It’s the stuff dreams are made of – in 1998 Dwele(pronounced Dwell-ay) made a cassette of his music but only ran off 100copies, worrying he wouldn’t be able to sell them. The entire run sold outin a week, and the cassette is still being talked about and sold as abootleg on the internet. Now Virgin have sensibly snapped him up and arereleasing Subject, a newly produced set of material.
Dwele’s music caused such excitement because of itsfresh sound, combining elements of the two currently most popular genres(hip-hop and R&B), and giving them a new twist with a soulful and ’70s vibe.Add to this Dwele’s accomplised songwriting and smooth voice and the reasonsfor the net-buzz become clear.
That smooth voice is showcased at its purest on KickOut Of You, surrounded by electric piano (the most common instrument on thealbum), gentle double bass, and a jazzy fuzzed up hi-hat loop.Arrangement-wise, this is one of the simpler tracks on the album, but itshows off Dwele’s tune-smith abilities.
If you’re looking for something more complex, then thetitle track Subject is the place to go. Beginning with a string arpeggioreminiscent of those found under many recent rap records, it segues into animmensely impressive chorus. The hummable chorus flows with its gentlerecord static effects, ticking clock, and trickling bells.
This effective combining of sounds is a theme runningthrough the best parts of the album, including Money Don’t Mean A Thing – atrack surely worthy of a single release. The strings and muddy sounds lieunderneath and clash with the mid-tempo guitar loop, giving this number aunique feel.
Such clashes illustrate another attractive element ofDwele’s approach. In the same way that hip-hop and R&B play loose with theirrhythms and loops, so Subject takes elements of soul and jazz and fuzzesthem up or puts them slightly out of time, creating fresh soundingarrangements.
Other fresh sounding tracks that beg for attention onSubject are the unusually structured and hip-hop rhythm driven Lady atMahogany, the tuneful opening track Truth (where Dwele’s not insignificantlyric-writing skills come to the fore), and Possible – where an electricpiano metamorphoses into a concert grand during the chorus.
Because the soul sound is the strongest common threadhere, Dwele has been touted as nu-soul. Indeed anyone who really dislikessoul and mellow electric piano isn’t going to enjoy Subject. And those thatfind smooth riffing vocals irritating and prefer traditional pop melodies,won’t bond with this Detroit song-writer’s output.
But what makes Subject exciting is that it could becalled “nu-R&B” as much as it could be called nu-soul. And that’s what makesit seem like a visionary extension of much current chart output. It has thepotential for turning a generation of R&B fans into soul fans without themeven realizing it.