NEW YORK — While B2K were driving adolescent girls into a tizzy across town at Madison Square Garden, Tamir "Nokio" Ruffin was sitting in Soundtrack Studios, remembering the days when his name used to roll off girls' lips with the frequency that the names Omarion, J-Boog, Lil' Fizz and Raz-B do today.
"It was crazy," Nokio said with a laugh after devouring a takeout seafood dinner. "This girl came running up to me yesterday for a hug and said, 'I was loving you way before I was loving B2K.' "
But there are no screaming girls at Soundtrack. The main room is temporarily submerged in silence.
"I can't believe we actually have an album coming out," Nokio said of the Dru Hill reunion disc, Dru World Order, due November 12. And not only are Nokio, Sisqó, Jazz and the gospel-singing Woody all back in the fold for their first LP since 1998's Enter the Dru, the guys have a new addition.
"His name is Scola, and he's been with us since day one," Nokio said. "He's the guy whose songs we were listening to in Baltimore, like, 'Yo, we need to make songs like that.' We was like, 'Yo, you our boy and you been here.'... We seen him coming up for so long, going from not being in the right situations, you just want to see everybody come up. Especially being from Baltimore. There aren't a lot of opportunities down there. You gonna see his face on the album cover, the girls are going to be screaming for [him]. He just brings a different element that we didn't have before."
Nokio said the original members first got back together during a Dru family tragedy, when Woody's mom died and the four of them performed at her funeral.
"We went up to the pulpit to sing a song together, and that was the first time everybody had the chance to look at each other like, 'Yo, I miss you, dog. What's up, man? What you been doing?' The communication was there, and it kept getting stronger and stronger. One day me and Sisqó were on the phone talking about doing a remix to one of the songs on his last album and that conversation turned into, 'Yo, we just need to go make an album — let's stop playing. I went down to his crib for eight months.' "
The duo called the rest of their squad in October and started writing. By the end of December, they had recorded a large chunk of their songs.
"My man is itching to get onstage bad," Nokio said of Sisqó, who has cut his cornrows down to a Caesar and is wearing his natural black hair color. "His voice is like it never was before, he's just ready to go. Ready to be at where we were in the beginning."
Dru Hill have indeed taken it back to their roots for their still-untitled first single, due in September.
"I should be your boyfriend/ 'Cause you know he's lying/ It might seem like I'm hating/ But I'm just relating," they harmonize over a mid-tempo track that's pampered with funk and strings.
"After we listened to it, the harmony, what we was saying, it was that Dru Hill record that reminded you of why you like Dru Hill," Nokio said. "It was good to be able to sit back and debate about it like, 'I don't know what record we gonna put out because we got so many records' rather than 'That is the only record we have. Let's put it out right now.' "
N.O.R.E. makes a guest appearance on the club banger "On Me," while Nokio himself is the star of a ballad he refers to as "the baby father anthem."
"I wrote that song on Christmas Eve that just passed," recalled Nokio, who sings, "While you're in bed with another man, I just want to talk to my child" on the track. "That was the first Christmas I [didn't] have no girl. Wasn't nobody there, wasn't nothing happening. I was like, 'Why I ain't got no girl? This ain't like me.' It made me think about all of the stuff I had done over the years to different girls."
"I called Scola up and started singing the first two lines," Nokio said, "and he was like, 'I don't know what you're going through, man, but keep going through it.' You'll listen to the album and a lot of it is girls, relationships and everything, ... but the undertone is you could see everything we went though. All the pain. All the nights we were sitting around not knowing what was going to happen. ... Dealing with the fans, 'Y'all ain't never coming back.' We put that all into the record."
Besides the Dru Hill album, which he produced most of, Nokio is staying busy with his A&R consultant gig at Def Jam, where he is overseeing projects by 3rd Storee and Lovher. He also has his own N-tity management and production companies, where he'll soon be laying tracks for DMX and Scarface.