W.ANTS. W.ORLD. W.OMEN. (W.W.W.)
Possessing a cool, conversational tenor, an ability to create lush, aquatic grooves and narrative lyrics that flow with the cadence of a rapper’s, Detroit's Andwele Gardner has proven himself as a consistent hit maker since selling self-mastered copies of Rize from the trunk of his car back in 1998. Now, over a decade later, the 32-year-old Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist plans to cement his reputation as a legacy-building soul provider and storyteller with his fourth major-label release, W.ants. W.orld. W.omen (W.W.W), a collection of songs combining elements of both R&B and hip-hop to express his personal and political views as filtered through the turbulent economy and political climate of today.
“The CD is separated into three sections, representing different aspects of myself as an artist,” says Dwele of W.W.W., which is scheduled to drop June 29. “I’m doing a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do, such as pulling in some outside guests. Prior to this album, I didn’t want to work with too many others because I wanted people to know what Dwele sounds like, but now that this is my fourth album, I feel that I can try that now.” Among the list of collaborators? Vocalist Monica Blair, rapper David Banner, R&B peer Raheem DeVaughn and a reunion with Slum Village, the homegrown hip-hop group that helped to propel him into the national spotlight with their 2002 smash, “Tainted.”
The first single, “What’s Not To Love,” is also a reunion of sorts, pairing him up with a producer he’d worked with for Some Kinda…, Mike City. “We just revisited the situation from before (“I Think I Love U”) and let it flow from there,” says Dwele of its adoring verses and nebulous feel. “I like to think that I can speak for a person for when they can’t find the words, like a Hallmark audio card. I hope the song can be that for someone.”
W.W.W. has a decidedly crisp, contemporary feel in comparison to his previous efforts, according to Dwele, while retaining his trademark organic approach and acknowledged influences of music’s most celebrated soul men. “Sketches of a Man was a more hip-hop-influenced album, Subject was really soul-influenced and Some Kinda was jazzier. With W.ants, W.orld., W.omen., I wanted to do as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway did. When you hear their music now, you feel exactly what the climate was at the time, and that’s the job of musicians, to talk about the world’s situation.”
Not that he intends to do so from a soap box: “The Hangover,” for example, sounds like a club-ready call to the dance floor, but is actually social commentary in disguise. “It’s really talking about what we went through when (former President) Bush was in the lead. People may not get that until they’ve heard the song a couple of times, but that song encompasses what the W.orld section is all about, the hardships as far as the changing of the presidents and the rough economy we’ve endured.”
Another revealing song, “I Wish,” can be found in the W.ants segment. Instead of being a cover of the Stevie Wonder classic, the song is about “flossing and flashing” and expresses all of the material desires the performer has in stark contrast to how he’s really living: “I wish I had a dollar for every dollar you think I have, I wish I had a Gucci suit inside that Gucci bag.” The inspiration? “In one week, I got asked for a total of $23,000,” he laughs. “I don’t even ask myself for $20,000.”
It all factors into the creative process for Dwele, who started piano lessons at the age of six and later added bass, guitar and trumpet to his repertoire. His budding musicality served as a healing balm just a few years later when, tragically, his father was murdered just outside his family’s West Detroit home. And although the exploding phenomenon of hip-hop initially steered him into dropping rhymes, Dwele’s lifelong love of soul and jazz beckoned, so it was those influences that made their way into his demo, Rize.
An instant local smash, all of his on-hand copies immediately sold out, but not before catching the attention of the hometown hip-hop group, Slum Village, and their producer, James Yancey, also known as the innovative and much-lauded track master, J. Dilla. His smooth-as-silk rendering of their hook on “Tainted” opened other opportunities for the performer, such as collaborations with the hip-hop-soul trio, Lucy Pearl (anchored by former Tony Toni Tone member, Raphael Saadiq), female rapper Bahamadia and London’s New Sector Movement. A deal with Virgin Records materialized in 2000 and the label was home for his critically-acclaimed debut and sophomore CDs, 2003’s Subject (“Hold On,” “Find a Way”) and 2005’s Some Kinda “(Weekend Love,” “I Think I Love U”).
By 2008, Dwele had performed with the likes of Boney James, Roy Ayers, Common and Kanye West, reaching another career milestone when his label RT Music Group signed a distribution deal with KOCH Records (now known as E1 Music) to continue the string of hits with Sketches of a Man, which included “A Few Reasons (Truth Part 2)” and the infamous “I’m Cheatin,” which drew the ire of fans and critics alike until the song’s true message was heard. “I noticed the people initially gave me bad reviews behind the title alone,” says Dwele of the track, which wasn’t a confession, but a tongue-in-cheek comparison of his lady’s timid and tawdry sides and how he enjoyed reconciling the two. “But once they actually listened, they would re-write it.”
Whether the end result is a buttery slow jam or a buoyant party groove, Dwele, who’s also become a DJ in the last couple of years and now holds the distinction of becoming the premiere face and voice behind the launch of McDonald’s new product line, McCafe, wants to deliver it all. “I try to wear all kinds of hats, so to speak. I love setting moods for every occasion and I want to be the soundtrack for people’s lives. Not just the bedroom soundtrack, I want to make you dance too,” he chuckles. “With W.W.W., I wanted to capture the moods of the last few years. I think right now there’s a feeling of change, I want to convey it both musically and lyrically.”
-- Melody Charles
W.ants. W.orld. W.omen. (W.W.W.) will be released on June 29th, 2010 on RT Music Group/E1 Music.