For DRU, the April 2015 release of ‘Déjà Vu’ represents both a fresh start and a return to his roots. Co-written with Jimmy Burney (Big Time Rush, Cliff Richard) and Kuya Productions (Akon, Ginuwine), and produced by Toronto’s Bass Line (Dj Khaled, JRDN), the single’s old-school R&B feel may sound like a departure compared to his previous work. “But, unconsciously,” he says, “I brought the vibe of the music I grew up on into it; funk and soul like The Commodores, Manhattans and Kool and the Gang.”
The Toronto-based, R&B/Soul artist’s previous releases have always been firmly rooted in R&B, but the seamless mix of up-tempo funk, vintage soul and cutting edge pop on ‘Déjà Vu’ showcases DRU’s versatility as an artist and performer as never before. Spare, but powerful, it’s a track that’s definitely cutting edge current, but underpinned by Michael Jackson-esque vocals and hooky string lines that are a definite nod to classic 1970’s disco and the deep funk of seminal artists like George Clinton.
It’s also a track that the JUNO Award winning singer/songwriter says reflects his growth and his identity as an artist more honestly than ever before: “I’m working on my third album now and I really wanted to create something without comparing it to what’s happening now, so I just went in and did it and that was refreshing.”
Early on, expressing himself musically was far more difficult. “My older brother sang in the choir at our church, but, although I thought I could sing, as a kid I stuttered horribly and was even scared to speak to people. I was just too shy.”
DRU remembers the first time he mustered the courage to perform publicly at a high school talent show as probably the scariest moment of his childhood. “I was too shy to even rehearse in front of people, so no one had ever heard me sing. I was terrified. I was sweating. My legs were shaking, but I sang the first note and the place went crazy and that changed everything.”
Soon after he formed ‘In Essence’ and soon found himself touring worldwide in support of the band’s critically acclaimed debut, The Master Plan, which received the JUNO Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year in 2004.
DRU’s first solo album, The One (2008) cemented his reputation as a recording artist in his own right, yielding three CHR/Top 40 hits and leading to extensive touring in Canada and Japan. The release of his 2011 sophomore record, On The Brink (Effortless Entertainment/Universal Music Canada), and the success of dance/pop tracks like ‘Gettin’ It In’ and the Gold Selling, ‘She Can Ride,’ solidified his substantial fan base in Canada and led to a growing international demand for his music.
In 2009, DRU broke through in the UK, demonstrating his versatility as a singer/songwriter on Doman & Gooding’s hit dance single, ‘Runnin.’ Co-written by DRU and Rupert Gayle (Shawn Desman, Keshia Chante), ‘Runnin’ garnered DRU a JUNO Award Nomination for Dance Recording of the Year and ultimately went to Number 2 on the UK Club Charts. Since he’s been lauded as Canada’s #1 Emerging Artist in 2012 by Billboard and, over time, has toured with artists ranging from LMFAO, to Usher and Ludacris.
DRU’s primary focus, however, remains growing as a songwriter and performer, blending the styles of early influences like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye with 1990’s R&B acts such as Jodeci and Boyz II Men, to create his own, signature sound. Honing his songwriting talents to achieve exactly what he wants musically is an ongoing process, he says: “But writing with people like Rubert Gayle, Edwin Bogart (Rihanna, Beyonce) and Damon Elliot (Pink, Destiny’s Child), I just learned so much.”
That knowledge and DRU’s deft ability to incorporate his musical roots and more recent influences so seamlessly came into play on ‘Déjà Vu’ – “And that’s what I wanted, a new sound that’s still timeless and real that people can connect with.”
While a soulful vibe has comes through in everything DRU’s released, never with more clarity and honesty than on ‘Déjà Vu.’ “When we wrote the track it was like, this is the sound. This is my sweet spot. And that vibe is going to be all over the new record, even on the slow jams and party songs. It’s a departure, but taking chances is what being an artist is all about. The key for me is to show growth, to show that I know myself more. My first two albums felt like preparation. Now, I think I’ve really grown into who I am and I think fans will hear that.”
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