Sisqó. Sisqó? Sisqó!
I'm currently in the midst of my latest obsession with Dru Hill's "Beauty."
When I say 'latest,' I mean roughly every 2-to-3-months, I'll listen to "Beauty" on repeat for days on end. A bit of context behind what has, unashamedly, become a regular thing: I first heard this song way back in the day – like 1999 or something – when my older cousin Melissa finally gave into my whining and let me listen to whatever cassette was playing in her yellow Sony Walkman. It was Enter the Dru, Track 14. I'm pretty sure that's the only song I got to hear, and I'm also pretty sure I gave Lisa her Walkman back convinced I'd heard the most gorgeous song ever.
And so, this essay was initially intended to be an ode to what I will always contend is one of the greatest songs of all-time, as improbable as that sounds. But, per usual, Facebook saved the day:
Dru Hill came out with their first official album TWENTY YEARS AGO. Me being old and washed aside, I cannot believe Sisqó both has lasted this long and had the type of top-level run he enjoyed. Because as brilliant as his voice has always been, the guy is strange, and that might even be kind. Therefore, consequently, and as a result, I'm writing a thinkpiece on the incomparable Dragon. I haven't seen enough (read: any) Sisqó profiles, and I say that without a hint of sarcasm. It's been a peculiar yet somehow satisfying career to watch.
Sisqó, born Mark Althavean Andrews, entered the mainstream as the lead vocalist of R&B quartet Dru Hill. I'm using the term 'lead vocalist' as loosely as possible. From my vantage point, Dru Hill always had an infrastructural problem: all of them could sing, all of them knew they could sing, and they wouldn't hesitate trying to outshine one another on any given song. Take "Beauty" for example: we don't hear Sisqó at all for the first minute-and-a-half of the track, but once he starts that second verse, the song immediately becomes his.
Those were simpler times. By 2002's Dru World Order, any semblance of deference to the lead became nonexistent. "I Should Be..." has all of the members of the group unofficially sharing the spotlight, and despite all this, Sisqó's performance very clearly outshines his groupmates. For all the jostling for position early in the song, by its final chorus, every member but Sisqó has retreated to the background, and his voice is the last we hear. But, in spite of how sonically messy these songs could have gotten given the circumstances, Dru Hill managed to make it work. At their peak, they were better than 112 and Jagged Edge and Jodeci, even if the record books will never back that up. Regardless, in terms of pure talent, probably only Boyz II Men outpaces Dru Hill.
Maybe they wouldn't be so forgotten if they hadn't been so bizarre. It was like they were trying to top their on-record theatrics with even more craziness in their music videos. The video for "In My Bed" has Sisqó's girlfriend cheating on him WITH HIS GROUPMATES. "Never Make a Promise" finds a young woman pregnant, but she doesn't know if the father is a Dru Hill member or her own alcoholic, sexually abusive dad. I don't know if Dru Hill thought zanier videos would make them more memorable in the long-haul, but that plan seems to have backfired. People likely remember them for how ridiculous they were and not for the quality of music, which is unfortunate, but I'm sure they thought the insanity would help them stick around. All publicity is good publicity and all that.
Alas. Either way, Sisqó was the clear star of the group, which made his run at solo stardom inevitable. And unsurprisingly, Sisqó took everything that Dru Hill thought kept them relevant and ... we know what comes next.
I wrote that aforementioned Facebook post while listening to a song I'd come across while spending the summer with my good friend Melvin, a ridiculously catchy instrumental called "Let Me See That," 'composed' by producer/DJ duo Penthouse Penthouse. Those quotation marks have a purpose, because SPOILER ALERT if you haven't clicked the linked yet: their composition is a minimal flip of Sisqó's "Thong Song."
Which brings me to my larger point: Sisqó really walked into a studio and recorded "Thong Song."
Which brings an even larger point: That song is crazy good.
The music snob in me hates when songs about nothing are this undeniable. The lyrics, in case you've forgotten: "She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck / Thighs like what, what, what / Baby, move your butt, butt, butt / I THINK I'LL SING IT AGAIN." And after he sings it again, he desperately pleads with the object of his affection to see her thong. Sisqó whines to see the thong the way I whined to see Lisa's Walkman when I was 7. He's so earnest. You're actually on his side by the time the song ends, hoping she lets him get his way, since he seems like a decent-enough guy, possibly. At least he asked nicely and wasn't abrasive about it?
"Thong Song" charted at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000. "Thong Song" earned 4 Grammy nominations. "Thong Song" is likely the primary reason Unleash the Dragon, Sisqó's debut solo album, was certified QUINTUPLE PLATINUM FOR ALBUM SALES EXCEEDING FIVE MILLION COPIES. Sisqó, silver hair and all, does high-wire tricks over women laying in sand for half the video.
Man, that song is so dumb. And the video might be even dumber. But I never skip it when Shuffle has its way. I'm actually listening to it right now. I never knew a man could sing so passionately about underwear until Sisqó. So there's that. Silver lining.
Even more incredible: "Thong Song" wasn't even the biggest record on the album, numerically speaking anyways. That honor goes to "Incomplete," which charted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000. That song, by the way, isn't even half as good as its predecessor. But when you're hot, you're hot, or something like that.
From the primary research I've conducted (which, I admit, has been 100% Wikipedia, but I've been checking Sisqó's Wikipedia page since Sisqó's had a Wikipedia page), the next few years of Sisqó's career apparently went how you might've expected: Sisqó and Dru Hill's label, Def Soul, wanted to capitalize on Sisqó's unexpected success by releasing a new Dru Hill album, while Sisqó remained hellbent on maintaining his own momentum by releasing his second solo CD. But Sisqó couldn't stay hot - even though that time he helicoptered into the BET Awards will never not be amazing - and he was back leading Dru Hill almost immediately, with their comeback Dru World Order releasing at the end of 2002. But then their album flopped, and by 2005, they all found themselves without a deal. Just five years removed from literally creating an unstoppable phenomenon via a song that only gets more ridiculous with time, we'd already lost Sisqó. I've always heard that the music business can be a fickle thing, but I've always been amazed with how a guy that good can get chewed up and spit out like that.
I'm always mentally constructing Chris Brown's musical Family Tree, contemplating how many folks in today's R&B owe their success to him. Welp, another plot twist: there's no Chris Brown without Sisqó. Mark Althavean Andrews is the patriarch of Flamboyant Rhythm & Blues. Yes, that is insane. Don't ask me to explain how or why or when it happened.
Here's to hoping Sisqó somehow regains his footing and at least gives me another song to obsess over. Or, worst-case scenario: here's to hoping he doesn't completely vanish so I can hire him to sing at my wedding for a reasonable price some years down the line. He's resurfaced with Dru Hill over the past few years, releasing InDRUpendence Day with Dru Hill in 2010 - "Love MD", another song I think is remarkable, was their lead single - and apparently another solo project last February that I was entirely unaware of until I started my research for this essay. He's only 37, and voices like his don't go bad. I'm rooting for him. He's a character, but you can deal with characters like that every now and again if the talent either matches or exceeds the crazy. In Sisqó's case, I'd argue that rule applies.