It started with a song that might be about masturbation. It was 2002 and R&B singer Tweet [born Charlene Keys] had spent time behind the scenes as a backing/guest vocalist on a few Missy Elliot tracks before pairing with Elliot producer Timbaland. The resulting track, “Oops (Oh My),” found sultry Tweet moaning lines such as “I was looking so good I couldn’t reject myself” and “Oops, there goes my shirt up over my head.” The ode to self-pleasure became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard R&B chart and her Elektra Records’ debut Southern Hummingbird, soon followed. Just like that, Tweet had become a major name in R&B.
But because of label problems her 2005 sophomore set, It’s Me Again, took three years, a lifetime in the R&B world. And while songs like the single “Turn Da Lights Off” were infectious, the album never garnered the commercial success of its predecessor. Frustrated, Tweet disappeared, determined never to do music again.
“I had started recording my second album when Elektra merged with Atlantic,” says Tweet of It’s Me Again. “People at the label that I worked with the fi rst time around were no longer there. The new team wanted me to make changes to the album, make it sound more hip-hop—which I did, but that wasn’t enough. They had me make more changes. I just didn’t want to do music anymore because of that.”
So, she didn’t. She was released from her contract and Tweet was free. The Rochester, NY, native went back to being full-time mom to her teenage daughter Tashawna, but couldn’t deny her own passion to make music. When her manager at the time, Violator Management President Mona Scott-Young, called with an indie label deal from music veteran Jheryl Busby (Patti LaBelle, New Edition) and his Umbrella Recordings, which included Tweet owning her own masters, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“Being on an independent label, there are not too many people to answer to,” Tweet says of Umbrella. “It’s great for me because it’s more intimate. I also get to be a business woman. I don’t have to have my life and my career in other people’s hands. I now own my own masters, which everyone should.”
With her faith in the music biz partially restored, Tweet headed back into the studio for her third album, Love, Tweet. “It’s a love note to the fans that have been there for me throughout the hiatus. The true fans—they inspired me to get back in.”
She began writing new songs and completed six or seven using material she had already written and tracks that producers built around them. She teamed with a host of producers for the album, including Nisan Stewart (Missy Elliot, Nelly Furtado), Warren Campbell (Brandy), and Novel (India Arie, Joss Stone), to craft an album about love and loss that showed a side of Tweet other than the one from the over-sexed single that made her. Missy Elliot and T.I. are already rumored to appear. The Charlie BeReal- and Craig Brockman-produced “Love Again” is one of Tweet’s favorites.
“It’s about being confused after you’ve been hurt by love,” Tweet says of the song. “It’s like, ‘Do I want to get back in the game? Should I? Would I? I could.’ It’s number one on the album because it’s that type of record.”
According to Tweet, another standout track is “Alone.” “That’s my Marvin Gaye record. It’s about having a lover be unfaithful and realizing that even when relationships don’t work out you’re never alone as long as you have God in your life.”
That theme isn’t new to Tweet’s life; she got her start singing in church and later joined Sugah, a female R&B group that was part of the Swing Mob, a collective that included Timbaland, Ginuine and Magoo. It was there that she met her future mentor, Missy Elliot, and got her first tattoo.
“I got my first tattoo, my name with a mic and a star, on my right upper arm,” she says of her fi rst piece. “I was in a group called Sugah and we all went to get tattoos at a place on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. I don’t even remember the name of the place, but I know it’s still there. I actually never thought I would get a tattoo. I just didn’t think it was me.”
In addition to that first tattoo, Tweet has a hummingbird on her left upper arm (a reference to her nickname “The Southern Hummingbird”), a guitar on her stomach, and a set of Flintstones-inspired Bam Bam drums on her right shoulder. She also has a pair of eyes on her back. “I got those when I was mad at love. I decided to get the tattoo to show that I could watch my own back.” Most of her tattoos were done by Miami artist Gino, at Illustrated Ink.
“He’s just so good because he free hands everything,” says Tweet. “I actually want him to touch up [the hummingbird] because she seems lonely. I may get [the guitar] fi xed up, but not a lot of people have seen it because that’s just not my style. And, the Bam Bam drums I want to get that covered with an angel and my daughter’s name.”
As far as new pieces, Tweet only has one more in mind. “My sister got my name tattooed on her wrist like a bracelet, so I think I am going to get Gino to do her name in the same spot.”
For now, she’s focused on Love, Tweet. Having tackled self-pleasure on the track that made her, this time Tweet is writing about loving one another.