Following the impact of a multi-platinum, internationally successful self – titled debut album is no easy feat: while satisfying the music buyers who clearly loved what they heard first time out, a true artist wants to express their own creative growth and development. International superstar group Dru Hill is more than up to the task as evidenced on their eagerly-awaited University / Island Black Music second album, ENTER THE DRU. It’s a confirmation that this multi-talented quartet – who racked up six No. 1 singles within two years – is definitely here to stay.
Together, Sisqo, Woody, Nokio and Jazz have crafted a record that is sure to please the many fans they amassed through their self-titled 1996 first album while allowing them to express even more of their ever-expanding musicality. “We had a lot more creative control for this album,” says Nokio, while Sisqo adds, (“And we held back a few things on the first record.”) “With ENTER THE DRU, we’re inviting people into our world.”
ENTER THE DRU is a sizzling showcase for their studio skills, with members of the group involved with the production on thirteen of the album’s sixteen tracks. Super hitmaker Babyface co-wrote and co-produced the first single (“These Are The Times”); famed writer / producer Daryl Simmons (who produced “In My Bed” and “Never Make A Promise” on the first album) was responsible for two cuts, including a heart-wrenching remake of old school legends The Dells’ “The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind)”; while Grammy-winner David Foster co-produced the Diane Warren ballad, “What Do I Do With The Love.” Other notable producers who contributed to the project included Baby Dave, newcomer Dutch, Warryn “Smiley” Campbell, J. Funk and Guy Roche.
From the catchy, upbeat “How Deep Is Your Love,” released as a single from the fall 1998 hit movie “Rush Hour” to the funky “Real Freak” (featuring Chinky Brown Eyes) and the nasty, sexy groove of “This Is What We Do” (featuring Method Man) and onto Dru Hill – trademark soulful ballads like “One Good Reason,” “I’ll Be The One, “Angel” and “What Are We Gonna Do”, the four Baltimore natives have delivered a record that validates their standing as one of the most popular groups of the ’90s. “We came along at a time when people were looking for something to gravitate to,” says Nokio. “After the success of Boyz II Men and Jodeci, we came through. We were not really hip-hop, we were more R&B oriented. We’re kinda like an alternative R&B group with a style we can call our own.”
ENTER THE DRU resonates with Dru Hill’s distinctive sound. Woody mentions the ballad “Angel,” a lilting ballad: “It’s like a follow-up to “April Showers” from the first album. It’s an update on my love life with the girl from that song. Like I’m saying I wish our relationship hadn’t gone sour, that we were still together. It’s got that ‘old school’ feel.” Jazz explains that “Holding You,” a plaintive, acoustic-flavored slow jam is all about the lessons to be learned about love and life: “It’s like I’m taking the listening audience through something, through the heartaches and breakups.
I thought back on what I learned and it’s a song that is real, like you can feel every piece of pain.” Nokio talks about “What Are We Gonna Do” which has a personal meaning for him: “Hey, it’s about some guy who shall remain nameless who’s really into this girl who’s with another guy! We both know it would be a problem if he found out but her friends have been telling her she shouldn’t stay. All I can say is I can relate to it.”
Audiences the world over have shown just how much they relate to the music of Dru Hill: their very first single, “Tell Me” achieved platinum status, became a Top 20 pop hit and reached the top of the R&B charts; the platinum single “In My Bed” stayed at No. 1 on the R&B listings for six weeks, reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 and became Billboards #1 single of the year for 1997 on the R&B charts; their third single, “Never Make A Promise” exceeded gold status and became their third consecutive No. 1 R&B chartopper and a Top 10 pop hit; while another gold single, “We’re Not Making Love” (included in the platinum-plus soundtrack for the 1997 hit film “Soul Food”) was a Top 5 pop and R&B smash.
With their dynamic stage show, Dru Hill – who play musical instruments on stage as well as adding their own nifty choreography to selected tunes in ‘live’ performance – wowed audiences and won rave reviews on tour with both Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Mary J. Blige in 1997. The group has shared the stage with a wide range of artists including Da Brat, Li’l Kim, Monica, Busta Rhymes, Beck and Bette Midler. In 1998, they were invited to South Africa to perform at a special celebration for President Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday, giving an amazing performance before upwards of 40,000 people on a bill with Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan among others. The group’s global appeal has resulted in trips to the U.K., Germany, Sweden and Hong Kong, where they filmed the video for “How Deep Is Your Love” with “Rush Hour” stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.
The road to international success began for Sisqo, Nokio, Woody and Jazz when they met at the suggestion of friends while they were still in high school in Baltimore. Everything began to fall in place when the group spent a summer together working in the Fudgery at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where they entertained customers with their performances while making fudge! Encouraged by the response, Dru Hill entered the local version of the famed Apollo Theater’s ‘Amateur Night,’ winning twice and going on to the national competition in New York where they placed third.
Their manager, Kevin Peck, discovered the group in a local talent show in 1992 when they were 14 years old. The group continued performing locally and in 1995, Dru Hill met Island Black Music President Hiriam Hicks at a party for BET’s “Rap City.” Hicks was so impressed with the group’s vocal talents that he asked them to record “Tell Me,” a song he was working on for the soundtrack of the film “Eddie.” That same afternoon, Dru Hill laid down a classic vocal and after signing with Island Black Music, the group watched “Tell Me” go to the top of the charts.
In between recording their debut album, Dru Hill toured, creating a stir with their high energy stage performances which showcased their musical skills: Jazz plays keyboards, bass, acoustic guitar and drums; Nokio plays keyboard, trumpet and piano; while both Sisqo and Woody play piano. Their musical knowledge was more than a little useful when the group worked on their self-titled debut: five tracks – including “April Showers” and “5 Steps” – were co-written by members of Dru Hill while Nokio co-produced four of the group’s self-penned tunes.
DRU HILL was an exceptional musical treat. The combination of Sisqo’s raw style, Jazz’s falsetto riffs, Nokio’s soothing tenor and Woody’s gospel-inflected harmonies helped propel DRU HILL to the upper reaches of the pop and R&B charts and within the space of eighteen months, the group had walked away with five “Billboard Music Awards” two “Soul Train Awards” and an “NAACP Image Award” and were nominated for two “American Music Awards.”
In the two years since their debut album was released, Dru Hill has barely had time to stop and absorb all that has happened. “We weren’t expecting it to be as a big as it was,” says Sisqo, referring to the success of their first album. “It hasn’t been easy to get where we are now but it has been easy to adjust because we were mentally prepared.” Adds Nokio, “We worked at this for so long and all the years we were working when we didn’t have a record deal, we always knew we’d make it.”
The challenges and pressures of working together day in and day out have created a deeper bond for the members of Dru Hill and says Jazz, “At first, we were like brothers and of course, there are times when you’re gonna rub elbows. But we’ve grown up together as a group and we’ve learned to stand by each other, like a family.”
That family spirit is evident throughout ENTER THE DRU, whose title was inspired by the legendary Bruce Lee’s classic movie, “Enter The Dragon.” There is a soulful cohesiveness on the thirteen cuts and three musical interludes. The group’s loyal urban audience and growing pop following will find that the album contains “something for everybody,” says Jazz. “We made this record to keep our fan base happy while expanding to reach more and more audiences,” adds Sisqo, and with its array of stunning ballads and groove tunes, ENTER THE DRU is sure to take Dru Hill to a new level of acclaim and recognition. “To see us is to love us!” says Sisqo with a grin. “Our motto is ‘as long as you tell us what you want, we’ll always give you what you need!'” smiles Nokio and with ENTER THE DRU, this talented group fulfills on all counts.