With hit songs in the early 2000s like “Oops (Oh My)” and “Call Me,” iconic R&B singer Tweet was a force to be reckoned with. Her debut album, Southern Hummingbird, is a classic of the moment. But after her 2005 release It's Me Again, she largely disappeared from the spotlight, as she told The FADER recently over the phone, because of an intense depression. Tweet embarked on a spiritual journey that brought her back to her artistry, and she’s extremely happy about the reunion. She says that she's now on a path to create music that will inspire, which is very apparent on her first full length release in ten years, Charlene.
The FADER spoke to Tweet about why she thinks some of R&B's newer generation lacks originality, the musical chemistry between her and Missy Elliott, and what it’s like to have a name that clashes with Twitter.
What’s the creative process been like while creating Charlene?
Creatively, I just did what I usually do. I was inspired by different things but my focus was to put the soul back into music. As a consumer, I stopped really listening to music. It was just missing something. They keep saying, “R&B is dead,” but it’s not dead, I’m just not hearing it. So I said, let me go back to the basics because I started falling out of love with music. So I said, let me go back to when I first fell in love with music. That was before the nickname Tweet. So I listened to my quartet groups that I grew up listening to, gospel, Clark Sisters, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. I got inspired to do this record Charlene so that I could do music justice and put some quality work out that people could enjoy.
Where do you think the originality has gotten lost in R&B?
I think it’s the new generation. I don’t know where the gap has happened but we’re in a land of copycats and a land of people that are not original and it’s like everyone is trying to outdo each other. We’re finding that they’re still sounding the same. They’re quicker, the microwave generation—where let’s do something quick and focus on grabbing this beat. It’s a one track mind mentality. I think that’s why originality is missing because they just want it quick and they don’t want to go back and find out the history about what people want to listen to. I’m tired of hearing about everyone in the club, drinking and stripping. It has to be more than that. We’re getting lost again because everyone wants what’s hot right now—microwave.
As I was listening to Southern Hummingbird now I see connections in the things you’ve sang about and recognize the influence of your sound in a lot of new and popular artists. Do you feel like your contributions were or are overlooked?
Yeah… but it’s okay. Because I feel like God does everything for a reason. Maybe at the time I wasn’t ready for if I was to be skyrocketed. Maybe he had to take me through some stuff so I could get some more songs to inspire people and my place in life. I wasn’t ready at the time. As I stop at different radio station to promote this new record, the response has been incredible. I thought out of sight out of mind, people forgot and thought, “She’s washed up. She’s a one-hit wonder.” But, I’m finding that people really appreciate not just myself but everyone else that contributed to real music and it’s missing now. I’m appreciative to even be in this place right now to present Charlene. I’m ecstatic.
I’m in a place right now to really inspire people. I had to go through something in that hiatus and I got my spiritual life together. I’m comfortable as a woman and I’m secure in my artistry. So I’m in a great place.
Does it feel different this time now that you’re at this different place in life?
Right now, I’m more secure and I’m happy where I’m at in my life spiritually, emotionally and musically. So, it plays a big part. Back then, I was going with the flow and I was excited. Personally, I was going through a lot of struggle. I was drinking a lot, smoking a lot and things weren’t right. So maybe again, that’s why God didn’t let me come to my full capacity but I think I’m in a place right now to really inspire people. I had to go through something in that hiatus and I got my spiritual life together. I’m comfortable as a woman and I’m secure in my artistry. So I’m in a great place.
You’re working with Missy Elliot again. How much of the album has she worked on with you?
Missy has never been the one that wanted to write my whole record. She’s always been the one that put the fire under me because I never wanted to be a solo artist. So she pushed me out there like, “Write your records. You want to be able to communicate to the world.” She’s never wanted to sit and write it all. She did this record and she appreciates me as an artist as well and just loves it when I do my own thing. She contributed to one and we’re expecting to do more. We’ve been in talks so expect to hear some more from us.
How would you describe the musical chemistry between you two? Why do you think it works so well?
I think we’re from the same cloth and we’ve been knowing each other so long since ‘94. We were both with DeVante from Jodeci’s camp and I think it was what we came from. We came from the same background and appreciate the same things musically. Life lines when they come together they create magic.
And there are no features on Charlene.
Just Missy. I didn’t want to do too many because I’ve been gone like 10 years.
What was the deciding factor in making that collaboration happen?
Oh because the world would be upset and I would be upset with myself if that hadn’t have happened. It would’ve been like, “Come on. Are you serious?” So no, I wouldn’t have done it with it out. No way. If I had to wait another year, I would’ve waited for that record.
Are there any other artists that are still making music that you would like to work with?
D’Angelo, Solange, Jazmine Sullivan, Brandy, Lauryn Hill. I’ve done another record with Bilal on another compilation album that’s coming out. It’s an awesome record and it’s a guy named Chris Dave who’s putting on the record and it’s on there.
Can you tell me about “Created For This?” It sounds like a very personal piece.
Yes, that’s my testimony. They’re all personal. The outro is called, “My Surrender” and it’s basically me surrendering and talking to God and saying, "I’m broken but I need you to fix it. I know you said you would take care of me so I’m leaving it all in your hands." That’s very personal because that’s exactly where I was. I remember watching the BET Gospel celebration and Tonéx was singing, "Make Me Over.” That was in 2006, and I was spiraling out of control and I just fell to my knees and I said, “Lord whatever it is that you want me to do. I’ll let go of everything, this music, the man… whatever.” That’s what I did and God took me through the process so my surrender is a reflection of how I felt.
“Hardest Thing” is a direct reflection of me letting go of a man that I held on to that had been gone for 4 years. I was still hoping he called or not knowing the reason he left was because he had a baby on me and all that time I thought it was me. It’s very personal, all of my songs are.
Has your spiritual journey affected the way that you approach making the music?
Yes. I won’t write about panties coming off or lifting my shirt up over my head. This time, I’m going to use the platform to inspire and I think that’s better than trying to push something that’s not beneficial to someone’s life. I would rather inspire than damage.
Has it been healing for you to come back to music?
It’s been very healing. Again, I thought I wasn’t good enough for a long time. Just to hear the response, this makes me feel like it was all worth it. The downfalls, the letdowns. God knows how to do things and keep you in awe.
The magical part of love that you’re singing about, is that something you’ve been able to rediscover?
Yes. Through my desire and through my experience recently. I have a desire to be in love and I think I found someone. We’re dating now and even if it doesn’t work out, I’ve gotten that new revelation that love is, pretty magical.
Social media has evolved quite a bit since 2005. You ever get frustrated with Twitter and its clash with your name?
Yes, at times because a lot of people can’t get in touch with me. They can Google me and it used to be my name when it would pop up but now this Twitter situation is frustrating for business. I wouldn’t mind otherwise but, it’s killing me. [Laughs]