April 2, 2002. Your boy had a decision to make.
On that day, the world of R&B was set to see the release of two big debuts — Ashanti, the so-called “princess of R&B” who was riding the coat tails of Murder Inc’s phenomenal success, and Tweet, the somewhat enigmatic singer who was tied the incomparable duo of Missy Elliott and Timbaland.
Both had a strong buzz and solid singles. Both were backed by extremely successful teams. But I wasn’t sure who deserved my hard-earned $9.99. Keep in mind this was back in the Stone Ages, well before the days of Spotify streaming and intentional album leaks. You didn’t know what you were getting until you ripped the plastic off the CD case, playa.
Now look, I know everyone reading this over the age of 25 is wondering why I’d have such a tough time picking between these two discs. Y’all have the gift of 2015 hindsight. In 2002, I didn’t know I was trying to decide between a full-course soul meal and a plastic pumpkin filled with sickeningly sweet Halloween candy.
I decided to cop both albums, and we know how that turned out: Ashanti’s album had a couple of cutsey singles and not much else. But Tweet’s album blew me away — it wasn’t just a rehash of its single, it was a weighty, but welcoming, soulful experience. R&B needs more albums like that.
What ever happened to Tweet, anyway? I’m glad you asked.
If you’re a fan of the “What Ever Happened to…” series, you know most of these stories start the same way. And it’s no different for Charlene Keys of Rochester, NY. Like so many R&B artists before her, she honed her vocals in her church choir, was inspired by divas like Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin to pursue stardom, and eventually relocated from her home to chase success.
She soon put her hopes in the hands of one man — Devante Swing.
In the early 90s, Jodeci ruled R&B and DeVante was a founding member of that groundbreaking group. Along with Jodeci commitments, he also launched his Swing Mob record label, which would serve as a training ground for some of the best and brightest acts of the decade — including Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ginuwine, Playa Stevie J, and yes, even the mighty Magoo.
Y’all stop hating on Maganoo. Mag sounds freaking Rakim next to Fetty Wap, Young Thugga and these other stumble bums y’all like. At least he doesn’t sound like he’s rapping with mouth full of Honey Smacks.
But I digress.
Ms. Keys formed the group Sugah with Susan Weems and Rolita White as part of Swing Mob. You probably didn’t know that though — like most things Swing Mob, the group went absolutely nowhere under DeVante’s watchful eye.
Like her labelmates, she’d fine success much later.
Many years (and many bills) later, Charlene was in need of a break. That break came in the form of Missy, who reached out to her to contribute background vocals for Missy’s upcoming album Miss E … So Addictive. She appeared on five tracks, allowing Charlene, now known as Tweet, to make her own name in the music industry.
After a few guest spots — including the soothing “Love Me” solo track on Timbaland and Mastermind Magoo’s 2001 Indecent Proposal album — it was finally time for Tweet’s long-awaited debut. April 2, 2002 was her redemption.
Before Tweet’s debut, Southern Hummingbird, hit stores we were treated to its off-kilter first single, “Oops (Oh My)” Tweet’s ode to, um, self-love. If you wanna call it that.
The wonky production and suggestive lyrics were fun but familiar — like a weird marriage between Aaliyah’s mystery and Missy’s brashness. The song was a No. 1 R&B hit, but wound up being a bit misleading.
Fans looking for a continuation of the sound of R&B crafted by the late Aaliyah or the frantic pace embraced by Missy were in for a surprise. Instead, Southern Hummingbird was a masterful slice of blues and soul — much more of a throwback to R&B’s roots than usual leap into the future that Timbaland n’ friends were known for. All Tweet needed were those feathery vocals and her guitar.
But don’t sleep, the album certainly wasn’t a snoozer. “Call Me” was downright addictive, quickly becoming a top 10 R&B hit. It also launched a Version campaign that was so ever-present that it got *thisclose* to ruining the song for me. Seriously, it was on BET EVERY FOUR MINUTES. Ah, BET, remember when you used to watch that channel?
BTW, the video for “Call Me” was the moment when brothers started to noticed that Tweet was kinda fine.
Legend says that a video was also recorded for arguably the best song on the album, “Smoking Cigarettes.” However, it’s allegedly sitting in a vault somewhere, likely because Tweet rambles off the names of cigarette companies, says their unhealthy and vows to quit them. I bet the lawyers were on deck for that track. Still, if someone has a link to the vid, hook your boy up.
Southern Hummingbird climbed to No. 3 on the pop charts, eventually going platinum. And in my humble opinion, it still stands as one of the best R&B albums of the past 20 years.
After playing musical chairs with release dates, we finally got a proper follow-up to Tweet’s debut with It’s Me Again in 2005. The lead single, “Turn Da Lights Off” was produced by Kwame.
Yes, THAT Kwame. The guy Biggie dissed for wearing polka-dots had become a top-flight producer and expertly sampled both Nat King Cole’s “Lost April” and Marvin Gaye’s “If This World Were Mine.” The song was a banger, but never gained traction, stalling out at No. 39 on the R&B charts. “When I Need a Man” and the awesome “Cab Ride” also failed to chart. It’s Me Again debuted at No. 17 but dropped like a rock. That’s a shame, it was a solid album.
Her Eye of Sauron album cover was creepy though.
In 2008, Tweet contributed to The Dresden Soul Symphony album while fans patiently awaited her third release.
Well, it’s 2015. We’re still waiting.
In 2007, Tweet parted ways with Missy’s Goldmine imprint and signed with Umbrella Recordings to drop Love, Tweet. A few tracks leaked — “Anymore,” “My Dear” with TI among them. We also got “Everything” and “Love Again,” both of which are still in rotation on the ol’ EddPod.
In 2012, she officially bounced from Umbrella (ella ella, ehh ehh — I’ll stop now). She later signed with MC Lyte’s DuBose Music Group and renamed her album Simply Tweet, which sounds like a shade of blue nail polish. We never got that album but in 2013 we did get a Simply Tweet EP, which featured a stirring cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming.”
Since then, Tweet’s been relatively quiet. She’s got me nervous and trembling, smoking cigarettes until she drops something new.
Just playing, I don’t smoke. Please, don’t sue me Newport/Winston/Salem/Marlboro Lights.
Should she come back?: DUH. Tweet’s blend of acoustic soul would be a breath of fresh air in the game. And she could always reunite with Timbaland or Missy for a guaranteed radio hit. I’m sure the chemistry is still there. Tweet bowed out of the game with a lot of gas left in the tank — there’s a reason why I still remember April 2, 2002 so fondly.