*Once upon a time Brownstone reminded us that great singing and especially great harmonies, can make you fall in love, but since then they haven’t been telling us much of anything. However, the group’s Nicci Gilbert is ready to talk and, to our surprise, she had a whole heck of a lot to say about working with Tyler Perry, her transition to theater writing/producing (“Soul Kittens Cabaret”), directing and, of course, the Brownstone hiatus. But the first question on our minds was where the heck you been?
“My life for the past decade has been like Dre on that song where he says ‘People try to say Dre fell off ’cause I been in the lab with a pen and a pad trying to get other stuff off.’ That’s what I’ve been doing,” Gilbert explained. “Non-stop creatively, I’ve gotten married … in July. I’m now Nicci Gilbert-Daniels, which is very exciting for me. During the Brownstone hiatus I started getting into acting. I’ve done some television, film and stage plays. Then I was introduced to Tyler Perry and I was in the show ‘Meet the Browns’ when it was just the original stage play. After hearing some people mention some numbers (all the money that Tyler was making) I decided to try to do some things behind the scenes. After I did ‘Meet the Browns,’ I did a couple of other stage things and started doing some writing.”
Brownstone was known for their incredible harmony on the mic back in the day (scroll down to see and hear some of their classic songs). Gilbert tells EURweb.com that she and the girls were on the road last summer with some R&B favorites, but that was only the tip of the iceberg.
“Brownstone, we did a great tour this past summer,” Gilbert told our Lee Bailey. “We did the Soulfood Festival. Tevin Campbell, the SOS Band. We had some great ones. We ended up in Chicago with the Heads of State (Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill). Part of it is a lot of people haven’t been aware that we have been back for a while.”
Gilbert tells EURweb.com she will always be a musician even though she is trying to branch out. In fact, she and the girls have been back in the lab and brewing up something tasty with the help of some friends.
“Oh, we got a CD coming out with Jazmine Sullivan coming out soon,” she explained. “So, yes, we’re still around. Jazmine Sullivan wrote the record. Well, Jazmine Sullivan with Stevie J. She wrote this record, Stevie played it for me and we were just like ‘This is it.’ This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Recently the lovely and talented Ms. Sullivan announced she was taking a break via her Twitter account. We asked Gilbert whether that would have any affect on her project and if she agrees with Jazmine’s decision to sit it out for a spell.
“I understand 110 percent and I agree that she should do it,” said Gilbert. “I feel like anytime an artists feels they need to take sometime off creatively they should do that and they will have so much more to offer when they come back. I’ve heard about it but I don’t get too caught up in that stuff because I know that one time somebody says something and the next they change their mind.”
Being the first group signed to MJJ Records, it seemed as though Brownstone was primed for greatness. But things didn’t turn out quite the way everyone had hoped. But Nicci Gilbert is not about to let their name fade into the night without a fight.
“Brownstone has been away for some time and we were the first group signed to Michael Jackson’s (MJJ) label,” she explained. “He said some things to us and shared some things with us that, now after his passing, are just so heavy in my heart and in my mind and spirit. I feel that something has clicked creatively and something has clicked spiritually.”
With the passing of their mentor Nicci says she and her cohorts have been reinvigorated with creative energy.
“This will be the best record that we have ever done,” boasted Gilbert. “The record is called ‘Worldwide’ and I believe it will be ready to service to radio at the top of February. We’re independent, we don’t have a deal and I’m not really interested in having a deal at this point in my life unless it was the right situation. Everywhere I go, all people want to hear is ‘When’s Brownstone’s album coming out?’ So, I had to clear that out of the way before we talked about anything else.”
With all she has going on it would seem as though Gilbert is trying to become an enterprise unto herself. But she humbly admits she’s trying to help people remember who she is and why they should check for her projects.
“Because I’ve been gone for so long it makes it really difficult for people to buy into the Nicci Gilbert brand because nobody’s really interested at this point, but I’m working on become that enterprise. I’m prepared to get down, roll up my sleeves and make it happen. They’ll understand eventually.”
Nicci tells our Uncle Lee that she is trying to create quality works on her own. But when you have Tyler Perry in your rolodex people automatically think he’s the first one you call. Not so according to Ms. Gilbert.
“I get asked about the Tyler stuff a lot,” she explained. “I’ve made a conscious effort not to go to Tyler with any of this stuff just because Tyler and I had a conversation just like Michael and I had a conversation. I really don’t want to be seen in anyone’s shadow. I’m trying to impress Tyler with what I do without his help, then I can go to him and say ‘Can you loan me some money so I can really do it big?’
She may not be calling Mr. Perry … yet, but she has been calling other friends of influence and getting things done.
“I’ve called anybody who is a part of the projects I’m developing; from the R&B wives sitcom to the ‘Soul Kitten Cabaret,’ I’ve directed all of Fantasia’s footage for a short film about her tour, I’m doing a project where I play Terrence Howard’s sister. We start shooting in February.”
To us it seems like she has everything lined up and success stories are right around the corner, but Gilbert tells EURweb.com that things weren’t looking so rosy a year ago.
“I had a breakdown about year ago because I was kind of frustrated with everything,” she explained. “I was trying to be taken serious in this business as a woman, and it’s even more difficult when you’re known as a singer. I had a breakdown and my aunt was like ‘You’re just spoiled’ and I was like ‘What? I’m having a breakdown here!’ She was like ‘You done worked with Michael Jackson, you done worked with Tyler Perry and you’re sitting up here worried. Obviously God has something in store for you.’ And I was like ‘Hmmm, you might be on to something there.’ I just had to fall to my knees and thank God. Obviously I’m destined to do something. If Michael Jackson and Tyler Perry see something in you it don’t matter what too many other people have to say.”
Not trying to clown but….duh! You’re Nicci Gilbert for crying out loud! As you may have gathered earlier in this piece Gilbert has been a creative whirlwind as of late. The next thing out the chute will be “Soul Kittens Cabaret” on DVD.
“‘Soul Kittens Cabaret’ came from (when) I was a kid,” she explained. “My Mom was a jazz singer, my Dad was a songwriter, producer. He worked with Barry Gordy. Norman Whitfield was my godfather so I’ve been around music my whole life and I’ve been around little clubs and little smoky spots my whole life. When I came up with idea I wanted to introduce these urban venues these little spots where these people spend their whole lives. What puts the daily smile on their face is the thought of what they can do at night. I’ve seen it first hand and that’s kind of where the story came from and it started to just evolve. I talked to Faith about this probably about 6 or 7 years ago when she lived in Atlanta. She and I are really close. She’s somebody in this industry that I can call a friend. She’s the one who said ‘Go for it! Write it and if it makes sense lets do it.’
And go for it she did. Gilbert writes, produces and directs the offering. She tells EURweb.com that having Fantasia onboard helped to seal the deal from a cast perspective.
“Prior to Fantasia having her personal issues I reached out to her,” said Nicci. “She’s like a little sister to me and I reached out to her when she was doing ‘Color Purple’ and obviously she was focused there. She really didn’t want to get into it that way, but my whole thing was ‘Look, this is about helping to empower me so I can empower other people.’ She read the story and said ‘I’m in. This is a story that needs to be heard. This is a story that people need to be able to relate to. Shortly thereafter she had a situation where she was dealing with some personal stuff.”
Yes she was, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Of course Faith and Fantasia are two household names most of our readership are aware of, but Nicci felt as though she had to give props to other soul sisters that showed loved while the project was in its infancy.
“I had been struggling to get this thing on its feet, forever. In 2005 Tatyana Ali, Angie Stone, Syleena Johnson, all those girls. I was like ‘Come to Detroit, I got this musical play, it’s amazing and it’s going to be huge one day. I don’t have a lot of money to pay you. I’m going to pay you out of pocket.’ They came together in a sisterhood kind of way and just became a part of it.”
On the strength of the Detroit performance “Soul Kittens Cabaret” she got a distribution deal with Image Entertainment, but she still wasn’t home free.
“Once we got the deal with Image they were like ‘This is great, but who’s going to do it?’ I was like ‘Faith will do it’ and they were like ‘Yeah, and who else?’ ‘Fantasia will do it.’ They said, ‘That will be great if you can get her. We will pay for it.’ And she came through in a major way!’”
“Soul Kittens Cabaret” is available for purchase on DVD starting today (01-11-11). It stars the aforementioned Fantasia Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Terrell Carter, Chrystale Wilson, Monifah Carter, Miss Sophia, Tondy Gallant and Dave Tolliver. Check it out and see some of your favorite soul sisters on the stage and you know there’s going to be some hellafied musical numbers, right?
Stay tuned for more from our interview with Ms. Gilbert in a future addition of EURweb.com when she talks about the highly anticipated Florence Ballard project.
Watch the trailer for “Soul Kittens Cabaret” and Brownstone videos: