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It comes on strong,, relatively unknown and refreshing, like an undiscovered region many light years away. Venturing where only a precious few have dared before, each of our three co-pilots have honed their abilities to soothe, groove, entice and touch us with their simultaneously contemporary, down-to-earth and unique world. Call it a “close encounter of the most soulful and exciting kind.” Though not quite like anything your senses have been stimulated by before, their crisp vocal sounds, mellifluous R&B flow, and gritty, hip hop-fused edges strike with instantaneous familiarity. Yet it reaches our collective subconscious in the most dynamic and infectious of ways, as they greet us at the border of their own distinctive world. We watched them “go there” – in the form of two gold singles (“Butta Love” and “I Still Love You”), a Platinum single (“Too Close”), and a double-Platinum debut CD (Rated Next) – now you’re invited to bear witness as they “take it all the way.” WELCOME II NEXTASY.

Predominantly written and produced by group members T-Low, R.L. and Tweety, in conjunction with album executive producer and group mentor Kay Gee (of Naughty By Nature fame), AllStar and newcomer Black Bonez, WELCOME II NEXTASY proves to be a worthwhile excursion, encompassing all the elements that have made them radio and video favorites thus far: chilled-out Twin Cities-styled harmonies, plush R&B arrangements, energized hip-hop party beats, all put down with the most suggestive of lyrics. “I wrote about eight or nine songs on the album,” says lead vocalist R.L. “And I wrote one, and co-wrote another one,” Tweety adds. “T-Low got three tracks of his on there. We’re all starting to find our niche and what we like to do most. R.L. loves to sing and he loves to write. In fact, he writes extremely fast. Like in twenty minutes, you’ve got a full song, ready to record and everything. And T-Low produces quickly, just as fast as R.L. writes. And I’m a writer, but I’m also like the entertainer/business person of the group.”

“It’s like a place where not everything is all good or all bad,” suggests R.L., in his attempt to explain where they’re musically taking us; “it’s just our world, with our minds put together. We’ve put our brains together with Kay Gee’s and come up with our own planet. The first album was like our movie, and now this one is our world.” “Let me nextplain,” T-Low jokingly adds; “Rated Next was the first one, now it’s time to welcome you to …Nextasy. We’re giving you the nextended version.”

Mention their penchant for highly provocative, racy lyrics (“Too Close,” “Sextitude,” etc.) and R.L. counters with the distinction between sexual and sensual. “There’s a difference between the two,” he insists. “Sexual is like `Lick me.’ Sensual is like `I want you to taste me.’ It’s just me being playful. There are things that I want to get out, and things that I’d like to experience. A lot of people may think because we’re artists and out on the road that we mess with a gang of women. But that’s not really true. A lot of times we just have to use our imaginations. I’m thinking all the time. Once I get a pen and pad, it just all comes out. It’s just being a little creative, and the funny thing is to be able to walk the line and say things that everybody thinks. Music that sells is the music that people can relate to. I guess it may come from my rap background; I just flip things the way a rapper would.”

Even first-time exposure to WELCOME II NEXTASY reveals that the Twin Cities natives are in rare form, letting loose a multitude of flavors. It seems they’ve taken everything we loved so much from Rated Next and musically expounded upon those ideas. “We’ve got a couple of uptempos, a couple of midtempos, a couple of hard ghetto ballads, and a couple of pop-styled ballads,” T-Low declares. Fearlessly leading us into Nextasy are hit-bound selections like “Wifey” and “Beauty Queen.” The former, which features singer/songwriter Lil’ Mo on guest vocals, lets loose a supremely melodic urban groove, to a narrative that clearly spells out what kind of lady they’re looking for. The Quiet Storm-bound latter song evokes earthy feelings over a beat-ballad flow, produced by newcomer Black Bonez. Where there’s a party there’s sure to be a dose of Nextasy in the mix, as it gets no more hard-hittin’ than “The Jerk,” which features rapper 50 Cent; a boomin’ bassline and ragga/dancehall-fashioned chants drive the roused rhythms of “Oh No No;” there’s nothing but mad bounce and a theme of total dedication to the rubbery, beat-riddled “Shorty;” and there’s the downright gritty, street-soaked “Underdog,” on which R.L. lets loose his hidden talent for rapping. “R.L. had a [record] deal for rhyming when he was fifteen,” Tweety divulges. “He always wanted to rhyme and never got a chance. He’s rhyming on `Underdog,’ which explains to everybody that we’ll never break up. You might see us doing other things, but that’s because we have more than one talent. We’re multi-talented.”

Nowhere is that more evident than on their charming way with far smoother, slower material. Surely audiences recall their most-chilled “I Still Love You,” in addition to R.L.’s collaborations with Deborah Cox (the smash single “We Can’t Be Friends”) and Ginuwine, Case and Tyrese (“The Best Man”). A self-described “ghetto ballad,” according to the group, the dramatic arrangement of WELCOME II NEXTASY’s “When We Kiss,” a musical equivalent to what happens when “love at first sight” proves successful, bears ultra-slick harmonies and an overall bright, lush feel. On the other hand, they bring love matters well into the age of technology, saying things like “download all over me” and “I want your PC” to the slinky, steamy grind of “Cybersex.” “We’re really talking about the computer,” assures R.L. with a sly grin on his face. “We’re really in a technology-driven state of mind right now. You can be in touch with your emotional self and your spiritual self, but on a whole other level. We try to touch that.”

Indeed, WELCOME II NEXTASY seems to be a galaxy or two away from their local talent competition days in Minnesota, breeding ground for well-known talent like The Artist, the Time and super-producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. It’s been some years – eight, to be exact – since T-Low and Tweety’s choir director uncle first introduced the two to R.L., which eventually led to time spent being managed and trained by T-Low’s Godmother, Sounds Of Blackness lead vocalist Ann Nesby. Anyone who knows their story has heard of their 1994 performance at Minneapolis’ noted Juneteenth celebration, where they made the acquaintance of Prof T and Lance of the group Low Key?. “They saw us,” recalls Tweety, “and we started working with them and put a few songs on tape. Shortly after that, we went to a Naughty By Nature concert, we spoke to one of the road managers, and he asked us for a tape.” Though they were advised not to give the music away, they took a chance, and with God’s blessings everything worked out. Within weeks, they were in New Jersey meeting with Naughty By Nature producer Kay Gee, who immediately expressed interest in signing the talented, streetwise trio to his Divine Mill label imprint (distributed by Arista Records). Everyone knows the outcome of the story. In short: Paying dues singing at the Minneapolis/St. Paul-located Sabathani Community Center and Arnelia’s more than paid off for R.L., Tweety and T-Low.

Ask the fellas what their goals are this second go round and all three chime one word: recognition. Though they amassed an impressive eight Billboard Music Awards, they didn’t feel they were fairly recognized for their creative efforts on the first album. Confident, yet not at all cocky, the three are quick to point out what distinguishes them from the multitude of guy groups, and what will ultimately make WELCOME II NEXTASY another astounding success. “There’s other groups that can have good uptempo songs,” R.L. construes. “But are they known to be able to rock it slow and fast? See, we love the women; we get up there and do what we gotta do. But you know you’ve got that respect from the guys too, when you’re rollin’ in your joint, with your ten or fifteen inch rims, and they’re bumpin’ some Next. You’ll bump our R&B with your women, but you’ll bump us with your homeboys too, cause we’ve got that real stuff.” Now they’re bringing it to you straight, no chaser. WELCOME II NEXTASY.

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