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Dwele celebrates a decade of 'Subject'

MusicKanye WestInner HarborCommon

Ask Dwele his favorite song from “Subject,” his 2003 debut album, and the soul singer will hem and haw a bit before narrowing the options to two.

The tone-setting “Truth” makes the cut because of its “feel good” nature, he said, while “Without You” immediately transports him back to the late-night studio session that birthed it.

“It was 3 or 4 in the morning in Philly,” Dwele, 36, said on the phone from his hometown of Detroit. “The studio session was over and I sat down at the Rhodes [piano] and just started playing. The song just happened like, quick.”

It may be difficult for Dwele, born Andwele Gardner, to pinpoint his favorite song from “Subject,” but he is not alone. For years, he has heard audiences' pleas to play a wide range of “Subject” tracks. So naturally, Dwele is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the album's release with a commemorative tour, which includes a stop at Baltimore Soundstage on Friday.

“It seems like every show we get requests for a lot of the songs off the ‘Subject' album, so this gives me a chance to do all of them,” Dwele said. “It covers all the bases.”

While May marks a decade since the release of “Subject” — and Dwele has released four albums since, including most recently 2012's “Greater Than One” — his 16-track debut album continues to resonate.

Sonically, Dwele said, “Subject” holds up fine (“No cringe spots for me,” he said, sounding relieved). When he looks back on the making of “Subject,” a common thread throughout his career emerges: Dwele's constant need to tweak songs.

“With every album, my managers end up just snatching it from me because I always want to hold on to it,” he said. “There's something I want to change on everything all of the time. But after 10 years, I'm used to it.”

Countless hours in the studio have also resulted in fruitful collaborations between Dwele and hip-hop artists. While he has appeared on songs with Slum Village, Common and Big Sean, it is his work on the Kanye West singles “Flashing Lights” and “Power” that brought his silky vocals to the mainstream.

He approaches rap songs with more reserve than he does his own work. Oftentimes, Dwele said, he dials his vocals down to not overpower the MC.

“Sometimes in a rap song, I don't want to go overkill with the harmonies,” Dwele said. “I don't want to make it too melodic and too beautiful. I try to keep a little edge to it.”

Dwele has gained plenty of radio airplay as a featured guest on rap songs, but he wishes the recognition would be the same for his own music. He hopes his next album — which Dwele is beginning to write, but admits there's “not really much to talk about right now” — and soul music in general would be accepted more by radio stations.

“I would like to see soul music being implemented more into the music that's actually popular and getting all the shine right now,” Dwele said. “I don't want to say it's a dying form of music, but it's definitely slowed down.”

What hasn't slowed down is Dwele's schedule. After this tour, he'll head back into the studio to work on his next album. And if, as many fans hope, West calls Dwele again to collaborate, how would the singer respond?

“There's nothing in the works right now,” Dwele said, “but if he calls me like, 'Yo! I've got a joint.' I'm there."

If you go

Dwele performs Friday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place, Inner Harbor. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22 in advance; $27.50 day of show. Call 410-244-0057 or go to baltimoresoundstage.com. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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