Dwele’s certainly come a long way from slinging cassettes of his rap demos out of his trunk in Detroit. J Dilla is credited with many things, but one of his less recognized decisions was to recruit Dwele into the Slum Village fold as a vocalist rather than another off-kilter MC. While it’s taken a while for Dwele to leave behind his immediate influences—D’Angelo and the Soulquarian crew—in favor of a more recognizable voice, W.ants W.orld W.omen (herein referred to as W.W.W.) is definitely Dwele’s most confident artistic statement yet. That title may be a clunker of monstrous proportions, but the disc itself is confidently self-assured, particularly the second half. It still comes with its fair share of awkwardness and grasps at the past, but for the most part W.W.W. is a solid collection of hip-hop-leaning soul jazz. Like past Dwele releases, most of W.W.W. is self-produced and carries a hazed-out, late-night-lovers vibe. Mike City, of Carl Thomas and Brandy fame, stops by for two cuts, while a couple of surprise features from DJ Quik and his apprentice G-One add variety to the set.
It’s a collaboration with Nottz, who seemingly has appeared everywhere with anyone since the beginning of the decade, on the burner “I Wish” that opens the album. The song itself is all hook and syrupy funk, and it feels great where it is. But it falls in the clumsy opening act of the album (Wants), where Dwele appears confused over what his voice should be and how best to convey his message. As a result, he finds himself in a couple tired positions with his lyrics early on, though he earns credit for admitting he’s only after booty on “Grown”. “Dodgin’ Your Phone” is a song that feels sorely absent from radio for its first three minutes, with a unique conceit (Dwele will stalk you if you don’t pick up) and a three-spoons-of-sugar sweet chorus that bobs around a token, label-mandated sort of verse from unexpected guest David Banner. But then Dwele revives his own roots as a rapper, providing an effect not unlike tacking a two-minute Sean Combs soliloquy onto the back of a twisted Eric Roberson jam. Luckily, Dwele rescues the segment with its final piece, the absolutely salacious duet with Raheem DeVaughn, “Dim the Lights”. The song doesn’t do much, but, with the zone these two artists are in, not much is needed beyond their satiny tenors to set the intended mood.
The World section is perhaps the most understated of the three, more due to a lack of inventiveness or single-ready material than an actual deficit of good tunes. “Hangover” is a well-handled metaphor for middle America’s current state of mind, partying to forget the negative things in life, while “My People” asks why we feel the ‘60s were a healthier era to live in. More importantly, it asks why we’re willing to accept that logic. The section-opening “How I Deal” features old friends T3 and Baatin (R.I.P.) in token roles just like Banner, though they certainly feel more welcome and at home.
It’s really the third and final segment, Women, that drives W.W.W. home, though. Not only does each segment have a way of rising to its very best moments during its last stand, but the album as a whole leans this way as well. “What’s Not to Love?” is a fantastic ode to perfectly imperfect women, while “Give Me a Chance” begs for opportunity with grace and relatable scope: “Times is getting hard / Babe, you need to laugh”. “Love You Right” is another highlight among highlights, and while these offerings might have some wishing Dwele had spent the entire album in lover mode, I think these tracks and “Dim the Lights” work just as well as rewards as they would as blueprints for the entire presentation.
W.W.W. wasn’t something I liked immediately; in fact, if I had reviewed it after one listen, I may very well have panned it spectacularly. But it doesn’t take too many subsequent listens before most of the songs here start exposing their charms. Most fans of soul will catch themselves looking to W.W.W. throughout the fall when they need some good old modern soul to lean back on. Tucked away at the end is a great bonus cut with DJ Quik that transports listeners right back to the summer of ‘97, when Quik was the undisputed king of G-funk and couldn’t help but make a hit record. “I Wanna” might not blow up the airwaves, but if radio weren’t so political, it’d have a real shot of making a very noticeable dent. This is definitely an album for those of you still waiting on a D’Angelo comeback, and, more importantly, it’s a strong step forward for Kanye West’s favorite statement-making collaborator.
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// Notes from the Road
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