There may be no better illustration of Dallas-based producer Madukwu Chinwah’s versatility than this: I’d just finished watching a 40-second trailer for his country-themed project, when YouTube’s algorithm coughed up a different Chinwah track, “A Little Love.”
In its evocation of vintage Marvin Gaye/Tammy Terrell vibes, “Love” was about as far afield from the sturdy, neo-country-circa-1991 flavor of “The Heart Knows,” an arresting new single Chinwah is releasing under the stage name Cody Wayne Briggs. The whiplash was as disorienting as it was fascinating.
When sharing this anecdote with Chinwah during a recent conversation, he began chuckling: “Sorry — I’m sorry about that,” the Grammy-winning producer said. “From Marvin Gaye to that.”
But let’s back up a second: Your mind may still be grappling with the idea that a producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, who has worked with a host of top-tier talent — not least of which is fellow Dallasite Erykah Badu, to whose acclaimed debut Baduizm he contributed production, songwriting and vocals, as well as Common, The D.O.C. and N’Dambi — has moved from R&B and soul music into country.
It might read like a stunt. It sounds like anything but — especially once Chinwah namechecks George Strait, Clint Black and Brooks and Dunn as sonic touchstones.
“I can remember being in the second grade,” Chinwah said. “My teacher told my mother, ‘Your son is a writer.’ I’d written some story; I think it was about 10 pages long — about a cowboy, believe it or not. … The love of country music comes, in part, from how well the stories are written. … [The genre] leaves so much room for songwriting, and as a songwriter who’s written a lot of R&B and pop, it’s refreshing to be able to show vulnerability, you know?”
Chinwah’s affinity for a specific slice of country history — roughly the late 1980s through the early 1990s — is evident from the moment “The Heart Knows” blooms from the speakers.
“I could’ve loved her better/Now I’m sitting here alone,” Chinwah intones against a weeping pedal steel, gated drums, and acoustic guitar — all that’s missing is a neon beer sign and a Mo Betta shirt.
“This thing is about being sincere,” Chinwah said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recorded with artists who aren’t who they say they are … I don’t think this is one of those situations.”
With the release of Cody Wayne Briggs’s debut single, Chinwah is focused on finishing up the as-yet-untitled LP he’ll release as Briggs later this year (“I’m thinking October,” he said).
“I’m just trying to do a grown man thing,” Chinwah said. “Something that feels really good. I hadn’t thought about the fame or the money. I just want to tell my story. And the stories of people who don’t know how to tell these stories. So, some of the ballads are for guys who don’t know how to talk — and there are a lot of those.”
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.