Published Jul 29, 2008At what point does one stop being defined as a "rising artist on the verge?" And is there a limit to the underground support and critical acclaim that one can receive before one decides they'd rather have more ducats than plaudits? R&B/soul's Dwele has been doing the proverbial damn thing for more than a minute (working with the likes of Slum Village, Bahamadia and J Dilla) but mainstream love seems as fleeting as Flava Flav's credibility.
High profile Grammy-nominated team-ups with Common ("The People") and Kanye West ("Flashing Lights") may have nudged the radio recognition meter up a few ticks, but essentially the Detroit-born singer/songwriter/producer still remains an alternative entity in the eyes of today's TMZ demographic.
It's all good, offers Dwele during a recent touring stop in Toronto. "I'm rocking with the soul and the hip-hop," he says of the current vibe. "So I'm not really mad at where I am right now. Things could be better and things could be worse. I know that we've got a ways to go. But at the same time, it's all about the ride. I just do what I do."
Taking cues from previous albums like 2003's Subject and 2005's Some Kinda, the new neo-soul project Sketches of a Man is indeed steeped in Dwele's trademarked horn-infused hip-hop/soul/jazz flow. And since leaving Virgin Records hooking up with Koch Records, Dwele notes that the new album relies on a gritty and minimalist approach to hip-hop and soul designed to appeal to new and old fans alike.
Do you feel that your work with Common and Kanye has led to you becoming more widely known right now?
I think the name is more mainstream right now. I'm definitely getting more recognition from the younger MySpace and Facebook people than before the Common and the Kanye. It's a good look because it's turning more people onto the music that otherwise probably wouldn't have heard me.
Is there a new mindset being on a new record label?
It's a new start and I'm just trying something different. I'm flipping it up a little bit this album has a more Hip-Hop feel to it, more so than Subject and Some Kinda. Subject was more soul, Some Kinda was more jazz. I think that at any given time one of the three (hip-hop, jazz, soul) can come out of me. This time out is more hip-hop. This album still has the babymaking music and all that.
How did your work with the late producer J Dilla help and nurture you as an artist?
Working with Jay was definitely a blessing. I guess one of the fondest memories I have of Jay was when we were cutting "Think Twice" (the single off of Dilla's Welcome 2 Detroit album in 2001 ). A lot of people think I sung on that one but I didn't. I did the keys, bass and horn on that one. But it was Jay that sang on that. I think it was the first time I ever saw someone in the studio and in between words, he would take a hit of the weed and blow it out and finish singing the verse. It was crazy I'd never seen that before.
What's your process when making an album? Is it the same each time out? I just make music and vibe off of that. I just think about things that I've been through and that's pretty much the process. It's usually I write one line and everything comes from that. I start writing and eventually point A meets point Z. Other than that it's the same process. Usually I like to do it myself though. I like the feeling of starting from nothing and having a complete body at the end.
Do you feel like true R&B/soul singers such as yourself are the last of a dying breed?
I wouldn't call it a dying breed. I think it's still doing well and the people that are doing it are doing well. I'm still doing it. I think that soul music is always reinventing itself.
So how do you define success?
Success to me is longevity in this game. I don't think that any of my contemporaries have success yet, you know what I'm saying? I think it's about where we'll be 20 years from now. Hopefully, we'll all be successful. Longevity in terms of whether it's still doing music, or whatever it's about still being relevant. For this album it's about a lot of touring and promoting. I'm actually trying to come out with more than just one or two singles or one or two videos. I'm trying to do so much more.