Either Detroit-based R&B performer Dwele likes to rely on old standbys -- or he's just one lazy bastard. Subject -- his major-label "debut" album -- is actually a revamped version of his original debut, the self-produced, self-distributed 1998 release, Rize. Just as Evil Dead 2 was really director Sam Raimi's attempt to retweak his original, Subject finds the former MC-turned neo-soul neophyte revisiting his most memorable tunes from Rize and throwing in some new stuff.
Having the older stuff re-sequenced and spread out robs Subject of the erotic, stream-of-consciousness flow of Rize, but still, the Rize songs never lose their enticing impact. "Truth," has a bountiful, bass-heightened rhythm that makes you forget that Dwele is singing about breaking up with a woman because their relationship is built on lies. "Lady At Mahogany" finds Dwele the studly hero waxing humorously regretful over a night on the town, one in which he finds his attempt to pick up a boho poet at a cafe cockblocked by a former conquest. ("Why is it that my ex-girl's all up in my grill? / Must be the new Colgate.") But "Kick Out Of You" is the sickest track on the album, an addictive, jazz-heavy excursion into pure mellowness highlighted by Dwele's dulcet, coy vocals. If this track ever becomes a single, it's a surefire babymaker classic.
The new stuff, on the other hand, feels too polished, as though Dwele felt obligated to use all the fancy toys a big budget can bring. While the Rize tracks sound like Hennessy-fueled, jazz-club jam sessions, the Subject tracks are nothing better (or worse) than familiar, MOR adult soul. They are neither mainstream nor underground, which isn't to say they're all lame. "Hold On" has a flourishing finesse, and the party furniture-mover "Sho Ya Right" subtly reveals Dwele's musical mission: "Just know that you've got to move to / This neo-house and soul." The title track displays the poetic flair of the Rize tracks, as he longs for a muse with all the features -- "Your bellybutton, abs, your thighs, your lips " -- he needs in order to be a proper soul artist. So all's not lost on our boy after all, even if he's wallowing in the joys of a big production budget.
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Sure, you could call Dwele another D'Angelo rip-off, just as many of you said the same of Remy Shand last year and Bilal the year before. But if you're looking for a quick neo-soul fix to tide you over until D'Angelo finally releases another album -- which will probably be in the coming, um, decade -- you won't go wrong copping this.