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Hotstar


12:00 AM Monday, 4/6/98 |   |

THE FOUR MEMBERS of Dru Hill are accomplished singers and songwriters but their talent doesn't stop there. Jazz, Sisqo, Nokio and Woody are also gifted musicians, each one capable of playing several different instruments.

Sisqo spent much of his childhood singing gospel with his church choir before discovering popular music. After realizing he had a passion for artists like Jodeci, Take 6, and Boyz II Men, Sisqo got into the complexity of Mozart. His love of classical, rock and hip-hop music inspired him to learn more and today, he is an accomplished keyboardist and bassist. He is also involved in Dru Hill's arrangement and production.

Woody plays drums and keyboard and his bandmates describe him as the melody man. Like Sisqo, Woody has deep roots in gospel music. So deep in fact, he is known as the band's spiritual link. "Woody is like our angel -- we even call him Gabriel sometimes," Nokio said.

Nokio, which stands for Nasty On Key In Octave, studied music in college and plays classical trumpet, keyboard and piano. He is known as the serious production man in the group and has aspirations to study music business and production.

It's no surprise that Jazz is the big jazz fan of the group. He sings second tenor and plays keyboard, trumpet and piano among many other instruments. He studied jazz at the Frederick Douglass Music Academy but is also a huge lover of the blues.

Dru Hill's high level of musicianship allows them to record without studio musicians. Their soulful grooves and smooth harmonies reach far beyond the studio walls. Dru Hill is a strong live act.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Md., the young men first drew attention while working at the Fudgery in the city's trendy Inner Harbor. They would sing free-style, four-part harmonies while making fudge. Soon, the vocal quartet became a prime attraction at the Harbor. But the fudge factory wasn't the only unusual venue where the band performed.

Dru Hill started out as a gospel group, performing in churches and then at high school talent shows. Eventually, they began playing at fashion shows and bigger church events -- their first paying gigs.

However, their most unusual gig occurred when Dru Hill performed a Christmas concert at a Nordstrom department store in Baltimore. It was their first "real" show and they sang Christmas carols with a pianist. After the gig, shoppers would continually look for the group, thinking they were employees of the department store.

Those early gigs helped Jazz, Nokio, Woody and Sisqo hone their performance style. When asked what made them decide to become mainstream recording artists, Woody said, "It wasn't actually a choice." Their singing kept drawing the attention of music business executives.

Dru Hill had already signed to University Musical Entertainment to record as an R&B group when Island's Hiriam Hicks heard about the group. Hicks asked to meet with the four young men at a recording studio.

The Island exec played a song for Dru Hill and when he left the room, the four vocalists started singing the track. When Hicks returned, he was floored. He put them in the studio that same night. "We didn't even have a change of clothes," Woody said. "And we didn't have any money to get any more clothes."

That meeting was in April of 1996 and Dru Hill has been on the road ever since. "After the record company saw we could actually sing live and were a performance group, they decided to just keep us out there because a lot of radio stations were not playing our songs at first," Woody said. "But once [radio programmers] saw the performance, they were like, 'Wow, these guys are great.' They started to give us a chance on the radio.... So our performances opened a lot of doors in our career."

Woody said many people have told Dru Hill they are a great live act. "So we decided just to stick to what works best for you instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. We know that our performances are what people love a lot about us."

And it's not just fans who admire Dru Hill's stage shows. Respected artists like Mary J. Blige and Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, two artists that Dru Hill's members respect greatly, have requested the act open up for their tours. "[Puff Daddy was] somebody that we always wanted to meet and now to get to go out on tour with him and spend time and see what actually goes on behind the scenes at a Puff Daddy show, that's really exciting."

In addition to its great live shows, Dru Hill has made quite an impact at retail and radio. Their song "In My Bed" was the No. 1 R&B single of the year in 1997, beating out artists like Puff Daddy, R. Kelly, Erykah Badu, and Usher. And it is starting to look like that success will repeat itself in '98.

Speaking of success, Woody said, "It's like a big surprise to us because we don't see ourselves doing anything more than what we have to do.... We just see ourselves as four guys who know how to sing and know how to perform. And [we're] lucky enough to get a job doing something that we enjoy doing."


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