Though my real name is Charlene Keys, I've been nicknamed Tweet ever since I can remember. Everyone in my family wants credit for coming up with that, but no one knows where it came from. What I do know is that it stuck, and in many ways, it fits perfectly.
Born in Rochester, N.Y. to a musical family with deep Southern roots, I grew up singing in a church choir, and later, in a gospel group. My parents and four siblings mastered, among other instruments, the piano, bass guitar, and drums. I think coming from a musical family centered me. I inherited a real passion for music, and a respect for those who dedicate their lives to it as a career. Although I also learned how to play guitar, it was my voice -an alto to be exact - that became my favorite instrument.
Determined to follow in the footsteps of my idols Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner, I enrolled in a performing arts school. My incessant hard work and dedication seemed to pay off in 1994, after a meeting with DeVante (of Jodeci fame), resulted in a production deal with a group called Sugah. The group eventually disintegrated. There was promise after promise that we'd make an album, but it never happened. During those difficult times, I confided in Missy Elliott, who shared my musical aspirations as well as my frustrations with DeVante. I remember him not wanting Missy and I to hang out, but we lived in the same building, so we would hide out and go to the mall and just talk. She became my big sister.
Ultimately, both Missy and I parted ways with DeVante, and, although her career eventually took off, my dream seemed ever so distant. Disillusioned and broke, I moved to my parents' home in Panama City, FL. I was so depressed that I began to contemplate suicide. But the day before my intended (and final) surrender, I received the phone call that changed my life, forever. It was Missy, asking me to sing background vocals on her Miss E...So Addictive album. We hadn't spoken in a long time, but I knew I could tell her the truth about how I was feeling because we both went through the same ordeal. I call her my guardian angel now because she truly rescued me. She says I don't owe her anything, but it is because she believed in me that I came to believe in Tweet, the artist.
I officially fluttered on the R&B scene in 2002, on the wings of Southern Hummingbird, mostly a work of soul-stirring balladry, with two major exceptions- "Oops (Oh My)" and "Call Me," both dancefloor-destined singles produced by Timbaland. The album was widely embraced and went platinum. People defined my sound as "sexy" and "seductive." Some, including Missy and choreographer Fatima, said I reminded them of Aaliyah, which was incredibly flattering. Yet my intention was simply to make music that came from within. Only by being disarmingly candid with listeners could I truly earn a place in their hearts. So on tender, acoustic ballads like "Smoking Cigarettes" and "Motel" (on which I played guitar), I wasn't just singing- I was speaking of my most personal experiences with Love. The bitter and the sweet; the pleasure and the pain; the romance and realism of Love-I didn't hold anything back. Missy once told me that Hummingbird's greatest triumph was being able to "hit that point of no return between love and hurt."
Fast forward to 2005, and it's finally time to unveil It's Me Again, an exciting, new chapter in my life. I refer to it as Southern Hummingbird, times two. It's still me, but it's a different revelation of me. I've grown as an artist as well as a woman. I've been there, done that, and it's a great feeling. It's Me Again once again features executive production from Missy, but it doesn't sound as dark as its predecessor. This album is sunnier; it's all about being cool with yourself and comfortable in your own skin.
As the Missy-assisted first single, "Turn Da Lights Off"- playfully scratched and produced by Kwame- proves, the album has an indispensable amount of hip hop -but the sound is unique in that it recalls those old, but timeless, vinyl records. Even my fashion sense has evolved to evoke a classy, Diana Ross circa Lady Sings The Blues. Rather than being fine, I want to be beautiful now. I feel like a little girl going into my mother's closet and playing dress up.
Some things, like my penchant for Marlboro Ultra Lights, in-your-face lyrics and interwoven harmonies-I've always done my own background vocals- have remained intact. "I'm Done," which I wrote after a break-up, is a song dedicated to L-O-V-E itself, while "My Man" bluntly tells an ex-chick who's really relevant in a lover's life now. One of my favorite songs is "Taxi," which features music from the classic TV series by the same name. Everybody used to love the show, so we took the music from that and made it into a beautiful ballad. As for surprises, perhaps the biggest one is "The Two Of Us," a dazzling duet with my daughter, Tashawna. The song honors our relationship because it's always been just the two of us, ever since she was born. When people hear the song, they say she sounds exactly like me. It's my newfound understanding of love on It's Me Again-not just in the traditional sense, but also the kind of unconditional love between mother and daughter- that makes this album that much more compelling.
It's a fact: I love being in love. But because love has hurt me, I have learned how to give and receive the right love. When the love is right, there's no going wrong. All those that were hurt before, I want to bring y'all into this next level - that's healing. And believe me, there's no better place to be