At the time I was doing hip hop so we were kinda in the same vein with everything. That’s pretty much how we started working together.

AHHA: Was it weird working with Slum Village again on the new album now that the lineup’s different?

Dwele: Not really; Slum is fam. I’ve known T3 and Baatin and El[zhi] forever so whether it was T3 and Baatin, or El and T3 it’s all fam. So by one member or a couple members not being there, there’s still a connection…still a chemistry.

AHHA: Let’s talk about the album. How do you think you’ve grown from Subject to Some Kinda?

Dwele: I think it’s a little different in how on [Some Kinda] I’m actually playing a lot more horns than on the last album. That’s something that I really wanted to touch on but you know I felt like right now was a good time. I took this album more towards a Soul-Jazz feel. I try to line myself up on the fence, so that if I need to or wanted to do Hip-Hop I could lean in the direction; if I wanted to do Jazz I could lean in that direction. So this time around, Jazz was really where I was at – with the Soul-Jazz type feel. Next album might be a little more Hip-Hop oriented.

AHHA: You have other producers on the album [besides you] like Jay Dilla, Mike City, and G-1. Mike City has a lot of production work with more pop-R&B artists. How were you able to creatively reach your sound from producers who have done work for Usher and R.Kelly… to stray away from that – for lack of a better word – pop/R&B sound?

Dwele: That’s just actually something that [Mike City] came with. I think that was more or less of a marriage of sound – him taking what he does and me taking what I do – and kinda putting them together and seeing what we come up with. I think that is the beauty of collaborations as far as artists and producers. You never know what you’re gonna come up with, and the end result is always something a little bit different but similar.

AHHA: Which song on the new album do you hold closest to you?

Dwele: Oh, most definitely it’s “Some Kinda.” I got a chance to talk about my family struggle and my father with my mother and my brother. It’s just telling our story, and I’ve always wanted to do that. So I took the opportunity to do it on this album.

AHHA: What’s your opinion of your R&B peers out today?

Dwele: I think they’re good. I feel that the R&B world wears a lot of hats right now. You have your Soul-R&B and your more poppish-R&B. I think each genre kinda holds its own and each genre kinda has its place. Some is made more for radio, some is made more for the club, and some is made more for baby making. [laughs] I think each genre is really doing its thing. I’m not mad at them.

AHHA: Where does Dwele fit?

Dwele: I think I fit more in the baby making side of things. [laughs] But like I said, I like to ride the fence. I love the Soul-R&B. I love being soulful; that’s what comes naturally to me. But at the same time, I’m still influenced by radio and still influenced by Hip-Hop. Sometimes I might make a joint that still has that Soul element, but might be a radio joint. I’m not mad at that. I feel that if I can make a joint like that, it would be showing another side of myself. I don’t knock it, I like to be able to do different things with the music and it’s I look forward to doing.

AHHA: If you could go back in time to any decade and come out, which would it be?

Dwele: Aw man! Definitely without a doubt I’d pick the ‘70s. That’s when the music was hot. All of the stuff that we’re re-creating today – as far as remaking Roy Ayers joints and Stevie [Wonder] joints – that’s when all the hotness was made. I’d love to have been a pacemaker in the ‘70s.

AHHA: Live or in-studio, which do you prefer?

Dwele: I like them both. When I’m asked that question I relate it to playing basketball. It’s like a live performance would be like actually holding the ball, working it out and sweating. A studio recording would be like playing NBA Live. Both are fun, but one takes more and is more energetic. I don’t know, I guess it would be live performances because you feel better afterwards, and you never know what’s gonna happen.

AHHA: Do you prefer overseas or in the States?

Dwele: Hmmm. Good question. I love the States, but overseas has it right now. It’s more diverse; they’re more open to different things. When I go overseas, I’m not really nervous to try something new on stage because they don’t look at you like you’re crazy. The other beauty about overseas is that I could go to a show and see a 20-year-old African male standing next to a 60-year-old Irish guy and they both know every word to every song. That’s a beautiful thing and something you don’t see much over here.

AHHA: That’s very true! So what’s your favorite city – Detroit not included?

Dwele: See that’s a hard question, because I have a couple! If I had to pick one, I would probably have to say New York. No doubt it would be between L.A. & New York, but I spend like six to seven months in New York so I’ve gotta say New York.

AHHA: Are there any other new artists doing it in Detroit?

Dwele: As far as Hip-Hop – my peoples Big Tone, he’s dropping his album October 4th. Slum is dropping their album October 4th. There are a lot of Soul cats brewin’ in the D waiting for the right time to drop and make their move. The scene is real nice right now.

AHHA: If you weren’t here, where would you be?

Dwele: If I wasn’t doing music right now, I’d probably be living over in London doing sketches and painting or photography.