As a member of the Grammy-nominated R&B group Tony Toni Toné, Dwayne Wiggins never really had the chance to express his individuality. Then, as a freelance songwriter he found an outlet for his expression but only through other artists like Tevin Campbell, Kelly Price, and Jody Watley singing his songs. Now, with the release of Wiggins' debut solo album, Eyes Never Lie, this multitalented R&B singer decided that "it's time to shine."
But Wiggins never actually went out in pursuit of a solo career.
"What really put me in the position to even trip with this was the song 'Strange Fruit.' That was something personal," said Wiggins. "That's what sparked up all the interest in this 'Mr. Solo Man' thing. I'm really enjoying it; it's just another dimension in the game."
Wiggins is referring to "What's Really Going On (Strange Fruit)," the first single from Eyes Never Lie, which he produced himself and executive-produced with Motown Records chief Kedar Massenburg, which is a direct reaction to an incident of racial profiling Wiggins experienced last year.
While sitting in a car with a friend outside an Oakland, Calif., club, on March 29, 1999, Wiggins said a police officer flung his door open and grabbed his neck, screaming, "Spit it out! Spit it out!" It seems Wiggins had fit the officer's image of a drug user. All the R&B singer spit out was a sip of Evian water. Wiggins is now suing the Oakland County Police Department for civil-rights violations in federal court.
"I wrote the song because I felt there's a lot of people who won't have the opportunity to speak," says Wiggins. "You never can tell what can go down. I know I'm blessed to be sitting here talking right now, because I've seen and heard situations where it goes down a whole other way."
Wiggins borrowed part of the title from Billie Holiday's 1939 song about lynching to emphasize the meaning of his song. "We're not hanging from trees, but this is just another form of lynching," he said. "It shows that you can get away with mistreating a person because of the color of their skin and their life is not valued at all, and that's the most dangerous part of it."
Wiggins, who played with Bruce Springsteen at this year's Grammy tribute to Curtis Mayfield, commended Springsteen on "American Skin," his new song that references the police shooting of Amadou Diallo , "I think we need to hit from the bottom," he said. "We need to be where it's most effective. We need to be in the hood. We need to hit from every angle. I think it's a cool thing because Bruce is hitting from the top, and that means we're hitting from every angle. I commend anyone for coming out and being bold, because not too many artists have balls in this game."
Disappointed by the control record producers have over their artists, Wiggins took a nontraditional approach for his solo album. Many of the tracks on Eyes Never Lie were the result of impromptu jam sessions. He started jamming with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish, and the song "Music Is Power" came out of it. "We recorded a song in a small studio at a college. That type of stuff doesn't happen when you involve your label, when you don't just let artists be artists and speak," he said.
Another track was recorded when actor/comedian Jamie Foxx came over to the studio in Wiggins' home. "He came over and it wasn't a business thing, he just came over to kick it. We ended up just jamming in the studio," he said. "He had this idea for 'Let's Make a Baby,' I had the music behind it and we just sewed it up."
"Move With Me" was written after a meeting with Carlos Santana. "He happened to see my guitar, I saw his, we spoke through our instruments, it was a musical thing. It had nothing to do with a company," Wiggins said.
As a producer himself, Wiggins wants to take a different, less-commercial route in the development of new artists. He doesn't want to work with anybody who isn't "real." "If you sign an artist you think is really real, let them be an artist and let them paint a picture for you. See what comes out," he said. "I could have been a stubborn production person, meaning 'If it isn't my way, it's no way.'"
In 1996 Wiggins signed Destiny's Child to his label, Grass Roots. He first met the three young R&B singers when they were just 9 years old through a friend who lived around the corner from Wiggins' in Oakland. The next time they were introduced the girls were 14. Their manager called Wiggins, explaining that they were a little more grown-up, and asked if he was interested in signing them.
"I knew that they were a serious connection to the youth, and they were going to be a major part in what was going to happen in R&B and soul music. I feel good knowing that I have the No. 1 female R&B group in the world."
Wiggins may be involved with the stars of R&B, but he also understands the importance of up-and-coming artists and bringing culture to the youth. His cafe, the Jahva House, in Oakland, is a place, he said, where people come together to experience culture.
"We feature fly-ass independent art," he said. "The youngsters get a chance to see established artists play acoustically, and it supports keeping the music in the school system from a real angle. They get a chance to come in and see a dude on turntables spinning next to a dude playing an acoustic guitar next to a dude on a djembe next to a dude with a drum machine - now that's a flip. And it's the old and the new mixing. We don't want this art and this music to be lost."
When asked if he still spends a lot of time with the other Tonys - his brother Raphael Saadiq, who is now playing with the R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl, and his cousin Timothy Christian Riley, who is working on movie soundtracks - Wiggins laughs. The group never broke up, he explained, they're just doing their own thing for a while.
"It's really back to us having fun. Lucy Pearl is Raphael having fun. My album is me having fun. For now we're all having fun with each other. As long as we know we're happy, we're cool."