At last year’s corresponding residency at the Jazz Cafe, Dwele had a more than apt tribute for the late, great Nate Dogg. At the time I couldn’t help but think that this was a nod to a trailblazer in the industry who, through his success, allowed a crossover artist like Dwele to exist.
Nate Dogg was the king of West Coast hooks, adding a unifying R&B influence juxtaposed to the partisan rapping. He wasn’t Jodeci , R. Kelly or Ginuwine. He was unique in the sense that he was essentially a hip hopper who happened to sing. Add to that, he was the go to vocalist for the hottest producer at the time – Dr Dre. Together, they were behind some of the classics from a golden period of rap.
Dwele was an evolution of that but with palpably different influences. I mean Dwele’s script could teach today’s kids [I’m looking at you Frank Ocean and The Weeknd ] who claim the ‘word of mouth’ tag, what it really meant not so long ago.
Way before it was cool to post Frank Ocean’s ‘Swim Good’ on your wall, Dwele made a homemade album called Rize back in 1998 and sold it from the trunk of his car. Long before the retweet button existed, his songs were played in the background of the infamous Detroit hangout, Cafe Mahogany, in between poetry sessions where local legends Slum Village (and more importantly, J Dilla) caught wind of it.
What they heard was a man not only channelling Donny Hathaway and John Coltrane but with a distinct hip hop edge. He became the go to vocalist for Dilla and eventually even Kanye West; this was no accident, as what Dwele shares with both producers is an old soul with a new face.
So how much of this hip hop laced, neo soul jazz did he bring to the Jazz Cafe last week? Well, just enough.
In recent years, Dwele consistently sold out his residencies at Jazz Cafe and you could see why here. He appeared on stage with a confident strut of a man who has hit that very stage many times before. Opening with the upbeat ‘Grown’ from the Wants World Women album, he was slightly betrayed by below par sound from the iconic venue, but still had an excited crowd in his hands.
By now, he knows this crowd all too well and plays up to their quirks. Between renditions of fan favourite ‘Truth’ and ‘Flapjacks,’ he introduces one of his many stage alter egos, who happens to have a molested, British accent. It was funny, but I feel that he thought he was better at the accent than he actually was. Nevertheless, the easy going Jazz Cafe crowd suited his playful interludes.
After serenading the crowds with a medley of more favourites, he flexed his multi instrumental muscles with some surprisingly good piano work. At this point, you did feel he was coasting and just about the point the crowd was losing its high, he throws a curveball and introduces to what he called the ‘young Sam Cooke’ – his backing singer J Tait.
In many ways, J Tait is throwback. The type of vocalist that comes almost from the wrong generation. His rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic ‘I Want You’ was so powerful, it’s hard to believe he will not be getting new fans every night he is there. I hope to see more that dude.
Dwele took back the reins and turned it to a fully fledged party. Whether it was dancing among the crowds or bringing a rather excitable young lady onto the stage, he was determined to close it on a joyous note. Incidentally, his supposedly spontaneous moments seemed to be the most staged parts of the whole show, which is strange to say the least. I think the fact that he does an annual residency here may have gotten him a little complacent, where he will follow a [albeit successful] formula.
Overall a chilled and fun show, Dwele has become a seasoned performer who knows what works and executes it quite well. Almost too well. As good as they are, if his shows get too staged or stagnant I suspect he will lose a few return customers, but he is the type of artist with a dedicated following who will attend his shows year on year.