When Format caught up with Dwele, he had just finished giving a seminar at a public school in his hometown of Detroit — the culmination to a standard eight-hour workday. Grammy-nominated with a penchant for classical art, Andwele Gardnerâ€™s level of modesty is at once halting and refreshing.
Though he has collaborated with some of the greatest hip-hop, soul, and jazz acts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, his unassuming personality keeps his music inviting and comfortable. Behind his veil lies the brain of a multi-disciplinary genius. He may very well have shifted the paradigm of what it means to be an R&B artist for good.
â€œMake sure youâ€™ve got some green lights in the crib; they like that. Make sure youâ€™ve got lotion on your handsâ€“that theyâ€™re not dry.â€
Format: Your new album, Sketches of a Man, drops June 24th. Can you tell us a little about that?
Dwele: With this album I created an avenue for myself. Itâ€™s more hip-hop influenced than Some Kinda, while maintaining soul elements. Along with the songs, Iâ€™ve also included some of my artwork.
Format: How would you say your style and presentation have evolved from past offerings?
Dwele: In The Rize , there were no transitions. Since then, Iâ€™ve worked on my transitions and bridges. Also, The Rize was more hip-hop, whereas Some Kinda was jazzier. They all come together to paint a picture of who I am.
Format: Why did you choose to release this album on Koch, rather than Virgin Records?
Dwele: I had a two-album deal with Virgin, and nothing to base [an album deal] against. Now with an independent label, I get to compare the two. Also I have more creativity; itâ€™s more hands-on.
Format: You list some of your older influences as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Musically speaking, who or what influences you on a contemporary level?
Dwele: All sorts of music: hip-hop and jazz, mostly. On an artist level, Iâ€™d say Roy Ayers, Eric Roberson, Musiq, and I even have some Lilâ€™ Wayne on my iPodâ€“thatâ€™s how itâ€™s always been.
Format: What drives you on a personal level?
Dwele: Family, man. I gotta make sure my family is cared for.
Format: How has urban life impacted the way you make music?
Dwele: A lot of things in Detroit have influenced me. There are a lot of different vibes in this town; the city itself, â€œthe beautiful dirtâ€–thatâ€™s a direct quote from my man Waajeed. Iâ€™m in touch with my surroundings, right down to the seasons.
Format: Can you describe your optimal recording conditions for us?
Dwele: The back room in my momâ€™s cribâ€“thatâ€™s homeâ€“thatâ€™s what it is. When Iâ€™m there, you know Iâ€™ll be coming with that fire.
Format: Your bedroom anthems are untouchable. Any tips for romancing the fairer sex?
Dwele: [Laughs] Sure. Make sure you set the mood first. Make sure youâ€™ve got some green lights in the crib; they like that. Make sure youâ€™ve got lotion on your handsâ€“that theyâ€™re not dry. Lastly, make sure youâ€™ve got some Dwele bumping!
Format: You play a handful of instruments, produce, and sing. How did you become such a multi-talented musician?
Dwele: It came about over a long period of time. When I was young, my father taught me to play the piano, and then I began taking lessons. I started playing trumpet in high school, and then picked up other things, like the guitar and bass.
Format: Youâ€™ve worked with some amazing artists throughout your career: Slum Village, Bahamadia, Jay Dee, and Kanye West, to name a few. Who was your favorite collaboration, and why?
Dwele: Surprisingly, Boney James. I was most at home with him, even in the studio. He would constantly crack jokes; you can hear me laughing in some of our tracks. Iâ€™ve had great experiences with everyone Iâ€™ve worked with, though.
Format: Your father was murdered when you were ten years old. Were the following years crucial to your musical development?
Dwele: Most definitely. He taught me the first few things about being a musician, and I keep a part of him with me wherever I go. I learned to put my emotions into music; it was my therapy. Eventually, I started adding lyrics to it. Iâ€™m constantly looking for different ways to express myself, from [music] to photography to poetry.
Format: Did they ever catch the killer?
Dwele: Yeah, they knew who he was. When they caught him, he pleaded insanity.
Format: Why do you think neo-soul is neglected, and what do you think needs to be done to popularize it?
Dwele: It doesnâ€™t have the same money behind it as hip-hop does; it lacks the catchy hooks, glitz, and glamour. It needs more promotion. Neo-soul artists arenâ€™t going super-platinum, but weâ€™re still selling records. The music industry also needs to stop force-feeding [the public] bubblegum pop. Iâ€™m not hating though; like I said, I listen to some of that stuff. There also needs to be more balance on the radio.
Format: What is your next move?
Dwele: Following the album drop, Iâ€™m going to be putting together a tour. It will be international, and hopefully beginning at the end of June.
Format: Thanks so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Dwele: I think that just about covers it. I want to thank everyone for supporting me and my music. Watch out for that tour! Weâ€™re doing it real big this year.