Happy 20th Anniversary to Dru Hill’s second studio album Enter the Dru, originally released October 27, 1998.
One of the most prideful experiences of being a Baltimore native in the mid to late ‘90s was watching the soulful quartet known as Dru Hill turn our city into the capital of R&B. After the success of their 1996 eponymous debut, Dru Hill was in the driver’s seat to take music fans for a journey through a town dubbed “Charm City”, while sharing the unique highs and lows of the Baltimore love experience. Their sophomore LP Enter the Dru certainly did not disappoint fans of the home team or the masses as the group continued to set trends with their flamboyant fashion and impeccable four-part harmony.
With R&B’s approach to musical production evolving into more of a synthesis between new sounds generated from high tech programming and traditional sampling, the genre seemed primed for an updated model in the dawn of Y2k. On the short list of producers that were sketching the blueprint for a modernized sound was Warryn Campbell who is credited for producing Enter the Dru’s lead single “How Deep is Your Love” along with Rick “Dutch” Cousin and band member Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin.
“How Deep” successfully bridged the group’s hit-streak from their platinum debut and closed the summer of 1998 for Def Jam Recordings who used the song for the Rush Hour soundtrack. The up-tempo hip-hop beat meshed perfectly with Mark “Sisqo” Andrew’s soaring vocals that celebrated Baltimore’s bad boy lover image with lyrics like, “How deep is your love for me / tell me what it's gonna be / and do you see yourself with a n***a like me, on the low low / so your friends won't know.”
Riding the success of “How Deep,” the group released “These Are the Times” as the second single, which reinforced the group’s versatility in many ways. Dru Hill’s growing list of charting singles proved the quartet’s depth in having multiple members able to carry lead vocals and deliver a hit record. Larry “Jazz” Anthony Jr. shared vocal duties for the more ceremonial, yet still edgy second single written and produced by industry titan, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
James “Woody” Green, who appeared to be the humbler personality in the group stepped to the forefront for an interlude that served as his formal public introduction. The “Angel” (Interlude) also served as a lead-in for the song of the same name, which Woody cowrote along with Campbell. The proverbial “good guy” of the foursome provided a softer side to the group’s sometimes raunchy flirtations of sexcapades, offering a sentimental reflection on the girl he let slip away.
Nokio, who lent his behind-the-board talent to eight of the album’s seventeen tracks in addition to contributing vocals, quietly left a huge imprint on the LP. The heart and soul of Enter the Dru is the group’s versatility in switching from providing R&B/hip-hop club bangers like “This is What We Do” featuring Method Man to bringing poignant songwriting to life, as with “One Good Reason,” with lines like, “Our love is like an hour glass / you know we’re running out of time / how could you go and do this to me / when you know its messing with my mind.”
Ironically, Enter the Dru was so successful that it arguably led to the group members’ search for individual stardom. After carrying much of the responsibility as lead vocalist, Sisqo would emerge as the face of the band with his frequent changes to his hair color and extravagant wardrobes. Dru Hill’s two album hit-streak, led mostly by Sisqo’s vocals and personality, helped establish him as a standout entertainer of his generation. His solo debut Unleash the Dragon was released the following year and established him among the top-tier male pop stars of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
Jazz’s work on Enter the Dru helped him earn the reputation of being a singer’s singer, although his solo album would never be released by a major label. Woody made several attempts to break out as a Gospel artist, but was never able to garner the magic the group created collectively. Nokio built an impressive resume as a producer and went on to collaborate with big names like DMX for “What You Really Want” (1999) and Capone & Noreaga’s “Y’all Don’t Wanna” (2000).
Like most monumental albums, Enter the Dru was never duplicated although it did put the group members in a position to create memorable and quality work in the years that followed. Most importantly for their fellow Baltimore natives, Enter the Dru helped put our town which once inspired the blues of Billie Holiday and gave Tupac Shakur some of his original “Soulja Stories” back into the conversation of soulful cities. For the better part of a decade, the Baltimore accent was an aphrodisiac and our swagger became mainstream, mostly because of the “Charm City” bred quartet that sang their way atop the charts while showing the sensual side of a blue-collar city.