Dru Hill founder Nokio recalls making Enter The Dru LP (1998)

Enter The Dru was released on October 27, 1998 to a rabid R&B fan base and it garnered critical acclaim by the music writers of the time period. Both female and male groups were dominating the landscape for R&B and Dru Hill was at the zenith of their urban and pop success.

Coming off a successful debut album, Dru Hill in 1996, the group returned to the scene in stellar fashion. Despite ongoing issues with their music label and the vacancy left by a group member, they were able to produce their best album to date. After their first album, Dru Hill drew comparisons to Jodeci, but alongside the production talents of producers, Tamir ‘Nokio’ Ruffin, Dutch, Warryn Campbell, Babyface and Daryl Simmons they crafted a sound of their very own.

Their debut album was a far cry from Enter the Dru by featuring more up tempo tracks with a potent mixture of classic ballads, which showed their versatility and growth. The quartet ultimately became one of the more popular groups of the decade behind the powerful vocals of Mark ‘Sisqo’ Andrews, Larry ‘Jazz’ Anthony, Jr., James ‘Woody Rock’ Green and Tamir ‘Nokio’ Ruffin, the group founder.

Natives of Baltimore, Maryland, Dru Hill’s musical foundation was built in the church. Dru Hill gained recognition by working and performing for a local business in Baltimore called The Fudgery. They would sign gospel songs while making fudge, but moved to secular music once they saw more of an opportunity in singing R&B music. Their big break would occur in 1996 when their manager Haqq Islam arranged for them to perform at a popular showcase called the Impact Convention. Shortly thereafter, they would be signed to Island Black Records, which later would become Island Def Jam Records and they began their singing careers.

In the course of three weeks during the early months of 1998, all 17 songs on Enter The Dru would be recorded in Larabee Studios in Los Angeles, California.

Soul Culture recently sat down with Tamir ‘Nokio’ Ruffin, one of the executive producers of Dru Hill’s second album, Enter The Dru to talk about the process of how the album came together.

Ruffin recalls on the approach the group took when putting the album together.

“The way the second album came about is that it happened so fast,” says Ruffin. “We had just finished going through the issues with our label at the time. We wanted to move away from that situation and make some music that wasn’t going to make people forget about it, but put something else on their minds. As far as the production goes, I wanted to step everything up from the first album. I had the chance to co-write and co-produce five songs on the first album and that was a big thing being a new artist on the scene coming from Baltimore.

“I wanted to make sure we had an album that was complete as it could be and it encompassed everything that we were going through back then. The first album was about young love and how I think I know what it is. The second album was about falling in love for real and wanting to sing about all this stuff we learned from what the fans heard off of the first album.

“Back then, I was really an asshole when it came to being in the studio. I would say, ‘If you’re not doing something right now then I’m going to go in and do a song.’ I didn’t care if you were mad or not. It caused a lot of tension, but at the same time that tension created what you heard. A lot of times I would take the lead. I would be the first to the studio and the last one to leave. But everyone had a hand in some way either writing or arranging the songs on the album. It wasn’t like I solely did the album, but I would typically be the one leading the charge.

“We recorded it in LA and we did it in about three weeks. We locked ourselves in at Larabee Studios and the process was cool because I can say that I was the leader as far as going in and starting ideas. But we had two rooms going on at the same time so we would just go back and forth and challenge each other to see who could write a verse the fastest and who could go in and sing their part the fastest. The whole friendly competition slash creative process made the album go by so fast. By the time we finished recording it, everybody was like ‘Wow, we have a whole album done’.”

The first single released from the album was “How Deep Is Your Love” and it landed at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts and #1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Singles Charts. Ruffin told an intriguing story of how this record came together and the response to it from the music audience.

“’How Deep is Your Love’ was recorded after we finished the album,” says Ruffin. “We were at the end of the album and we pretty much had all the songs we wanted done, but we knew the Rush Hour soundtrack was coming up and we weren’t even on Def Jam at that point. But I had a really good relationship with Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles and they asked me if they could get a record from us. I remember getting on the phone with the President of New Line Cinema. He heard the record and they decided they wanted to use the record for the movie soundtrack.

“We were in South Africa performing for Nelson Mandela‘s birthday and we received a phone call saying that Brett Ratner, who directed Rush Hour wanted us to fly to Hong Kong to shoot the video for the song. I remember saying at the time the song would go #1 in about three weeks and sure enough from the day it came out to when we arrived in LA to shoot the video for “These Are The Times” our marketing person, Angela Thomas told us that ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ just went #1.

“It was my first #1 record as a producer and the first #1 record to come from us as a group. Sisqo and I wrote it and Dutch along with Warryn Campbell produced it. It was a great feeling because that song was really different from the material we had recorded in the past. You have feelings about records sometimes, but you aren’t sure of what may happen. To have the passion and belief in the record and to see what it did was just an amazing feeling to come out of the gate like that for our second album.”

The second song to be released from the album, “These Are The Times” would peak at #5 on Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Singles Charts and third and fourth singles to be released from the album “You Are Everything and “Beauty” charted high on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Singles Charts despite no major push from a music label and radio airplay. It would be during this time where James ‘Woody Rock’ Green would leave to pursue a gospel singing career, but to the three remaining members credit they moved forward in establishing Dru Hill as a formidable act in the R&B genre.

Ruffin spoke on what made him pen the hit record “Beauty” and how the group eventually embraced it.

“’Beauty’ took me a long time to write because it was almost like I started writing it, but I had to finish living the record to be able to finish recording it,” says Ruffin. “It actually took a year or so to completely finish. It was about what I was going through at the time, young love. And the whole process from seeing somebody and hoping you get a chance to say something to them and expressing to them how you feel without holding anything back.

Dru Hill – “Beauty”:

“The funny thing about ‘Beauty’ was when I first presented it to the group, the group didn’t want to record the song. They really didn’t see the whole idea at the time so I went in to demo the record and brought it back and they changed their minds. I can remember when it was getting mixed, the guy who mixed our whole second album, Manny Marroquin was like ‘Man, I was listening to this record with another one of the in-house mixers and my girl and she said, ‘Oh my God, who wrote that song?’ It was a record that touched a lot of people and it ended up being one of the R&B Songs of the Year for ASCAP with no record company push behind it. It turned into its own thing.”

17 tracks were recorded for Enter The Dru, but there was a track recorded by the group entitled, “If I Was the One” penned by the legendary Diane Warren, but it didn’t make the album’s final cut. It ended up being recorded by another Baltimore R&B group, Ruff Endz, for a movie soundtrack years later. There were remixes for “You Are Everything” featuring Ja Rule and “How Deep is Your Love” featuring Redman, which undoubtedly boosted the status of the album.

Ruffin reveals his favorites from the album.

“I wouldn’t say I have a particular favorite from the album, but ‘Beauty’ and ‘How Deep is Your Love’ are my babies, says Ruffin. “But then there was ‘What Are We Gonna Do’ and there were just so many great tracks on that album. We did that many tracks because we were coming back from our first album and also having gone through the long situation with the label. Our fans were so supportive of us during that time and we wanted to make sure we gave them enough music to keep them satisfied.

Satisfaction, Dru Hill certainly delivered and the album went onto sell over two million copies and debut at #2 on the Billboard 200 Charts. After enduring a long legal battle with their original label and the loss of a member, this album success was a real testament to the talents of the group.

To me, it is the last authentic R&B album from a group. Enter The Dru is a representation of what made R&B music relevant. It closed out a great decade for R&B music in splendid fashion and it’s indeed a classic album.

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