Interview and Words by: Dominique Clark
Major contributors to arguably the best era of R&B music, the 90s, Dru Hill sets the record straight on everything from their rise, new members and industry challenges on TV ONE‘s “Unsung”. The legendary quartet of hits like “Tell Me”, “In My Bed” and “Beauty” had all the charisma, harmony and stage presence it took to make it to the top and stay. They are still here and consistently hitting the stage with their unmatched sound.
We spoke with Nokio to get his thoughts on the group’s journey. See what he had to say below.
PI: How are you feeling about Dru HIll finally being able to tell their story?
Nokio: I feel old (laughs). You know what, I’m excited about people having a bit of a glimpse into the craziness that has been Dru Hill. But I can’t help but think about my uncle Keith Sweat saying that I ain’t unsung yet, so why am I doing unsung. So it’s a little weird for me. I’m also a really private person, so to talk about anything for me is really extra.
PI: Take me back for a little bit to the original 4. In 1996 the first album released…you guys had such great chemistry on stage and on screen. What do you think made Dru Hill Dru Hill? What was the essence of you guys that made you a success?
Nokio: That I had the ability to bring people together that otherwise would not know each other. To grow into what we became, we went through a lot of people. I was always the person kicking someone out the group. It’s like every level that we got to I realized that we weren’t gonna be able to move unless the weakest link got removed. So we kept doing that until the sun and moons and the stars lined up. It’s always been a leveling up thing and in order to get to the next level somebody had to go.
PI: What was the highlight of you guys time together. Is there a memory that you have that you would relive?
Nokio: Being in Nelson Mandela’s house sitting right next to him or having Stevie Wonder walk in the room and sing your songs. Meeting Biggie for the first time the day that he passed away and him telling you how excited he was to get ready to go on tour with you.
PI: Out of all the hits you guys had was there one that meant the most to you or was your favorite to perform?
Nokio: Beauty. That’s only because nobody wanted to sing the song when I first did it. And I had to go in the studio to pretty much sing the whole song by myself to get them to do it. It’s the only song that we have that became a classic without any record company money touching it.
It became what it did because of the fans, so you know even though we had a lot of numbers 1s, that song is the most important to me because it just proves that if you just take real human emotion and bottle it up in a song, that never gets old.
PI: When you guys were up, you were up. But of course you experienced some challenge along the way that ultimately lead to the original 4 of the group separating. What would you ultimately contribute to that?
Nokio: Everybody has a dream and you never know when a person is in that dream state, so different things happened for different reasons at different times. So whether that was the reason ultimately, I just felt like everybody had something that they felt like they needed to prove. You mix that with people who come in with the intention of breaking things up (so you’re able to offer things that entice that feeling that’s already there) and then when you don’t have somebody that keeps everything together, you just leave yourself open to the evil of this business, and that’s divide and conquer.
We didn’t have the people around us that we needed to protect us from a lot of stuff.
I’m not the person to do a solo album. Everytime I would do a song, Def Jam would want me to get the group back together, so eventually I just stopped making songs and I asked them if I could just do A and R.
PI: Sisqo had a successful solo project. Do you feel like it was difficult to support him or do you think you guys were still able to support each other individually in the midst of still trying to maintain the group?
Nokio: The reality is that nobody was trying to be a group at the time. Everybody wanted to do their solo stuff. So when it came down to it, I went in the studio for 3 weeks and waited for everybody to show up and nobody showed up. Once everybody did show up the question was were we doing Dru Hill or was everybody gonna do their solo stuff. Everybody decided to so their solo stuff. I was left sitting in the studio trying to figure out what to do. For whatever reason everybody felt like at that point they needed to figure out what they were gonna do on their own.
PI: I feel like being a male R&B group the expectation is to be sexy and heartthrobs. Being sensual on stage and in music videos may not come so easy to everybody. Do you feel like that came natural to you guys or was it something you had to work on?
Nokio: I can only speak from my standpoint. It’s a couple things…the first thing is, because I knew what the focus was, my focus became becoming one of the sexiest people who ever sang background in life. So I use to just stand in the mirror making all these faces because sometimes you don’t have playback when you first start, so you need to know what you look like.
I remember having a conversation with a record company executive early on in our career and I said sometimes I don’t know if y’all put me out here to sale records or to be a male prostitute. Because everything that they told me they were basically saying I was supposed to go out there and make all these women want to have sex with me in an indirect way. So am I supposed to make good music or am I supposed to make women want to have sex with me? That’s two different jobs.
If you come into this business and you’re a person that already has attention and have women, then it’s like you just get to do what you was already doing in a bunch of different places. But if you didn’t have that then it can become overwhelming and you start trying to become something that you’re not.
PI: You guys give a performance at the end of the episode. What was it like performing with the guys again?
Nokio: We’ve been on the road together since 2008. You just got to see it.
PI: We know that music will probably always be important in your life, but what else are you prioritizing right now that we can support?
Nokio: I just put out 3 projects this month of things that’s been in the archive. A lot of people don’t know that I’ve done a lot of stuff in this business. I’ve always been real big on being an individual, so after almost 30 years in the business I was like maybe I can let people in on what’s been going on in my head when I’m by myself.
I actually have license to grow marijuana in Nevada, so right now I’m actually working on my strain called Nokiotic. I got Rock Band, I sale clothes, I consult…you know I do a little bit of everything. One of the biggest things for me getting into this business was I remember when we had one of our first meetings and basically we were told that if all we did was sing we wouldn’t be in the business that long. Looking back I’ve pretty much done everything there is to do. I didn’t get in the business to be an R&B singer, I wanted to be a record man. History is already made, so anything I do know is just extra.