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Dru Hill: InDRUpendence Day

Dru Hill can’t recreate its glory days

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Dru Hill

InDRUpendence Day

Kedar Entertainment Group

The R&B vocal quartet Dru Hill may have been Baltimore’s most popular musical export during its late 1990s peak, but it’s been a long time since the band’s last hit single. To be fair, male groups have been out of vogue in R&B for a while now, and you don’t see 112 or Jagged Edge on the charts much anymore either. But Dru Hill’s first album since 2002 isn’t on the surest footing, coming in the wake of a reunion that got off to a pretty rocky start in 2008. That tumultuous year saw Woody Rock leave the group live on the radio, followed by the band picking his replacement, Tao, at a nightclub audition. In the two-year lull since, the band signed with independent label Kedar Entertainment Group, began shooting the cable reality show Platinum House, and assembled its unfortunately titled fourth album InDRUpendence Day.

The two questions hanging over Dru Hill’s new album are separate but intertwined: can its members still recreate their old vocal magic with a new vocalist in the mix, and can they make another run at mainstream radio rotation? And while InDRUpendence Day answers the former question with a confident, “Yes,” it’s a little harder to be optimistic about the latter.

The group’s thickly stacked four-part harmonies still sound big and soulful, and the vocoded hooks on “Whatcha Do” and “Makin’ Luv” feel more like playful new experiments than belated attempts to jump on the Auto-Tune bandwagon. The group’s most recognizable voice, Sisqֳ³’s midrange purr, doesn’t leap out of the mix very often, leaving more room for equally competent if less distinctive singers Jazz and Tao.

Some big names, such as Keith Sweat and contemporary hitmaker Bryan-Michael Cox, appear in the credits, but for the most part the tracks are by lesser known producers such as Wirlie Morris and Nathan Mooring. The overall aesthetic is vaguely contemporary, but only to the extent that R&B production hasn’t changed all that much since Dru Hill’s heyday. And the group’s newfound emphasis on club bangers unfortunately means Dru Hill’s arguable strong suit—the big dramatic ballad—is neglected for most of the album. Even the slow jams tend to focus on goofy metaphors rather than emotions: “Remain Silent,” “State of Emergency,” and the single “Love MD” all go for the kind of cheesy wordplay that R. Kelly might be able to make entertaining, but Dru Hill doesn’t quite have the chutzpah to pull off.

The album ends with “Rule the World,” a reworking of the 1985 Tears For Fears hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” that constantly teeters between inspired and insipid. The funky, slap bass-filled backing beat and ecstatic vocal performances make the best of the iffy idea, but cringe-inducing rapped and spoken interludes derail the track in the end. Ultimately, that’s the whole album in a nutshell: The group is too talented to fall flat on its face, but it has definitely seen better days than InDRUpendence Day. (Al Shipley)

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