Music Mogul

Oakland's famed writer, producer, and performer Dwayne Wiggins has a thing goin' on

Curtis Mayfield’s guitar chords ripple in the background as actor Ron O’Neal conducts a cocaine deal on the large video screen at the Jahava House, a Lakeshore Avenue cafe owned by Dwayne Wiggins. One-third of the group Tony Toni Toné, which scored five No. 1 R&B hits between 1988 and ’91, the forty-year-old guitarist shows classic black films such as Superfly every Saturday night at the neighborhood coffeehouse.

While cutting his teeth in a series of East Oakland funk bands back in the ’70s, Wiggins dreamed of one day composing film music himself. “I wanted to do some cool scoring, much like Curtis Mayfield and James Brown used to do in the day.”

The opportunity finally presented itself last year. After completing a national tour promoting a solo album for Motown titled Eyes Never Lie, Wiggins was approached by independent Oakland filmmaker Ed La Borde Jr. about creating music for Me & Mrs. Jones, a comedy in which a young graphic artist for a online dating service is caught between a girlfriend his own age and a sexually demanding boss old enough to be his mother — with whom he “has a thing goin’ on,” as he admits in the film’s only reference to the 1972 Billy Paul hit that inspired the title. Wiggins also ended up contributing money to finish the film and is credited as executive producer.

“Movie shit is altogether different from record stuff,” says Wiggins, who cut the soundtrack at his studio in a remodeled Victorian in West Oakland. “When you’re scoring movies, you’re not trying to make something that’s radio-friendly. You’re trying to move the moment. You can change a scene with the music. I remember looking at the movie without any music in it at all. It was kind of dry, but after we started putting in wah-wah guitar sounds and little bongo things, it just picked the whole movie up. It’s not based on, ‘Oh, will this go good on the radio?'”

With a cast featuring Brian J. White, Wandachristine, and onetime sitcom child star Kim Fields, Me & Mrs. Jones hardly boasts big screen names, but the soundtrack sports some very major players. Alicia Keys sings a remake of the Gladys Knight hit “If I Were Your Woman,” produced by Wiggins a couple years ago during the superstar’s short-lived stay at Columbia Records. Fast-rising soul singer India.Arie performs the main theme, “When Can You Spend the Day?,” which she composed with Wiggins. And Destiny’s Child, the top female vocal group in the world today, is heard singing “Hot Pants” as a duet with model/actress LisaRay, who cowrote the tune with Wiggins and Destiny’s Child lead Beyoncé Knowles.

Wiggins’ career may have come to a crossroad when his half-brother, lead singer Rafael Saadiq, left Tony Toni Toné four years ago — effectively bringing an end to the hit-making trio (which Wiggins hopes to reunite in 2003) — but it took a new — and quite profitable — turn when Destiny’s Child entered the picture during the same period. He’d first met Knowles a decade ago when she was a nine-year-old member of a kid singing group that was working on a demo with another Oakland producer. Then, in 1996, Knowles’ father phoned and asked Wiggins to be the producer for Destiny’s Child. Wiggins signed the girls to his Grass Roots production company, landed them a contract with Columbia Records, and proceeded to produce songs on all three of their albums, which collectively have sold more than 15 million copies. Wiggins won’t say how much money he’s made, other than that “it translates into some good business for me.”

His success with Destiny’s Child has given him the capital to get into the movie business with Me & Mrs. Jones, which he has high hopes for upon its commercial release next year. A rough cut of the film, first-place winner in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame’s recent Filmworks Competition, will be shown as part of a “Salute to Oakland Filmmakers” at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount Theatre. “It’s showin’ African Americans in a whole ‘nother light, not just slingin’ drugs or slingin’ guns or whatever else in the ‘hood,” he says. “It’s showin’ that we do hold good jobs. It has a whole ‘nother skit to it that has nothin’ to do with straight streets. It’s time for those types of movies to start makin’ the big screen.”

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