New CD is same story, but with more game

ON POPULAR MUSIC

October 06, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

We're in an elevator inside a downtown Baltimore hotel, and I'm staring at the intricate, zigzagging design of Dwele's cornrows. They look freshly done. He's standing in front of me. Tim, his burly manager who could easily double as the R&B artist's bodyguard, has his back against a wall.

"Man, I'm sorry we're late," he says. "We had this radio thing, came back to get something to eat. You know, we lost track of time."

I had been sitting in the lobby, looking stupid for more than half an hour. I was just about to get up and call it a day when the two came down. Dwele extended his hand -- his grip was firm, his smile friendly. It was a little too hot for the zipped-up, black-and-white Puma shirt jacket, which he sported with dark baggy jeans and super clean, white shell-top Adidas.

Always quick to make myself comfortable where ever I am, I slip off my sandals and plop down on the bed once we're inside the singer's dimly lit hotel room. Tim quietly sits at the desk, and Dwele reclines in the chair next to me as we discuss his new album, Some Kinda ..., in stores this week. It's the follow-up to his critically well-received 2003 debut, Subject.

"I feel this record is different from the last one because I took it in more a jazz feel," says the Detroit native, his speaking voice as soft and mellow as his music. "In a way, it's kind of a continuation of Subject. ... I think it's still an album that can be played in any scenario, you know what I'm saying? I try to make it that all-purpose music."

I interviewed Dwele, 27, over the phone when Subject came out, and he told me that on his next project he wanted more horns. Some Kinda ... is spiced with sinewy, ebbing brass lines that float over his Fender Rhodes-driven grooves. As with the tunes on Subject, the numbers on the new CD are loose, airy jams, slightly reminiscent of the direction D'Angelo took on 2000's Voodoo. But the debut held together a little better, because it was more of a concept album. The songs told the story of Dwele's fascination with a gorgeous honey and his eventual love affair with her.

"[The new album] is somewhat of a story," he explains. "See, to get the whole theme of the album, you got to listen to the songs and interludes altogether."

Some Kinda ... isn't as thematically tight as its predecessor. The story is essentially the same as the one on his debut: He meets a girl at a club (again) and the two soon become involved. Only this time lyrically, Dwele has more swagger as on "Know Your Name" and "Flapjacks." He isn't the shy cat confused about his feelings, the dude who doesn't know what to say when Miss Thing sashays into the room. On Some Kinda ..., the brother's got game.

Dwele says, "I had a lot of fun with this album. I just do me, you know? My style is like a combination of jazz, soul and hip-hop, so all of that combines."

Some Kinda ... reveals elements of the music he studied while growing up in the Motor City. Marvin Gaye influences abound. Though his tone is silken and seductive, Dwele isn't a compelling interpreter. Besides, he doesn't have much to work with at times as his lyrics can be shallow. "A Pimp's Dream" is the best groove on the record -- a mid-tempo number resplendent with glorious horns and the singer's sparkling keys. Lyrically, however, Dwele falls into that tired hip-hop cliche where he boasts of being a fly pimp with chicks to spare, a shiny Cadillac, Armani suits and 'gator boots.

He's good at creating romantic, atmospheric jams like "Lay It Down" and the title track. But as the set plays on, Dwele's relaxed, ultra smooth style runs the risk of becoming aural wallpaper. Some Kinda ... is a spottier record than Subject. With tighter direction, the guy can deliver a knockout album. It's in him. He's not lacking in talent -- that's for sure. "I can only do me," Dwele tells me matter-of-factly. "You gotta trust what you do."

As I watch him nod and smile, I wonder how long it will take him to deliver that masterpiece.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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