From the first moment I arrived at Dwele’s Corktown loft in Detroit, he greeted me with a kindness and sincerity that made me feel right at home. In the corner of his wide open loft sits his studio. There is almost a magnetic pull to it; you can tell this is by design. The dual monitors and beautiful Fender Rhodes 88 help turn the dimly lit room into a calm and relaxing atmosphere any musician would feel comfortable in. To the side of his kitchen, a turntable connected to a MacBook Pro sits, a way for him to work on his next DJ set. This loft is his shrine, his workspace, and you can tell he absolutely loves it. He started to show me his new piece, the MPC Renaissance controller. As he pressed on drum pads on the controller you could see the focus on his face, and his fascination with the technology.
After a few minutes of talking to Dwele you can understand why he has achieved so much success. The way he carries himself in person with a laid-back, real, and friendly demeanor – this personality – seems to shine through his music. This allows the listener to feel right at home, and he lets you into his space unconditionally. He talked about his Grammy nomination for his interpretation of the Earth, Wind and Fire song, “That’s the Way of the World.” “I was a little nervous, because EWF is so great; I had to do them justice. I just wanted to put my spin on a great song, and it worked out”. He has also received critical acclaim as his vocals were featured on the 2010 Kanye West track, “Power,” also nominated for a Grammy. Critics have loved Dwele’s brand of smooth, throw-back neo soul for years, and he has become an essential piece to the soul revival of Detroit based music. Dwele deserves the success, but through all of it he continues to work hard and always finds a way to keep himself grounded.
As far back as he can remember he has always had a love for music. He touched his first piano key at the age of three. His parents noticed he had an ear for music and knew he was special. “They would buy me any instruments they could get their hands on hoping to find the one I could stick with… I was most comfortable with the piano and trumpet; I even remember walking around the house playing the harmonica.” He had many years of classical piano lessons starting at a young age; he also focused on the trumpet for a most of his years in high school. “I remember trying to take a college course on music theory and it was just going too slow, I mean we were on C, G, and E forever. It didn’t work for me; I had to explore music more on my own”. You can tell that Dwele has always been compelled to create something; he is a songwriter through and through.
Dwele got his start with his self-produced demo The Rize. The Rize became popular in the local Detroit area when the music would be played at a local poetry slam in between poets’ performances. The Rize was released on cassette tape and Dwele wasn’t happy with the original master of the tape. “It was too airy sounding, I just wasn’t happy with the quality; I knew it could be better”. Dwele decided to remaster each cassette tape himself individually, a process that took a long time. He felt this was the only way he could get the music to sound the way it needed to. Dwele explains, “It was one of the defining moments of my life; I knew I had something good.” The Rize caught the attention of Slum Village and their legendary producer J Dilla. This led to Dwele appearing on the classic Slum Village song Tainted. This was the attention that Dwele needed, and things started to happen fast.
In 2000 Dwele joined Virgin Records and his releases Subject and Some Kinda helped him build up his fan base. “I really think major labels are good for the artists, it helps with marketing your music and building a fan base.” In 2008 Dwele signed with Eone music and found that the label helped free him up artistically. He is currently working on his follow up to the 2012 release Greater Than One. In between major releases he has been working on a mini album series titled Dark Side of the Mic. “The mini albums are a great way for me to experiment with different things in between major releases; it is so nice being on a major independent label because it gives me more freedom than on a major label like Virgin”.
Through all of his success Dwele decided to stay in Detroit. “I lived in New York for two years, it was fun but overwhelming. Detroit is not crowded like a lot of cities, I can breathe here. I can go down to the local bar and nobody bothers me, I have everything I need here. My family is here and they help me stay grounded, I try to stay the same guy I was when I was making The Rize, that what works for me. I was inspired by the Jazz music in New York but Detroit inspires my creativity. The environment, lighting, seasons, weather, everything! I feed off the energy.”
Dwele credits Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers as his musical influences. The jazz is definitely present in Dwele’s music. His trumpet seems to glide along perfectly with his voice. “I don’t know which one would be my primary voice, sometimes I think it is the trumpet, sometimes the vocals, it’s tough.” Dwele focuses on the music with such detail, almost like a music historian with a modern twist, a tribute to everyone that has come before him. This is not surprising with the humble and cool way he approaches his work. He is not a loner, but likes to make music by himself. He explains, “If I have people over and I want to work on music, it’s time to go! I can’t have distractions around me.”
As for Detroit, Dwele admits there is a ton of talent in the city. He is disappointed with the lack of music venues in the city. “There are not a lot of venues for artists to perform. I could go to karaoke night in the city and be blown away by the talent -these people need more places to be heard”. He notes that Detroit artists Monica Blair and L Renee are two people he admires. He offered some advice for artists that may not have had the success they are looking for “Stay diligent, when I got on a major label my record was shelved for three years, I was worried. Just remember to do music for the love, when the time is right things will happen”.
Dwele’s loft is filled with cool gadgets and devices and the interview ended with Dwele showing me his favorite item right now, the electric bike A2B. He loves this bike. He told me a story about how one of his friends ran it into a car and the front fender broke off. He was lucky, because the driver of the car recognized Dwele, they ended up getting pictures with him. This was the one time when his celebrity was helpful, and he took advantage. I think we all would have done the same thing Dwele!
Anyone who does not know Dwele’s music should check out his collection. He is going to be around for a long time, the same as some of the legendary Motown and Jazz performers he so admires.
Check Out Dwele Here
Contributor Jason Conley
Photos Used with Dwele’s Permission