Detroit’s current resident soul singer, Dwele, is no stranger to the scene, having released three albums over the past eight years, prior to the release of his latest opus, Sketches Of A Man. Sharing a long history within his local scene, Dwele collaborated numerous times with J. Dilla, on projects like Welcome To Detroit, as well as on his own albums. Virtually everyone in the post-Native Tongue scene has tapped Dwele at one point or another, from J-Live to Common, Slum Village to Kanye.
And it would be Mr. West’s chart-topping single from last year, “Flashing Lights”, that would help Dwele break from the mold of indie artist to household name. The question is, with a Grammy nomination now under his belt and blessing of Kanye, many are hearing Dwele for the first time – will Sketches Of A Man set the stage for a booming solo career?
Dwele may not be as polished as say, John Legend, but he does have some standout moments on his latest LP. Unapologetic neo-soul, Dwele’s style comes from the place where he dwells, embracing the sound of Detroit pioneered by Dilla – that being, breezy vocals over bass heavy vibes and snapping snares. Largely self-produced, the album maintains a core sound, with little care or attempt at making a hit record, but instead just focusing on carrying on tradition.
This couldn’t be more evident than on a section of the LP that pays homage to J. Dilla, in three parts. The first of these is “Open Your Eyes”, a cover of the Bobby Caldwell classic, sampled by Dilla for Common’s “The Light”. This leads directly into “Workin’ On It”, another cover, but this time of more unconventional source material. Here, Dwele brilliantly takes pieces from Dilla’s “Donuts” LP, and pieces them together into one song, cleverly building the lyrics around each “donut”. Finally, Slum Village joins in for “Brandi” – not a Dilla tribute by any means, but a nightcap to the set. This classy homage doesn’t beat you over the head with “rest in peace” shout-outs or dedications, but instead subtly pays tribute to the fallen producer.
Unfortunately, this section of the LP represents some of the album’s strongest moments – despite it being built around covers or collaborators. Dwele’s more original material suffers from monotony, such as the redundant “I’m Cheatin’”, a thinly veiled ode to role-playing in the bedroom. Or, the strangely penned love song, “A Few Reasons”, where he promises “If we had computer love, I would let you have my MySpace / If your love was a dance / you could YouTube me.” Huh?
Despite his obvious talented vocal chops, Dwele’s self-produced style tends to drag on a bit. Those looking for another “Flashing Lights” might be disappointed, as Dwele sticks to doing what he knows best. A shame, considering Kanye’s production offered us a glimpse of what Dwele might sound like over high-priced beats – none of which you’ll find here. – D.T. Swinga
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