“We don’t say swag no more, we say swank.” Defining words, to be sure. These are lyrics from the confident, yet deeply emotional music created by Andwele Gardner, more commonly known by his stage name Dwele. Contemporary R&B has always been known for its tight production and lush vocals, however despite having a very firm grasp of this concept, I was still unequivocally blown away when I listened to Greater Than One for the first time. If you are not comfortable being seduced by a black man with an incredibly hypnotic voice, then you may be in the wrong place. This album is packed full of beautiful vocals, thick chords, and sentimental lyrics. Dwele features a selection of Detroit’s finest R&B artists and producers, including J. Tait, L’Renee, and Black Milk on “Must Be” and Monica Blaire on “Swank” and “PATrick RONald,” and the result is a brilliant portrayal of the city’s rich musical subculture.
Everything that you would expect to hear in an R&B album is present in Greater Than One. The keyboard sounds are to die for; nothing quite replaces that classic Fender Rhodes timbre. There’s something about it that automatically makes every problem in the world seem insignificant. On top of that, any musician who is looking to improve their grasp of musical harmony should make a point to study R&B. The style definitely pulls heavily from the guidebook of jazz harmony, but implements it in a much hipper context. What exactly makes it hip? There are essentially two factors (in my opinion) that contribute to such a transformation: the lyrics and the beats.
To be honest, when I listen to music, I rarely focus on the lyrics. This is mainly due to my background as a musician and composer. I generally like to focus on instrumentals when I am writing music, so I suppose that over time my ears have been trained to focus on the music behind the vocals. That being said, the lyrical content of R&B is always one of the most important parts of the music, and Dwele does not disappoint in that regard. There are three main characteristics of the vocals that are particularly impress me. First of all, the lyrics pertain to situations that are relevant to just about everyone. They mostly deal with the advantages of disadvantages of relationships, both serious and casual. Now, you may be wondering why I find this impressive, since just about all popular music nowadays talks about such topics. I’ve found, however, that R&B in general does a much better job of effectively capturing the deep-rooted emotions that accompany such situations. This may be personal opinion, but I digress.
The way in which Dwele phrases his vocal lines is very distinctive. He often loosens up into a more rhythmically free style of phrasing, somewhere between singing and talking. This sort of technique somehow makes him seem more human, more relatable. Mix that with his universally-relatable lyrics and he’s got a lot of appeal going for him.
Overall, this album is great for any audience, whether you’re just looking for some refreshing background music or you’re trying to analyze it compositionally. R&B is not a genre that seems to have a lot of crossover with other styles, both in its artist collective and fan base, however there hopefully will be more of this sort in the future, as music becomes more and more amalgamated. In the meantime, grab a copy of Greater Than One and enjoy.