Dwele - Sketches of a Man

Posted July 10, 2008
Tags: Dwele,

So I’m 12-years-old and my dad takes me to see blues legend BB King. Midway through the...

Sketches of a Man Album Review

So I’m 12-years-old and my dad takes me to see blues legend BB King. Midway through the concert BB suddenly stops everything and challengs anyone in the audience to a guitar battle. Even as a kid I realize what an unbelievably ballsy move this is, and sure enough this young guy steps out of the crowd, joins BB onstage, and unleashes an inferno of guitar playing. So now the crowd’s anxiously awaiting BB’s earth-shattering response, but instead he just smiles slyly and hits one heartbreakingly beautiful note...and holds it....and holds it. The crowd goes crazy, the young man slinks off in defeat, and I instantly formulate my trademarked BB King Theory; all the talent in the world can’t beat one perfect note straight from the soul.

Dwele may not know my BB King Theory, but he sure sounds like he does. Dwele may now be more commonly known as “the other guy on Flashing Lights”, but Kanye didn’t exactly pluck the Detriot born crooner out of obscurity. Everyone from Common to Foxy have recruited Dwele’s distinctively smooth voice for their tracks, and his two previous solo albums (three if you count the self-released Rize) have earned him a dedicated following. Dwele’s now teamed up with the independently minded Koch Records to release Sketches of a Man, a minimally produced album that’s sometimes so unpolished it sometimes sounds like a rough draft – one might even say a sketch - and that’s exactly what makes it so good.

For most people a sketch is a throw-away, but in the hands of a truly talented artist a sketch can be an arresting glimpse into the creative process, something far more honest than a finely polished product. Just take the lead single I’m Cheatin', one of the most deceptive tracks in recent memory. On first listen I’m Cheatin' is your lyrically standard promiscuous R&B joint, accompanied by only a shimmering guitar line and some slowly-paced drums. It’s not until the fifth listen that you realize the girl he’s cheating on is his own girlfriend, who’s such a freak in the bed she seems like a completely different person. In that way I’m Cheatin' is like the album as a whole; it doesn’t immediately satisfy, but those with patience will be richly rewarded.

I’m Cheatin' isn’t even close to the best example of Dwele’s sketchiness (and I mean that in a good way). Fans of Common’s classic The Light will recongize the piano melody on Open Your Eyes (they’re both taken from Bobby Caldwell’s original), a track that Dwele’s warm voice washes over beautifully. Think of what Keyshia Cole would do with Open Your Eyes and then picture the exact opposite; that’s what Dwele’s version sounds like. You get the feeling that Dwele is always restraining himself from unleashing the full power of his voice, and the effect is a blessing and a curse. Open Your Eyes will have you unconciously leaning towards the speaker to catch every subtle inflection, but on tracks like You Won’t Be Lonely and Spiritual his vocal power isn’t quite enough to keep the songs from becoming background music. Really good background music, but background none-the-less.

That’s not to say that Dwele can’t turn up the volume when he needs to. You know you’re in for something different from the first pulsating notes of Body Rock, easily the most radio-ready track on the album. Where the rest of the album walks Body Rock runs, undercutting the bouncing rhythm with rock guitar chords and synth blasts. For his part Dwele delivers a passably swaggering version of a “tell your girl not to stray cause my crew’s on the way” chorus, but even though Body Rock is nowhere near mainstream R&B, Dwele still can’t get you out of your seat to start dancing. Sketches of a Man doesn’t belong in your car on the way to the club, it belongs in your stereo during a warm Sunday afternoon when you’re chilling with your girl (and if you’re lucky doing more than chilling). Personally I’d recommend the hypnotizing Free as a Bird or the captivating Shady, but about any track on Sketches will do – just be prepared to truly listen or you’ll miss softly whispered lines like “cunnilingus until she screamed Jesus.” That’s why I’m dubbing Dwele the King Of Subtlety. Ok, so it’s not as catchy as Weezy’s Greatest Rapper Alive title, but remember, all the talent in the world can’t beat one perfect note. Goddamn, they should teach my s**t in school.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted July 10, 2008
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