CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The venue was already buzzing as the crowd chanted their name, but when the members of hit R&B group Dru Hill finally took the stage in a haze of fog and lights, the place erupted.
In conjunction with Armed Forces Entertainment, the group brought their soulful, high-energy brand of music and dancing to the Camp Zama Community Club here Tuesday night for an hour-long show that featured many of their biggest hits.
The group first launched into “In My Bed,” which topped the U.S. R&B charts when it was released in 1996 and was the second single from their eponymous debut album. The album spawned three more singles and peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard 200.
Several fans in the crowd could be heard singing the lyrics along with the group for much of the night’s set list—a sight which brought a smile to the performers’ faces and had them expressing their appreciation after the show.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Dru Hill member Nokio said. “For years, we heard about the love for us over here in Japan, and the fans over here. So to actually be able to get over here and spread the love, it’s just been an amazing feeling.”
Along with Nokio, six other past and present Dru Hill members are part of the group’s current tour: Jazz, Scola, Tao, Smoke, Black and Sisqó, the latter of whom experienced solo success, most notably due to his massive 2000 hit, “Thong Song.”
The group has been touring with Armed Forces Entertainment since 2021, which they began to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their debut album. Their current tour of Asia included a stop in South Korea. Camp Zama was their first stop on their first-ever tour of Japan, which concluded with shows at Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Yokota Air Base.
Performing for military audiences has been an honor, the group said. After the show, Jazz offered direct words of thanks to U.S. service members and their families.
“Big shout-out to the troops!” he said. “Thank you for what y’all do.”
Black echoed his groupmate, acknowledging his appreciation to all military members for their service.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if it wasn’t for the troops,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”
On the day of their concert, the Dru Hill members were given a tour of Camp Zama, during which they got to see various facilities on the installation and meet with some of the Soldiers, including U.S. Army Garrison Japan Commander Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson.
Tomlinson acknowledged Camp Zama’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation for “doing a hell of a job” in coordinating with Armed Forces Entertainment on several recent and upcoming shows as COVID restrictions have loosened.
He then thanked the group for performing at Camp Zama as part of their tour and for their support of the military.
“To have artists such as yourselves bringing what is our culture over here, I really appreciate it,” he said.
The group also met with Soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan, where they got to see a UH-60 Black Hawk up close.
“We saw them taking apart the helicopter—” Tao said.
“—and putting it back together!” Jazz said, with a laugh.
“We got to see what everybody does,” Tao continued. “A lot of us, where we come from, we don’t get to see these kinds of things, so it’s a great opportunity.”
At the show later that night, the group continued with their performance, switching between tender ballads like the 1996 hit “Never Make a Promise” and integrating choreography into energetic numbers like “How Deep Is Your Love,” which was featured on the soundtrack of the 1998 comedy, “Rush Hour.”
Junia Georges-Vaughn, who came from nearby Naval Air Facility Atsugi to see the show, said Dru Hill was the soundtrack to her high school years and was surprised to learn she still remembered the words to all their songs.
“Hearing that they were coming to Japan was mind-blowing,” she said. “I was so excited because I never even got to see them in the States.”
Georges-Vaughn repeated the words “epic” and “amazing” when describing the group’s performance, saying they entertained the crowd from beginning to end and that there was not a dull moment throughout the entire show.
She was also in awe of the group’s dancing skills, which she said have not diminished at all, even after being entertainers for more than two decades.
“The energy was beyond,” she said. “I was just like, ‘Wow! They can move!’ You’re thinking, ‘OK, you’re over 30. You might slow down a little bit.’ There was no slowing down. I think they had more energy tonight than when they first started!”
Sisqó said it is “absolutely a blessing” for Dru Hill to be able to continue to perform today and thanked the fans for the group’s longevity and continued popularity.
“That’s why there are so many of us [on this tour], because we’re celebrating us being in the group and in the industry for so long,” Sisqó said. “We asked whoever wanted to participate in the celebration to come on back.”
Another great aspect of continuing to tour is the chance for Dru Hill’s music to reach younger listeners and hopefully create new fans, Smoke said.
“There’s the new generation that may not be as familiar with us,” he said. “We want to introduce them to what’s real, too. We want them to go back and stream, do whatever they’ve got to do—Apple Music, YouTube—you know, the new way of [listening to music].”
Leading up to the concert, MWR held a raffle to give 75 winners the chance for a VIP meet-and-greet after the show, where they could take photos with the group and get autographs. Georges-Vaughn was one of the raffle winners and said that getting to meet the group after they put on such a great show was an added bonus for her and the fans.
“After they gave all that energy onstage, I really appreciate them taking the time to meet with fans,” she said. “They don’t know how much it touches our hearts, and we truly appreciate it.”