Nokio From R&B Group Dru Hill Talks About Upcoming Feature on TV One UNSUNG
During the whisk of the 90’s when timeless R&B still had a serenading voice in mainstream music, friends from Baltimore, Nokio, Jazz, Woody, and Sisqo would find themselves at the helm of stardom as the sultry group Dru Hill.
Dru Hill's rise to fame is a classic interpretation of making it from the bottom and propelling to the top. The group brought us hits upon hits with singles In My Bed, Never Make A Promise, 5 Steps, and Beauty to name a few of their occult songs. Hard times hit the group, and the group split. With new members along with core vocalist and writers, Nokio, Sisqo, and Jazz, Dru Hill continued to put out hits through the years up until early 2000.
Tamir Ruffin, known to fans as Nokio, is the hidden figure, as well as the soft-spoken muscle behind Dru Hill. Nokio is singer, songwriter, producer and former A&R director for Def Soul—He’s produced songs for artist like Trey Songz, DMX, Capone-N-Norega to name a few artist. Nokio shared a few details about his upcoming feature with group, Dru Hill on TV One UNSUNG premiering February 23, 2020 at 10:00 P.M. 9/C.
Watch Dru Hill Perform on UNSUNG LIVE
Immediately Following UNSUNG at 11 P.M./10C
What do you think now that you’re able to tell your story. How does that make you feel that you can get your story out now?
I feel it’s just the beginning of it. I feel like, we’ve always kept everything close to the hip. It’s like a lot more speculation about things than it is a fact. It feels like we’re just getting to a point of being able to express certain things. It’s a good feeling, especially knowing that we can do it without it affecting anything.
What compelled you to talk about your life and career at this point of your life and what would you say was the highlight?
More than anything, it was really just going along with the team opposed to something that I would necessarily do because I’m extra private. I can spend my whole time and not tell nobody nothing if I didn’t have to. Being in the moment, and then being able to go back and look at some of the things that other people saw, or even have moments of finding out about things that I didn’t necessarily know about, that part makes it cool. If you just came to me and wanted to talk about stuff, that probably wouldn’t happen.
It’s interesting that you say that because who knew that you were so pivotal with the careers of other renowned artist. Do you feel like that needed to be said [that you’ve accomplished so much more]?
Yeah. Only because I’ve had people to come to me and be like, “Why don’t you talk about all the stuff that you’ve done,” and I’m like, "I really never cared about anything other than my name being on a check." I loved the music. I’ve always had a problem when it comes to talking about me. It’s really hard. Even though I’ve been able to accomplish many things that most people dream of, it’s almost like I’m bragging when I talk about it. It’s hard for me to say it. I hope that people will one day see my name on there [song credits], and then be like, “Ah man, I didn’t know that you did that,” and I’m like, “Yeah, cool," and I can go on about my business. It’s really a weird thing because I know and I understand what I am capable of doing, but it’s almost the reason I still do it. it’s because I don’t see it the way other people see it. I just see it like, “I know I was there.” That’s about the most I can tell you.
In this Unsung episode, what do you hope audiences will take away from your life and career, and especially artist breaking into the music industry?
If you believe in yourself for real, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t have more. Many of the problems that we had [as a group] came from signing a deal [too early]. If we had gotten to the point that somebody was willing to offer us that, then maybe if we worked a little bit harder, somebody would’ve offered us more opposed to putting us in a situation of signing away everything that we had before we knew what it was worth. It’s hard when you’re coming from the hood and you just want to get out and somebody presents you with the opportunity that seems like, at the time, everything you ever dreamed of doing. It’s not until you get older that you realize [the mistake], that maybe there was a whole bunch of points before that, when people offered stuff to you. If that was the greatest thing that I got at that point, and it came from a progression, then I might’ve jumped the gun for the progression and I could’ve gotten more. Who knows? That really just comes down to how much you believe in yourself. I’ve had conversations [with people], “What are you supposed to do if that was the only thing on the table at the time that made sense?" My thing is, always believe in you.
Do you think artist, now, have better opportunities than when Dru Hill came out?
Absolutely, because you can literally, release your music among the greats. That, alone, is more than what we got to do. We had to send in the demo, and probably make a bunch more in hopes that we can get [in their face] wherever the record executives were during that time. Now, you can wake up in the morning, put out a record that you feel is a hit, and it’ll be sold in streams along with people that’s been doing it for years. People [fans and label execs] will have a choice. They can make a decision of whether or not they want to be part of it. It's a lot more opportunities than we had. We had a demo tape. We sang [audition] in front of people. Now, you need to be selling a thousand records a week at home before someone calls you up, but at least you have the opportunity to do that.
When you talk about the totality of working with an all-male singing group, what do you think made Dru Hill standout spectacularly back then?
I think because, we all came with somebody for everybody. It wasn’t just focusing on singing or whatever else; there was literally a person for all these different types of mindsets and people. We had the quiet person, and you had the person that sing wild. You had the person that was mysterious and you had the guy who could sing regardless of anything. We were all writers. You just had so much to draw from. Honestly, that was the problem for us before [the song] Tell Me came out. Nobody knew what to do with us because it was so much to deal with. You got these young guys with old voices and they write, produce, and "we [labels] really don’t want people to have that much control." Nobody knew what to do with us. Honestly, it wasn’t really until, me and Woody went to make [singles] All Alone and April Showers, that everybody we were signed to at the time, they were like, “Oh, my God.” Before, everything that he [Sisqo] wrote sounded like Jodeci, and if you’re looking for that immediate compassionate [stuff], which is something that most people do when they first listen to music, but it was always standout because Jodeci was once that great. We had these hard beats. We took hip hop beats and we put Stevie Wonder on top of it, and that was the stuff that made them realize, that not only did they [label execs] have something that was way more special, and they understood [it]. They realized that we could do it internally and we didn’t really need anybody.
Share your experiences working on this episode with your fellow peers, creative team, and TV One on this particular project
It was weird for me because in all honesty, because I was probably going through one of the toughest times I ever went through in my life so, I really had to go back and look at to understand what happened because I just didn’t know. We were in the middle of so much stuff. We hadn’t seen Jazz, but Jazz was there, and even with people showing up. It was a lot of stuff going on. I can’t tell you if I felt a way about it. I just showed up to do what I had to do that day.
It was a great segment. I wouldn’t have known that you were involved with so much stuff, so Kudos to you for even being the guy behind the scenes. Sometimes, that’s a safe place to be.
That’s the thing-- I’m going to tell you that I’m just starting to realize that for me, it was like, I’ve always gotten attention, but it happened so naturally. When I realized it was happening, I’d go in the house. Even though I do a lot of eccentric stuff or things that’s considered eccentric, I would do it if nobody were looking at me. If I realized people were looking at me, I’m just being accustomed to that. I was always all right with someone else taking the credit or someone else being in front of everything because it kept me from having to talk to people. I’m getting used to it because I never cared. Music saved my life. it’s always been about making music. Even when I’m going through [something], I don’t directly express it in the record, but the energy is put into the record. I would have to deal with it [angst] some other way.
What was your favorite project that you ever worked on?
Honestly, Trey Day, because that was me in the house and I had many problems with doing music. Chris Brown was one of my best friends at the time. His manager introduced us. He pretty much said, “I want you to be his big brother." Chris came to my house almost every day. I would pick him and we made music but it wasn’t about music, it was about real life stuff. One day, when he came to my house, he said, “We are going to a Trey Songz video shoot. I’m going to introduce you to Trey.” I went to the shoot, and saw Troy Taylor, who I’ve wanted to work with since Enter the Dru, so he asked me what I was doing. I said, “Man, I just been in the house.” He said, “It’s time to come out the house.” When I met Trey, they were shooting a video. I got a call a week later from Kevin Liles, Tre, and his manager. They said they wanted me to come in on the album. That was 2006, and that was the first time I did anything R&B for real since we did Dru World Order, and that was five years later. We recorded the album in 2001 and 2002, so that was a big thing for me to be able to go in there and not be Nokio, and sit back and be humble—Knowing that Trey was the star, and doing that with no problem. That was a humbling moment for me.
What are you working on now?
I put out like three projects this month and a bunch of singles. I got my license to grow marijuana in all of Nevada. I got some artist that I’m working with. I’m working with Jazz and his music. I’m doing a little bit of everything. I’m having fun right now. The only thing that I’m not doing right now is performing.
You said that music saved your life. In what way [did it save your life]?
It wasn’t until I was older when I realized that I suffered from depression at an early age, and I used to call it, “having extra feelings.” I didn’t know what it was, but I always wrote poetry. I started that when I was young. Once I was able to turn that into writing songs, it gave me an outlet that kept me from having to go through a lot of stuff that most people go through. I still use it until today. If I wasn’t able to find that, I don’t know how I would’ve dealt with certain things. If I spent the first thirty years doing everything I’m supposed to do in figuring stuff out, I want to spend the net thirty being able to use the knowledge that I have to do what I know should be done.
To learn more about Nokio, follow him on social media and listen to his newest single “Dear Joy.”
UNSUNG Premieres Sunday, February 23, 2020 @ at 10 P.M. ET/9C