by Alana Noelle Black
For her latest album Charlene, R&B singer Tweet decided she would not follow a specific blueprint for how it would sound. It was a risky choice for an artist who ostensibly knew a thing or two about hit records – her 2002 debut Southern Hummingbird reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and featured the Top 10 single “Oops (Oh My)” – but it was a choice that paid off.
Charlene, titled with Tweet’s given name, has been getting positive reviews from sources ranging from Amazon.com customers to Spin, the latter calling her vocals “startlingly unique” and “rapturous.” And HipHopDX called her songwriting “profound,” which is not surprising, considering the lyrics’ inspiration.
“Each song was inspired by pages out of my diary,” Tweet said of the album, which is made up largely of songs chronicling romance – the ups (“Magic,” in which she says, “you are the best thing since ice cream”), the downs (“Somebody Else Will,” a Timbaland-produced track featuring Missy Elliott), and even the unrequited (“Won’t Hurt Me”).
Tweet’s musical origins served as her muse, as well. “I had to go back to the basics,” she said. “To when I was Charlene, when I first fell in love with music, before the nickname Tweet, before I was an artist.” Those inspirations include Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and gospel music, and are evident in everything from Charlene’s instrumentation to its cadences.
Tweet’s journey since her first involvement with the music industry has had fluctuations, not unlike those in a romantic relationship. In 1994, she joined Sugah, a trio put together by DeVante Swing of the acclaimed R&B group Jodeci. But after years of recording and performing, their album was never released. Then Tweet was offered a contract with Elektra, and got to work with her friends and fellow onetime DeVante Swing protégés Missy Elliott and Timbaland. The product, Southern Hummingbird, achieved great critical and commercial success.
When her next album, 2005’s It’s Me Again, did not reach similar levels of success, Tweet found herself in the throes of depression.
“The record company wasn’t giving me the support that I needed after compromising for them; I was kinda left out in the cold,” Tweet said. “I was in a relationship that I know now wasn’t the right relationship. At that time, my life really hit the fan. I’d had a case of depression when working with DeVante in the beginning, but at that point, in 2005, 2006, I was just pretty much over it. I felt like it was too much to battle with.”
Tweet credits her faith as being the main thing that helped her become healthy.
“Growing up in the church, I always knew that God was the force of everything,” she said. “So when I hit that point in my life, I knew what was exactly what I needed to do…. There was an incident where I was watching the BET [“Celebration of Gospel”] and Tonéx (now known as B.Slade) was singing “Lord Make Me Over”…. I was sitting there drunk, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and when I heard that song it just hit me like a ton of bricks and it was really speaking my life. So I kind of hit the floor and just surrendered right there….I went full-fledged into getting my spiritual life where it was supposed to be.
“And then as I did that, God started bringing opportunities, and then every opportunity led to this moment right here….I think everyone in life has to hit that [rock bottom] in order to get clear on their direction and where they need to be or where they need to go. That was mine.”
Since taking time to refocus, Tweet has rebounded. Charlene has reached #3 on the Billboard R&B and #4 on the Billboard Independent album charts, respectively. Tweet is scheduled to perform at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 28.
• For more information about Tweet, visit iamtweet.net.