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20 Years Later: A Definitive Ranking Of Dru Hill's Soulful Debut Album

 In celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary, we’ve ranked the tracks, keeping in love, soul and flow in mind.

The Soul Train stage shined brightly in November 1996 as new acts like Aaliyah, Soul For Real and Ginuwine performed their pre-recorded jams for zealots of rhythm and blues. Their singles helped curate the silky smooth blueprint of R&B that would later be fawned over for years to come. There’s plenty of other mainstays that helped defined the genre at the time (thank you kindly Teddy Riley, Babyface, Jodeci and Mary J. Blige), but four young men from Baltimore, MD., demanded our attention. Lead by a teen in an orange shirtless get-up and blonde tresses, their performance of "Tell Me" raised curiosities on what they were all about.

The quartet known as Dru Hill might have had a similar come up as New Edition (gospel singers tempted by the chords of secular sounds) founder Tamir "Nokio" Ruffin with Mark "Sisqó" Andrews, Larry "Jazz" Anthony, and James "Woody Rock" Green knew they had voices, but unlike their peers, they were true creatives. Before leaping into the spotlight, the teens used their gigs as fudge sales boys to flip lyrics about the delicious treats into serenading ballads. “Dude, selling fudge is not the coolest thing in the world,” Sisqo told Rolling Stone in 2014. “If you could make that cool, and we did, it was the first lesson in show business. If you could actually sing to a girl while selling fudge in an all-white uniform, that was a challenge.” Nokio’s urge for the group to take control of their sound would be heard on their self-titled album, Dru Hill. Unlike the rest of the millions of black teens growing up in America, the guys were forming their stance on love, sex and relationships on wax. Unbeknownst to them, their ideas would frame fantasies of love we’ve never knew existed.

“Even though we didn’t understand totally when we first started, people made sure we became marquee artists and they gave us lifetime records,” Nokio told The Source in April. “Nowadays, you kind of just go in the studio, make a record and it’s whatever, spend a bunch of money to make people think it’s good when don’t nobody know what the f**k you talking about. But, we’re the last part of the generation where it’s about the artist that made careers for everybody else; artist development, the right records, putting us with the right producers who would teach us a lesson, we’re the last of it.” Whether it was hindsight or only ungratified creative goals, the group went on to produce the highly successful sophomore LP Enter The Dru, but internal conflicts and label switches crashed the innocent waves created on Dru Hill.

“Do You Believe in Love?” questions the rules of the feels with a reminder that “there ain't no guarantees in love,” making the quest that much rewarding. There were also the top-selling singles like “Tell Me,” “Five Steps” and “In My Bed,” that flooded Quiet Storm segments and your high school dances. “Whatever You Want” taught us about the importance of consent, while “Never Make A Promise” gave us hope that prince charming was real.

In celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary, we’ve ranked the tracks, keeping in love, soul and flow in mind. Check it out below.

14. “Nothing to Prove”

The group keeps it real on the second track of the album, defining their outlook on love. Jazz and Woody trade lines about their devotion to their ladies, giving them anything and everything they desire. "Girl I ain't got nothing to prove I ain't got nothing to lose I'm just a man that's sooo in love with you," the boys sing. It's later presented that their love is for an older woman they believe is ashamed of her feelings towards a younger cat. "I say they must be crazy, Can't you make up your mind, and if I'm too young lady, Then I won't waste your time." Jazz sings. The pledge is admirable and the resistance mirrors Millie Jackson's "Young Man, Older Woman" and would go on fuel future R&B/hip-hop jams like Chris Brown's debut single "Run It."

13. “Anthem”

R&B intros varied in the 90's, but still kept hip-hop's influence prevalent. It did a solid to the genre as the two would go hand and hand to create "the remix," an art form that deserves more praise. Dru Hill's "Anthem" doesn't bring much to the album, but it's clear they didn't want to take the clichè acapella route.

12. "Do You Believe?" 

"Do you believe... like I believe in love?" is a question that arises many different answers the fellas answer on the lighthearted track. Noting that there are no guarantees in love, the guys make the best of the moment by realizing their mistakes could lead to a love they'll regret losing. Produced by Tim Dawg and Terence Dudley, the track gives feels like filler, as the singers dive deeper into love, loss and happiness on the rest of the project.

11. "In My Bed" 

Sisqo hoped his instincts were wrong on "In My Bed," but on the follow-up single to "Tell Me," the singer discovers his lady has made plans with another man. His expressive vocals and gentle climatic approach to the track almost makes you think the same thing is happening to you--even if you didn't have a significant other. "Now if you truly love me (alright), Then this would not be happening," he belts at the song's end. It's an overlooked gem on the platinum selling single, but posed truth in the inner workings of heartbreak.

10. "So Special"

"So Special" is one of the most romantic songs on the album, with lyrics emulating the sights and sounds that equate to a powerful love. It also holds elements of Jodeci, an apparent source of influence. It's a thought that's difficult to ignore between crooning adlibs and trade off of lyrics between Woody and Sisqo.

9. "Love's Train" 

The boys may have had a strong gospel background, but the group's remake of Con Fun Shun/Project Soul's "Love's Train" places their ability to bring back the funk in a high regard. Produced by Keith Sweat and Allen Smith, the track focuses on the burning coal of love that keeps the love train going. "Sometimes heart strings can be broken, But you've just got to keep on going, That's the way it goes on love's train." Noted fellas.

8. "Whatever U Want" 

Another upbeat track among the ballads, "Whatever U Need" focuses on lust, rather than the group's deep fixation for love. The playful track showcases their harmonies and provides a look into their future sounds as Saeida Hall provides a quick 16 on her demands for a man who doesn't play games. The group would go on to work with other hip-hop acts like Da Brat, DMX and Method Man.

7. "Share My World"

Professing his undying love for a certain someone, "Share My World" is a testimony to the lovers out there who are ready to jump the broom. Co-produced by Nokio, it's clear the group wanted to cater to those who appreciate the ups and downs of love and what many hope for in the end--marriage. Ironically, the song was sampled over a decade later by PartyNextDoor for his track "SLS," a track about Party's spiritual bond with a stripper.

6. "Satisfied"

Turning up the heat, "Satisfied" brings forth the slow grind, candles and the group's underlying sex appeal. Leaving a sensual voicemail for "Indi," pleas for gentle touches and kisses are heard loud and clear. With high notes and a clear calling to please each other, the track leaves it all--including your clothes--on the floor.

5. "Tell Me" 

Serving as an introduction to the world, "Tell Me" was the anthem for those who are just as skilled in linguistics as they are in the bedroom. Like "Satisfied," it's also one of the few tracks that were a clear testament to the act of sex. Between the lines, it also reminds us all that communication is essential in every part of a relationship. Visuals for the single also gave us the group's signature choreography. From the high jumps to the lip biting, Jazz, Sisqo, Woody and Nokio were NOT playing around with your heart.

4. "All Alone"

The fellas sing of hope and refuse to rely on faith for the somber "All Alone." After a relationship goes awry, it's hard for the men to ignore their feelings. Belting out a promise to cry it out lets the listener know that men shouldn't be afraid of the tears or feel a heartbreak just as much as their partner.

3. "April Showers"

Penned by Woody for a girlfriend as a gift, "April Showers" helps embody the group's outlook on love. Promising to give his all, the singer dedicates his time and love to someone other than himself. It's an act of bravery that was barely analyzed in popular hip-hop back then, but that didn't stop the group from pushing it to the frontlines.

2. "Never Make A Promise"

A love letter of loyalty and support, "Never Make A Promise" is an ode to those who have moved on from puppy love. "You told me what you wanted, I gave you what you need, I told you that I love you, Make it good for you and me," the guys testify on the chorus. These aren't empty promises and dreams as powerful vocals by the group shine through both verses. The visuals for the video takes things to a different level, making them heroes of love and devotion.

1. "5 Steps"

"Five Steps" serves as the best track on the album due to its ability to bridge Dru Hill's gospel, soul and R&B influences. With effortless harmonizing from all members, the track is something special as its interpretations resonate as heartbreak, loss and grief to listeners. It's lyrics, tearful and promising, provide the guys with a perfect ballad R&B dreams are made of. The group would go on to create tracks like "Beauty," and "I Love You," but nothing could compare to "5 Steps" in their entire discography. If Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Tha Crossroads" is the gospel for rap lovers, "5 Steps" not only brings us closer to the core of R&B but closer to love.

Editor's Note: The So So Def remix of  "In My Bed" featuring Jermaine Dupri and Da Brat was purposely left off this ranking.

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CIRCA 1980: Photo of Bill Withers
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Bill Withers' Greatest Hits: Remixed, Sampled And Covered

The recent loss of legends in jazz, soul and classical music have saddened the music industry and reminded us of their touching gifts to music. The passing of Manu Dibango, Krzysztof Penderecki, Ellis Marsalis Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli and Alan Merrill brought endless tributes from peers and fans with the recent loss of soul singer-songwriter Bill Withers doing the same.

With a mirage of hits, the iconic songwriter left his mark on music with the release of his debut album Just As I Am in 1971. "Ain't No Sunshine" put a spotlight on his songwriting while 1977's "Lovely Day" reminded the industry of his signature vocals. Withers released eight studio albums, one live album and garnered three Grammys for his powerful songs that gave hope and love to fans to this day.

Hip-hop and R&B have gained the most from Withers as his music went on to inspire records like "No Diggity" by BLACKStreet, "Roses" by Kanye West and other songs from UGK, Dr. Dre, Jill Scott and more.

Take a look at some of Withers' finest tunes covered, remixed and sampled below.

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8. “Lovely Day” | Menagerie (1977)

Sampled On: T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday” | Derty Werk (1999) LunchMoneyLewis - “It's Gonna Be A Lovely Day” feat. Aminè | Pets 2 Soundtrack (2019) Swizz Beatz - “Take A Picture” |One Man Band (2007)

Standout: T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday” | Derty Werk (1999)

Short for "The Whole Damn Yay," the group used Withers' sample while throwing a splash of The Bay's laid back flavor. With cameos from future legends like E-40 and Ray Luv, the single already embodied the best of R&B and hip-hop with guest verses from Too Short, Mac Mall and Otis & Shug. The mimosas and yacht are also a great touch.

Covered By: Jill Scott, The Original Jill Scott from the Vault Vol. 1 (2011) Alt-J, This Is All Yours (2014) Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2 (2013) Kirk Franklin, The Nu Nation Project (1998)

Standout: Kirk Franklin, The Nu Nation Project (1998)

Who was going to beat a chorus singing to the lordt? Franklin's take on the classic gives us stirring gospel and appreciation for Withers and God. There are plenty of covers that have lifted the same vocals as Withers, but the ones listed have put their unique spin on the track.

7. “Ain't No Sunshine” | Just As I Am (1971)

Sampled On: DMX - “No Sunshine” | Exit Wounds Soundtrack (2001) Lil B - “Up And Down” | Based Jam (2012) 2Pac- "Soulja's Story" |  2Pacalypse Now (1991)

Standout: DMX - “No Sunshine” | Exit Wounds Soundtrack (2001)

"No Sunshine" served as the only single from DMX's film alongside Steven Seagal, which gave everyone the perfect backdrop to the movie and X's intricate storytelling. Both the original and flipped version points out the dark elements of our lives. Withers penned the song after watching the film 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses, he pondered over the toxicity in his life. "Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you," he said in 2004 to SongFacts. "It's just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I'm not aware of."

Covered By: Soul For Real | Candy Rain (1994) Michael Jackson | Got to Be There (1972) The Boris Gardiner Happening | Is What's Happening (1973) The Temptations | Solid Rock (1972)

Standout: Michael Jackson | Got to Be There (1972)

At 14, the future King of Pop gave a riveting cover of Withers' hit for his debut album, Got To Be There. From his vocal control throughout the track to the instrumentation, his cover takes the song to another level of heartbreak.

6. "Grandma's Hands” | Just As I Am (1971)

Sampled On: BLACKstreet - “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen | Another Level (1996) Big K.R.I.T. - “I Gotta Stay” | K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010) Brother Ali - “Waheedah's Hands” | Champion (2004)

Standout: BLACKstreet - “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen | Another Level (1996)

R&B heads are well aware of BLACKstreet's neverending ballads and the genius of Teddy Riley. But the pivot of their sound for their sophomore album Another Level was due to Withers and the William “Stylez” Stewart. Speaking to Fact Mag in 2017, the creator of New Jack Swing gave credit to Stylez for bringing him the sample of "Grandma's Hands."

“If he hadn’t played that sample for me, there would never be a ‘No Diggity’ And if he didn’t write it according to the melody I gave him so it would sound that way because I wanted it to sound funky,” he said. “I wanted it to be appealing to everyone, but mostly to women. I wanted every woman to feel like they were the ‘No Diggity’ girl and that song was about them and it came across. And now, still, today, that song plays and people are on that dancefloor.”

Covered By: Gil Scott-Heron, Reflections (1981) Merry Clayton, Merry Clayton (1971) Barbra Streisand, Butterfly (1974)

Standout: Gil Scott-Heron, Reflections (1981)

Gil Scott-Heron's version of the soul classic reminded us of his versatile talents. From spoken word to his vocal abilities, the Godfather of rap music always came through with his own sound and style. Reflections was one of four albums the late artist dropped in the 80s with critics looking to it as one of his finest projects. Other cuts from the album included "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "B Love."

5. "Use Me" | Still Bill (1972)

Sampled On: Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"  | Good kid, Maad City (2012) J. Cole- "Dollar And A Dream II" | The Warm-Up (2009) Leela James - “So Good" | Fall For You (2014) UGK - "Use Me Up" | The Southern Way (1992)

Standout: Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"  | Good kid, Maad City (2012)

Lamar's take on "Use Me" blended right into the themes of his debut album, Good kid, Maad City allowing the artist to create another world on the project. To make things even better, Lamar also sampled Al Green's "I'm Glad You're Mine" for the track.

Covered By: Grace Jones, Indigo Nights, Live (2008) Mick Jagger feat. Lenny Kravitz, Wandering Spirit  (2004) Issac Hayes, Dr. Dolittle Soundtrack (1998)

Standout: Mick Jagger feat. Lenny Kravitz, Wandering Spirit (2004)

On his third solo album, Jagger linked with Rick Rubin to test his creative energy, allowing him to work with Lenny Kravitz on their version of "Use Me." Colliding worlds was one thing but to hear Kravitz's vocals come in on the bridge, set the track apart from the rest.

4. “Kissing My Love” | Still Bill (1972)

Sampled On: J. Cole - “The Cut Off" featuring kiLL Edward  | KOD (2018) Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" featuring Snoop Dogg, RC and Jewell | The Chronic (1992) Masta Ace- "Movin On" | Take A Look Around (1990) Master P- "Bastard Child" | The Ghettos Tryin To Kill Me! | 1994

Standout: Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" featuring Snoop Dogg, RC and Jewell | The Chronic (1992)

"Kissing My Love" is one of most sampled from Withers catalog, thanks to its feverish drums. It's also why it fits into Dr. Dre's single and the G-funk era.

3. Grover Washington's “Just The Two of Us” featuring Bill Withers | Winelight (1981)

Sampled/Covered On:  Will Smith - “Just The Two of Us” | Big Willie Style (1997) Eminem- "Just The Two of Us" | Slim Shady EP (1997) Keri Hilson- "Pretty Girl Rock" | No Boys Allowed (2010)

Standout: Will Smith - “Just The Two of Us” | Big Willie Style (1997)

Touching and soulful, Smith's dedication to his eldest son Trey is just too cute for words.

2. “Let It Be” | Just As I Am  (1967)

The Original: The Beatles - “Let It Be” | Let It Be (1968)

"Let It Be" is a pretty special record. Aretha Franklin recorded a version a year before the release of The Beatles' version and Withers gave his take on the record in the 70s. Slightly faster, his upbeat take on "Let It Be" just hits different.

1. “Rosie” | Menagerie Re-Issue (1977)

Sampled On: Kanye West - “Roses” |  Late Registration (2005)

As the somber part of Late Registration, "Roses" brings us into Kanye's world where he contemplates the mortality of a loved one. It's a sentimental take on the sample and one of the artist's most underrated songs. It's also a hidden gem for Withers as it isn't featured on Menagerie's LP. It was added as a bonus track on

Enjoy the jams in playlist form below.

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Remain Calm: 5 Ways To Curve Negative Effects Of Coronavirus Isolation

Self-isolation during the coronavirus outbreak seems to be best practice in keeping our families and peers safe but it's also a shift in our normal social behavior. As millions of families around the country get adjusted to self-isolation, the state of our mental health and how our bodies react to the practice are changing by the day, especially lower-income and marginalized groups.

Speaking with Wired, John Vincent, a clinical psychologist at the University of Houston, shared how apathetic behavior can rise to the forefront, making space for anxiety and depression.

“People start getting lethargic when they don’t have positive inputs into their small worlds,” Vincent says. “We can expect depression to kick in, and depression and anxiety are kissing cousins.”

But the biggest reason behind the uneasiness isn't the self-isolation but just how long it will last. Details of COVID-19 are changing by the day with the most cases now coming out of New York. Yet, there's still little to no information on what happens next.

“Open, transparent, consistent communication is the most important thing governments and organizations can do: Make sure people understand why they are being quarantined first and foremost, how long it is expected to last,” Samantha Brooks of King’s College London told the outlet. “A huge factor in the negative psychological impact seems to be confusion about what's going on, not having clear guidelines, or getting different messages from different organizations.”

Uncertainty hitting low income and marginalized groups is also a problem within itself. As virtual parties and celebrities opening up on social media happen on a daily, there are people who might not access fun distractions on the web.

“Some people have posited technology as a means of connecting people, but lower-income groups might not even have FaceTime or Skype or minutes on their phone,” Thomas Cudjoe, a geriatrician researching the intersection of social connections and aging at Johns Hopkins University says. “People take that for granted, using their devices can be a strain on people’s incomes.”

To make self-isolation less than a bore or a daunting task, experts suggest creating a schedule to dictate control in your home.

1. Work It Out

Gyms are closed, but your home can be transformed into a personal training center. Use heavy bags for weights and if you can, create a playlist of workouts on YouTube. For those who have memberships for Blink or Peloton, the platforms have streamed their workouts on apps.

2. Mindful Meditation

Meditation isn't about dumping your thoughts, it's about staying aware and mindful. AQUA has developed online that leverages the power of "Mindful Meditation and Mobility Movements" for flexibility and fluidity in the body. Classes are free of charge but feel free to donate.

3. Take It Back To High School

Give your friends a call or indulge in a FaceTime party. Feel free to use the Wifi in your home to reduce the amount of data used on your phone. Lala Anthony held a too-cute FT birthday party for writer Kiyonna Anthony with a 70s theme. You can also find creative ways to hop on the phone with friends and family instead of constantly chatting about 'rona.

 

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We made the best out of our quarantine situation🎉‼️FACETIME 70s Party💃🏽🎉HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY NIECE @kiyonnathewriter ❤️❤️💃🏽💃🏽SHOUT OUT TO ALL MY ARIES ♈️ MAKE THE BEST OF IT!!!😘

A post shared by ℒᎯ ℒᎯ (@lala) on Mar 23, 2020 at 7:14pm PDT

4. Start A Journal

Journals just aren't for kids. The practice not only gives you something to do, but it fuels creativity and a new level of self-awareness. Former First Lady Michelle Obama recently developed Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice, with over 150 inspiring questions and quotes that connect to key themes in her memoir. The journal will also help bring readers to terms with the importance of family and personal reflections as well as the goals they'd like to make a reality.

5. Have a Dance Party or Enjoy Lo-Fi Beats To Quarantine To

If you don't have data or battery power to watch a virtual DJ party, make your own. If you have to pull out your record player, do it! You can also hop on your favorite streaming service and create a playlist all your own.

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From Teen Sensation To Vocal Bible: Brandy's 15 Best Songs

September 27, 2019 marked the 25th anniversary of the multiplatinum self-titled debut album by one of R&B’s greatest voices, Brandy Rayana Norwood, or simply Brandy. She was already well on her way to stardom prior to her debut as a background vocalist for Immature and one of the stars of the short-lived ABC series, Thea. However, it was the album Brandy that set her on the path to tremendous success.

Since officially bursting onto the scene in 1994 sporting her well-known braided crown of glory, she has been a force to be reckoned with. She was handpicked by her idol, the late Whitney Houston, to portray the role of the first Black Cinderella in the 1997 film Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. Her show Moesha was one of the longest-running black sitcoms. Brandy was also a CoverGirl in 1999 and became a friend of Barbie that same year when Mattel released the Brandy Doll. In music, she’s released six studio albums, sold more than 40 million records worldwide, headlined three world tours, and won more than 30 awards including seven Billboard Music Awards, a Grammy and the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award. Brandy deserves her flowers.

Let’s check out the top 15 songs that helped solidify Brandy as your favorite singer’s favorite singer (just ask Solange) and earned her the title of the “Vocal Bible.”

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