Sisqo in Halifax - Photo courtesy of Martin Blais/Aggro Photography
This article originally appeared on Noisey Canada.
If you were born after 1995, you’re probably not incredibly familiar with Sisqo. For those who think he may be some sort of productivity app, here’s a quick biography: Sisqo was one of the hottest R&B artists of the early 2000s after a come-up with R&B group Dru Hill. He won a Grammy for "Thong Song" from his first solo record in 1999, Unleash the Dragon, and collaborated with everyone from Lil Kim to DMX to Will Smith in the early aughts. He appeared on the small and silver screen for a few years, acting in the romantic comedy Get Over It and an episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Fourteen years since his second album, Return of the Dragon, Baltimore's silver-haired singer recently released Last Dragon, the third and final instalment of his dragon-themed trilogy.
Sisqo wrote the deceptively dirty “How Many Licks” with Lil Kim, a song that showcases some of the rap diva’s most raunchy verses to date. He also pushed the limits of what was acceptable in pop culture at almost an explosive rate. His ode to underwear appeared in an era when music videos were being played on TV, pushing the envelope of what was acceptable viewing.
But aside from some TV spots on Big Brother UK and Wife Swap, Sisqo has been largely removed from the public eye since 2001. So when it was announced that he’d be coming to Halifax to perform alongside Choclair and Ma$e (who didn't show up), we decided to ask him to fill us in on what he’s been doing for the last 14 years. Now 37, Sisqo—whose real name is Mark Andrews—wore a black and gold outfit, topped by a ball cap with "A List" in gold stitching as a shout out to his recent single with Waka Flocka Flame and his first dabble in "turn up" music. In person he is bubbly and warm, and he looks like he hasn't aged at all. Since his disappearance, Sisqo says he’s been quietly working on music, all while watching his own influence grow in contemporary R&B culture.
"People were looking at me crazy in the beginning," he says, "I was doing the best I could to be a visionary. There were things I had done that people looked at sideways. Like, who is this black kid with blonde hair? But now that's the thing. If your hair's not dyed some different color, now people look at you like you're crazy."
"What's considered R&B music today, the singing and rapping thing, I was part of making that mainstream, and then when I do it now, people are like, 'Oh, he's tryna be this,' and I'm like, aren't they trying to be me? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?" he laughs. While it seems like Sisqo is a victim of one-hit-wonder syndrome, he made it clear that his fade-out was done on purpose to retain his integrity. He struggled with his label over the singles from his second album, and he was pressured to recreate a hit like the "Thong Song" in 2001 with "Can I Live?"—which flopped, charting at 72 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Rap and not cracking the charts anywhere else.
"A lot of the decisions I made in terms of people not seeing me in the mainstream anymore were the sacrifices I had to make to achieve anything," he says. "At the end of the day, the core of what I want is to make good music. But I think you can get to a level where the business interferes with the music. With the exception of a few artists, now it's all quantity over quality. I didn't want to put out a bunch of stuff just because. I’ve got millions of songs laying around, but I think that's irresponsible to your fans and to your music. I didn't want to sell out to stay in front of the camera. That's phoney, I'll take the long way and see you on the other side."
He tells me that he had issues with being pigeon-holed or over-produced. He says he was ahead of the game on songs like "Infatuated," which he says sounds perfect today and a song that Lenny Kravitz called musical genius. But his label pushed it back and promoted "Dance With Me" instead. "That song quaffed the quench that the distributor wanted. And I said, ‘you know what? I don't need it that bad. Ya'll go play with that and I'm gonna go over here and do real music.’"
He worked for a decade on new songs, producing two complete versions of Last Dragon before the final release because he wanted it to be fresh, but not too weird. The Waka Flocka Flame track was his way of tapping into current flavor. "We're still in the music business so it has to be, in some way, shape or form, relatable. But that's who I've always been as an artist. I'm just doing my best to walk that line between music and business. Now I feel like I'm just getting started."Continued below.
"You should put your heart and soul into music," he says, looking back on his time in the industry. "Music is alive, and if you're not growing with it and trying—one thing I always tell people who want to sing is that singing is about not being afraid to mess up. When you're afraid to mess up, you become a puppet, and the soul is sucked out of music, and if there's no soul or passion in the music, then what is it really? Is it still music? Or is it just a tool? No. I always want to have soul."
Adria Young is a writer living in Halifax - @adriayoung