In 2002, Tweet‘s Timbaland-produced hit single “Oops (Oh My)” became an instant classic of the era. Charlene Keys’ church-trained vocals paired with her sensual sass carried her to the top of the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart as her debut Southern Hummingbird (released that same year) reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
The song spawned a friendship and mentorship for Tweet with Hummingbird producers Timbo and Missy Elliott, but when It’s Me Again did not take off in 2005 the songbird opted for a 10-year hiatus from the music industry.
Now Tweet is back with her third album. Simply titled Charlene, her welcome return (released Friday, Feb. 26) is a complex diary, taking listeners back to her gospel roots while showcasing the self-assured woman and artist she has become.
In a conversation with Billboard, Tweet discusses her personal and musical self-reflection, teaming up again with Timbaland and Missy Elliott and how Twitter has changed the music maker’s grind.
Billboard: This is your first album in over a decade. What personal challenges that you’ve experienced during your hiatus will be reflected on Charlene?
Tweet: In 2005, I was really in a bad place. I kind of hit rock bottom. So on Charlene, you’ll probably hear a lot more secure Charlene. I’m fine with who I am and secure as the woman and artist. I’m not afraid. Spiritually, mentally, I’m just in this whole other place, and I’m excited and I’m ready for whatever is to come.
You re-team with Missy Elliott for “Somebody Else Will.” Describe how her friendship and creative input has affected your work this go-round.
Not only did I want to put out a soulful record because I feel it’s missing in the industry, but as I was in the process I remembered all of the inspirational words that Missy would tell me — just to be myself, never compromise and always remain true to who I am. So that means a lot for our friendship.
When Missy wrote “Somebody Else Will,” she sent it to me and I had to have this record. I love the message behind it because I’m all about revelation and girl power and knowing that you don’t have to stay in a situation that’s not good for you. I loved the song, so I had to do it.
Any chance you’ll collaborate with Missy on her next album?
Of course. She reached out to me previously and she always wants me to be on the albums, so I will be on there for sure.
Do you ever revisit “Oops (Oh My)”?
Yes! I always perform it. I’ve continued to perform and do shows. I couldn’t end a show without doing that record. I can’t believe that people still play it. It’s so amazing to me daily. Even in the 10 years that I’ve been gone, I’ve had people come up to me. Today, a lady was like, ‘I had to re-buy the album the other day because I lost it.’ That’s amazing to me that after 10 years, people are still singing my songs. I’m definitely blessed.
You worked with Timbaland again on Charlene. What’s your creative process with him like?
We never second-guess anything. For him, Missy and I, it’s never a question that it’s not gonna be great when we come together. The majority of the time, Timbaland will send music via Internet, CD, whatever and we’ll just play it. We’ll have our choice of what we want and then we’ll just go that way and use whatever songs we want to or we’ll be in the studio and we’ll just vibe out.
What sides of Charlene Keys will Tweet fans be surprised to hear on Charlene?
I think I touch more on my gospel [roots] this time. That’s why I called it Charlene, ’cause you’ll hear everything that inspired me musically before the artist Tweet. You will hear all of what Charlene grew up listening to on this album. It’s a little bit more mature Tweet. You’re still going to know what I’ve been through. The songs are pages out of my diary.
What did you listen to for inspiration when making this third album?
I listened to Marvin Gaye. I listened to D’Angelo, Al Green and Bilal and a lot of my gospel quartet. I had really fallen out of love with music period. I’ve been at that point where I really wanted to listen to soulful stuff or older stuff and be inspired.
Your musical name has been Tweet before Twitter became a huge social media platform. What’s your relationship with Twitter and social media?
I’m using Twitter to promote and let my fans know what I’m doing on a daily basis and things like that. It’s definitely a benefit for promotion. The only thing that I can say it took away from the industry is the street footwork of the artist. Back in the day, when I came out, we would go to different record stores and we would go to signings. We would get to touch the audience’s hands but now because of social media, all we’ve got to do is put a picture up. I like that personal thing.
Beyoncé recently released “Formation” and Rihanna infused her culture on the dancehall track “Work.” Do you feel like female artists have more freedom to express their thoughts now then they did then?
I think we’ve always had that opportunity. I had creative control from the beginning. It’s just more in the spotlight now. Beyoncé’s the biggest entertainer right now and she’s a woman. The spotlight is on the fact that we can have that position, but I think it’s always been there. Look at Aretha Franklin!
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I’m all for the women, of course! I have love for everybody.