We talk to the R&B singer Sisqo ahead of his performance on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island tonight.
Sisqo: the dragon king
A decade ago, the R&B singer Sisqo was an irrepressible presence on the pop landscape. Already known as that charismatic singer from the group Dru Hill, the singer's star didn't hit the stratosphere till he released his 1999 solo debut Unleash the Dragon.
Powered by the hit singles Thong Song and Incomplete, the latter topping the Billboard charts, Sisqo was then one of the most powerful musicians in the industry.
Touring with *NSYNC and starring in hit teen movies, the bleach-haired singer also managed to host his own dance competition programme, Sisqo's Shakedown, on MTV. Meanwhile, for those who couldn't get enough of him on the radio, music or television, they also had the choice of taking him home with their very own Sisqo doll, which came in various editions showcasing the singer's eclectic hair styles.
However, despite the accolades and media celebrity, Sisqo still harbours one regret from those heady times.
"I was doing so much that I didn't have time to do my first-ever solo tour," he says.
This is the situation he is partly addressing with his UAE tour.
Not so much a fully fledged performance tour, Sisqo is in the UAE for two club shows, one last night in Dubai, and another tonight in Abu Dhabi on Yas Island, performing a small selection of new and old favourites.
Sisqo says the UAE performances are all part of a larger global plan to reintroduce himself to the music world after a 10-year hiatus as a solo artist. After his second solo offering, 2001's The Return of the Dragon, Sisqo returned to Dru Hill where, during the past eight years, the band suffered a temporary break-up, and struggled to remain relevant in a hip-hop scene more enamoured with gritty-sounding solo artists than smooth vocal groups.
But speaking in Dubai before last night's show at Bonsai, Sisqo seems to take it all in his stride.
He admits early stardom taught him the cyclical nature of the music business. "R&B male groups will come back," he says.
"One thing in the entertainment industry is that there is nothing new under the sun," he says. "Things change and they come back." Another aspect he learnt from the industry was the need to think outside the box. Instead of using a large-scale marketing campaign to announce his solo arrival, Sisqo decided on a more organic route by hitting the live circuit.
He says the UAE crowds will be the first to sample the new party-heavy tunes from his comeback album The Last Dragon, to be released later this year.
"I am not nervous about playing the new music at all because they are all club bangers," he says. "It is basically a new, fresh sound for myself and the only consistent thing from my other two albums is my voice."
Born Mark Althavean Andrews in Baltimore, Sisqo cut his teeth performing gospel songs in church. He then switched towards mainstream R&B by co-founding Dru Hill with his friends James "Big Woody Rock" Green , Tamir "Nokio" Ruffin and Larry "Jazz" Anthony.
As well as the talent shows, the group also turned heads at the local fudge factory, The Fudgery, where the group were employed to serenade guests while making fudge.
"We were taking songs like Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely and changing it to Isn't Fudge Lovely," Sisqo laughs. "I wouldn't say it was important in getting us in the industry, but it was a job."
It is this sense of humour and humility that perhaps kept Sisqo going throughout these years out of the limelight.
He feels "blessed" that despite the absence, his fans are still patiently awaiting his next move.
"I am glad that people are still interested considering it was 10 years since my last album," he says.
"That fact they are still here is what gravitates me as an artist."
And what about those Sisqo dolls? Did he manage to stash some for himself before they went out of production?
"Oh yeah, I still got them and they are just chilling. I actually have a couple of them," he chuckles.
"One with the silver hair and the one where I have the corn rolls."
Ÿ Sisqo performs tonight at Allure by Cipriani, Yas Marina Yacht Club, Yas Island. Doors 11.30pm. Tickets are available on the door at Dh100