Deepening his connection with his grandmother following the death of his grandfather, and reflecting on the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Dante Bowe started penning his second album, circles (Bethel Music).
A more cavernous look at life, solidary connections, and our place in the world, Bowe delivers his barest and reflective storytelling, spanning his faith, family, and ongoing life changes. A new narrative, following the more sermon-driven balladry of Bowe’s 2017 debut Son of a Father, on circles, produced by LAEL and Ben Schofield, Bowe explores the inner trenches of familial ties, love, loss, and perseverance.
Starkly opening with “circles,” a solely piano and vocal-led track piecing through the pain, confusion and trying to make sense of all the changes, circles moves through the R&B pulses of “okay,” featuring Trevor Jackson and LAEL, and the uplift of “joyful.” Extracting music of his youth, circles is a truer representation of Bowe’s innate artistry, one deeply rooted in gospel, ’90s R&B, hip-hop, and soul, from his soulful family reflections on “all god’s children,” and “family tree,” through the slow crooned “good times” and gospel-fueled “keep going.” Each song reveals a different story, all linked in something universal, from the more love-lined “I wanna know you” and “love is in the air” through closing “over and over,” featuring Bizzle, and a stirring close of “you.”
Throughout, circles motions through Bowes’s own life challenges, and journey, from a bout with homelessness, quitting his job, and becoming a platinum-selling artist. In 2018, Bowe left his steady job after touring as a backing vocalist to devote himself to music. Soon after, he was co-writing the platinum-selling Tasha Cobbs’ “In Spite of Me,” featuring Ciara, in addition to Maverick City Music’s “Promises.”
Written in 2020 after losing his grandfather, reconnecting on a deeper level with his grandmother, and consumed by the world’s events, specifically the Black Lives Matter protests, Bowe fused the beginning pieces of circles together.
“We went through this racial war last year that’s still happening now, so al lot of it was just that, and the political climate, and my faith,” says Bowe. “I got with my producer LAEL in California, and he knew what I was going through, and we just wrote songs that we thought would give people something to dance to and something to reflect on.”
Based mostly on true stories, circles reflects on past and present struggles and outside experiences. “It’s family members and people in my friend group that made this album what it is, a collaborative effort,” says Bowe. “That pieced a lot of this record together for me, because I started thinking about who I was and connecting with my grandmother was a big piece of this album. Even sonically, I questioned who I want to pay homage too—Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and all the R&B greats.”
All of this was critical when Bowe stepped into production and songwriting, while also exploring the messaging of the album. “My faith helped me navigate the message of the record, which is circles,” says Bowe. “Those were all the elements that helped me piece this together.”
A self-proclaimed “serial songwriter,” Bowes’s day typically involves waking up, sitting at the piano and making music. “I write every day,” he says. “I don’t have to get a song in a sitting. Sometimes I just sit and wait and play a melody on my piano, then the lyrics come out.”
Other times, Bowe will freestyle in the studio. “I’m a writer, but I also freestyle, so I’ll start with that just to get rid of those boundaries,” says Bowe. “I will just start singing random stuff out loud until I catch something really good.”
Feeling more secure in himself as an artist, Bowe says he’s writing from a different place now, one not built out of fear. “I’m a lot more secure with who I am and not so much worried about what people are going to think,” says Bowe. “I want people to love my music, but I don’t want to create music in fear, thinking ‘are they gonna love this?’ What helped me evolve is that I’m secure myself. Back then, I was still wondering if people would hate it or love it.”
Bowe adds “Now, with this album, I’ve really let go of those boundaries. I gave my 110 percent and made sure that I’m not creating something out of fear like other things I’ve done in the past.”