New ‘Unsung’ focuses on Dru Hill’s success, turmoil and hope

“Unsung” offers a deeper look into the chart-topping R&B group Dru Hill than just about any other project to date.

BY SAMEER RAO
THE BALTIMORE SUN/TNS

There’s no better time than the present, as R&B hit-makers like H.E.R. and PartyNextDoor openly pull from the sounds of the ’90s, to revisit one of Baltimore’s most famous contributors to that cannon: Dru Hill. The group breaks its silence on many of its little-known defining moments on TV One’s music documentary series “Unsung.’’

Over nearly 40 minutes, the “Unsung” episode chronicles the “Behind the Music”-esque highs and lows of stardom, success, failure and fracture throughout the group’s 25 years.

The highlights range from members’ pre-fame jobs at The Fudgery in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to their gold- and platinum-level success with tracks like “Tell Me” and “In My Bed”; the lows, meanwhile, revolve around the group and problems with label heads and even each other. 

One particularly stark passage explores the conflicting accounts of the group’s deteriorating relationship with Island Black Records, which oversaw the release of Dru Hill’s self-titled 1996 debut album, and an ensuing lawsuit in which the group alleged physical violence by label president Hiriam Hicks.

Hicks appears in the documentary saying he didn’t recall what happened during the party where the alleged violence took place.

BIOPIC, BOOK TO COME

Tilesha M. Brown, who handles press for Dru Hill and also commented in “Unsung,” said that the documentary is part of a bigger suite of projects, including a still-unnamed biopic and book, to revisit the group’s work around its 25th anniversary.

“And so that’s where we are… at the first chapter,” she wrote via email.

“When I first talked to Tilesha about writing our book, I told her that the one thing I wasn’t going to do is spend any time debating anyone’s answer about anything that was said in the name of looking a certain way,” wrote Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin, another group member.

“It’s the same thing here. There are always three truths and I know a lot of people who worked with us that weren’t featured that would dispute things that were said. I think that everyone is grown and things are cool because none of that stuff has come up in the times that we’ve seen each other.”

“That stuff” also refers to tumult among group members. “Unsung” paints each individual with rarely seen nuance, from Mark “Sisqo” Andrews’ tepid embrace of superstardom following the infamous “Thong Song” to virtuoso singer and longtime member Larry “Jazz” Anthony Jr.’s struggles with substance abuse and body image.

2008 INCIDENT OMITTED

It doesn’t include every incident: Brown said that the documentary’s producers didn’t touch on a 2008 incident in which longtime member James “Woody” Green left the group (for the second time, after first doing so at the height of the group’s fame in 1998 in the middle of a 92Q FM interview in which a brawl ensued.

“There was only one hour to cover as much ground as possible, and that just didn’t make the cut,” Brown wrote.

Still, “Unsung” offers a deeper look into the chart-topping R&B group than just about any other project to date.

“The producers of ‘Unsung’ were really persistent in trying to get us to trust them to tell our story,” Sisqo wrote. “There have been a lot of different iterations of the group and there are a lot of different layers to our dynamic, given the fact that we’ve been a group since we were 14 years old. And honestly, we’ve been brothers for longer than that. We didn’t want to just start giving the details of that legacy away to just anyone.”

“Unsung” brings this story to present-day Dru Hill, which includes Sisqo and Nokio with Jawaan “Smoke” Peacock and Benjamin “Black” Bush of fellow ’90s R&B group Playa, and a sultry new single called “What You Need” from the upcoming album “The Second Coming.”

“We’ve been rocking with Dru Hill for over 20 years,” wrote Black. “We went on our first tour together in the ’90s, so we forged a real respect and love for each other then. So, to be a part of the next chapter of Dru Hill is a blessing and an honor.”

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