R&B Love, Actually

Detroit singer Dwele channels a tough life into a soulful style — and crossover success

May 22, 2013

Detroit R&B artist Dwele digs avant-garde film, travel and D.C.’s trademark condiment.

At the age of 6, Dwele was already mastering the piano. At 10, he was using it to channel his emotions after his father was murdered.

Given his circumstances, the Detroit native could have easily joined the modern hip-hop landscape that’s punctuated with boasts and violence. Instead, the R&B producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist has focused his music on the people and things he loves — many of which are reflected in his six albums, including last year’s “Greater Than One.” (He’s also been a featured artist on several megahits, including Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” and “Power” and Common’s “The People.”)

Dwele’s love of love is right there in his song titles: “I Think I Love U,” “Old Lovas,” “What’s Not to Love,” “Love You Right,” “This Love.”

“[Modern] R&B is wearing a lot of different hats these days,” the 35-year-old says. From club jams to the more soulful music that “works in the bedroom,” love permeates the genre. And Dwele loves a lot of things:

Film: “Video is an extension of audio, and audio is an extension of video,” the film buff says. Dwele’s favorite director is Spike Lee, and his favorite screenplay is “Love, Actually.” And, though choosing a favorite movie is difficult, he finally does: “Kanye put me on this crazy [1973] movie called ‘The Holy Mountain,’ and it’s real weird, but at the end of the day, it’s almost like abstract art,” he says. “You gotta watch the movie and then determine what it means to you.” Dwele’s tried his hand at directing, helming a recent video for Detroit hip-hop group Slum Village’s “Actin’ Normal.” He’s also directing a video for “Swank,” a track off “Greater Than One.”

Globe-Trotting: “Even before I got into music, traveling has been the love of my life,” Dwele says. If forced to settle somewhere beside his beloved Detroit, he’d choose London. The city provides a foreign experience that doesn’t necessarily feel foreign, he says. “The grass is green over there, but at the same time, it’s not too far away from what we know as Americans.”

D.C.: Dwele professes love for D.C., though he can’t decide on his favorite aspect. “The women are beautiful,” he says, but a recent culinary discover might win out. “I also just found out about mumbo sauce,” he says. “That’s all I can recommend right now.”

Inside Track
Dwele’s 2012 record, “Greater Than One,” features some sexy tracks, including the after-dark, kind-of-shocking “Obey.” Fifty Shades of Dwele?

Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW; Thu., 8 p.m., $35-$39.50; 202-803-2899. (Shaw)
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Rudi Greenberg · May 22, 2013