Written by Treasure Groh, photo by Jeremy Deputat. Published in Real Detroit Weekly, December 29, 2009. This issue hits the streets today if you're in the D.

I was in my car not too long ago listening to 89X, a common occurrence if you must know. And as I was cruising down Woodward Avenue, a familiar sound popped up — a chime-like sound of a piano and a silky voice slowly crooning: “Whoa …maybe so, maybe no,” before a snazzy beat dropped and the chorus came in. I smiled before tweeting that I just heard Mayer Hawthorne on the radio, surprisingly for the first time. You see, Mayer Hawthorne is a big deal these days. His album has been greeted with critical acclaim and the adoration of many an artist, from the likes of Alicia Keys to Justin Timberlake. He’s signed to famed Stones Throw Records and has become, in half a year’s time, a musical golden boy — and he never even planned it. I’ve written about him twice in one month. Even my own mother likes him. That, ladies and gentlemen, is true talent.

The interesting thing about having an artist from Michigan blow up around the globe is this: we knew him before. Hawthorne’s buzz in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area was undeniable years ago when he was better known as DJ Haircut with the group Athletic Mic League and better known as a hip-hop artist than a retro-soul singer. While metro-Detroiters were already up on the new “it" boy, major publications are just now naming him a “breaking” artist. Tweets tagging the link to his first single, "Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out," littered cyberspace and many vinyl junkies made it a point to cop his red heart-shaped seven-inch. DJ Graffiti of A-Side Worldwide, Hawthorne’s management team, says, “Mayer Hawthorne had the best vinyl campaign I’ve seen for any artist,” when mentioning the album, A Strange Arrangement, which was pressed on vinyl and encased with a faux-alligator skin cover and another 45 that was pressed on green vinyl. Hawthorne has made music fun again. He’s made vinyl collectors happy, he’s given lovers of oldies a reason to buy new music and he’s created a classic-soul fan base out of teenagers and early 20-somethings who used to roll their eyes at such music. “It was Peanut Butter Wolf that convinced me that I should create a whole album of soul music … that wasn’t in my plan,” says Hawthorne. He’s shown everyone that even if you end up doing what wasn’t intended, it could change your life.

For something that wasn’t planned, A Strange Arrangement enjoyed a visit on the Billboard 200 hip-hop album chart and a number two peak position on the Heatseekers chart. Not bad at all for an impromptu record deal. Hawthorne has also recently been nominated for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year for URB Magazine’s 2009 readers’ poll and has been chosen by many an outlet as song of the week for “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out.” Even Playboy Magazine had something to say, choosing Hawthorne as a “breakout artist” early on in 2009 before many had caught on.

The upward mobility that Hawthorne’s career has taken as of late has developed a few rumors, but of the more benevolent species. Rumors seemed to pop up that, because of John Mayer’s fixation with the new crooner’s album, the pair would soon be creating a Mayer vs. Mayer album. And wouldn’t that make some sense? To Hawthorne it doesn’t, as he claims to have never yet met the musician. “Nor have I met most of these celebrities who send out messages about promoting me. That’s definitely been very surreal,” he admits. In addition to this maybe-so-maybe-no collaboration, Hawthorne has also been in the studio with Snoop Dogg and even has a feature on the hip-hop star's new album.

His opening set for the aforementioned John Mayer on New Year’s Eve 2010 is a far cry from the venues he was or is currently playing. Make no mistake, these smaller 500 person venues are most definitely selling out — as the Magic Stick did for Hawthorne’s show just weeks ago. Some may say that the process isn’t happening fast enough; that if Hawthorne is such a force of musical prowess why isn’t the entire country catching on at the same time? Why aren’t his songs being played on top 40 stations? Well, my friends, Hawthorne may not be the overnight sensation that, say, Taylor Swift is. He may not be raking in the award nominations at lightning speed or have videos that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. Hawthorne’s career is organic. He is slowly building an empire that won’t easily be crumbled; one that will stand the test of time and, in 20 years, people will still be remembering. Instead of creating an entire career in the States playing in arenas and selling millions of albums, he’s putting in work in Europe — where he just come back from a widely successful tour — and Australia, where he’ll be in the early half of 2010.

Maybe it’s the black-rimmed glasses, argyle sweaters and those undeniably hip Chuck Taylors that complete Hawthorne’s nerdy-cool uniform that have made the globe swoon for him. Or it could be his honeyed vocals, classy swagger and the fact that he’s created a resurgence of tunes that symbolize a simpler time. The best bet is that it’s all of the above. Everything that blends together to compose whatever Mayer Hawthorne is, well, it's simply intoxicating. We can’t get enough of Mayer Hawthorne. We are all hopped-up on whatever drug it is that he’s slipped into our drinks while we were intently listening to his songs. It’s contagious and we can't help but pass it on like an email chain letter. Whatever “it” is, it’s safe to say that it's a high we're in no hurry to come down from. | RDW

related artists Mayer Hawthorne