I can remember the first time I laid eyes on the R&B group Dru Hill. Their video for the smash single ‘Tell Me’ was on BET and I liked the dance that they were doing each time the chorus was repeated throughout the song. I smiled and thought to myself that they were definitely going to be huge, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but ask as I chuckled, ‘who’s the brotha with blond hair?’ Of course, my prediction of them achieving much success would come to fruition producing classic jams like the aforementioned ‘Tell Me’, ‘In My Bed’, ‘Beauty’ and ‘We’re Not Making Love’ to name a few, but little did I know that I would actually have the opportunity to speak with the gentlemen via teleconference in celebration of their fourth album InDRUpendence Day–their first body of work released independently via their own label Dru Hill, LLC in conjunction with Kedar Entertainment; symbolizing the notion that they are stepping out on their own and taking their careers and destinies into their own hands, fully capable of being creative and doing whatever it is that needs to be done in order to continue along in the business.
The message is quite simple to the world: They are back. Wiser, stronger and very capable of handling their own business. And now after a seven year break from the mainstream spotlight, it’s once again all about the Dru—Mark “Sisqo” Andrews, Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin, Larry “Jazz” Anthony and new member Antwuan “Tao” Simpson (pronounced Tay-oh), who replaced original member James “Woody” Green, after Green decided to follow a calling to gospel music.
After exchanging pleasantries with the guys and blushing to Jazz’s greeting to me of ‘Hey Baby!’, I wanted to know what it was like for them to come back together as a unit and what they all were up to in the meantime. “We came back definitely for the fans. It was the fans… people said ‘aiight, y’all takin’ too long and it’s time to get back and do what you do.’ So, during that time everybody was doing their thing and I was producing and writing, stuff like that. I was on the other end of the spectrum as far as the business for awhile. I did A&R for Def Jam and Atlantic [Records],” explained Nokio.
“The time we were apart, we were doing solo things, so we kinda got used to that for a second and when we came back together, we started witnessing the magic that came about especially in the studio because when you are recording by yourself, you gotta do everything. But when you are in a group such as ours, you have four dynamic creative individuals and it’s like fireworks in there…you get excited and that’s part of that feeling that has really been infused within us since we started recording and cutting this record-along with our other ventures that we have with shooting a reality show, it’s a never ending and exciting trip for us for real,” said Sisqo, who earned platinum solo success in 2000 with the release of Unleash the Dragon that featured the massive hits ‘Thong Song’ and ‘Incomplete’. Sisqo spoke candidly on his experience moving and shaking audiences sans his brothers. “I had never really planned to be a solo artist; my plan was to always be with the group. My dream was to be like the next Boyz II Men and to be the next Jodeci, but it was a blessing that I did have solo success because it gave me another facet of my musical career, even though it wasn’t my initial plan. Definitely you will see a little bit more of that in the group in the future, not just from myself, but with each of us in terms of solo projects. But now it’s all about the Dru!,” he gleamed with pride.
As fate would have it, Dru Hill formed after meeting as students at Fredrick Douglass High in Baltimore, Maryland and having paid their dues performing around the city in local talent shows, they were soon discovered at one particular show at Morgan State University. In the beginning, they crowned themselves 14K Harmony and Legacy before becoming Dru Hill, a name that was created to pay tribute to their city and favorite hangout spot Druid Hill Park. The rest is R&B and soul music history. From 1996 to 2003, everyone knew Dru Hill and the masterpieces they created: Dru Hill (1996), Enter the Dru (1998) and Dru World Order (2002). People blasted the remix of ‘In My Bed’ in their cars and men were sweetly reminded of that one special lady that they were so shy to approach once ‘Beauty’ hit the airwaves. Ladies swooned to the swagger and depth of the group’s magnetism and appreciated the strong vocal range of each member, all who could individually hold their own on a track and sing lead.
So speaking about how he felt about joining an already established hit making machine, new member Tao was focused to make his mark. The guys decided to look for a new member to replace Woody after he decided not to be a part of the reunion and held a contest at Baltimore’s Belvedere Hotel. “At that point and time, it was more like I was saying to myself ‘ok, this is gonna be your last time’ because I was gonna give up on singing and go to school to have something to fall back on. I competed with 25 or 26 contestants and I went in there with my war paint on. I was number five out of 25 and they let the crowd choose who was going to be the next member. Then it was narrowed down again and we harmonized with the group and once the smoke cleared, it was Tao! I remember Sisqo’s father came up to me and said ‘if my son doesn’t pick you, he’s a fool,” said Tao proudly. Talk about confirmation to the max.
Among the new music, the group also has decided to do a reality show airing on Centric. ‘Keith Sweat’s Platinum House’, created and executive produced by Keith Sweat, is a look into the life of Dru Hill—from recording in the studio to dealing with each other’s different personalities as a whole, fans get an exclusive inside view of the golden piped ones. “Keith Sweat was the first person who we hit the road with and he said to us, ‘you guys have four individual personalities and are very talented, and it would be great for the fans, they need to see that and y’all should do a reality show’ and we felt like it was a good idea so we tossed around some ideas and on a conference call, he said that we were coming down to Atlanta to shoot the show,” said Nokio. “The thing about the show too is that it is really beyond being a reality show, it’s kinda like a documentary about the group because we didn’t have writers there where sometimes with shows, you’ll see something and writers and producers would be like ‘ok ok, now do it like this’ …so anything you see is what was happening. We didn’t know what they were gonna do. We got up in the morning and shot…it’s all raw,” he continued. And that’s what makes the gentlemen of Dru Hill extraordinary—that rawness, the sincerity in every note and harmony that’s provided. We are all still amazed and can’t help but to keep watching.
For more on Dru Hill, please visit www.druhillonline.com
Keith Sweat’s ‘Platinum House’ airs Mondays at 8:00 pm on Centric
We caught up with Dru Hill at their NYC release party last week. Here’s some footage of their interview outside the event sponsored by 98.7 Kiss FM…
Video by Shanique Byrd
Image 2 by Donald Lee for Parlé Magazine
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