YOU THINK YOU KNOW, BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA:
THE DIARY OF R&B DIVA NICCI GILBERT
Plus Model Magazine EXCLUSIVE
by: Tia D. Rudd
Tia: Nicci, Take me back to 1994 really quickly. Let’s remind our readers of your history. Talk to me about the excitement of 1994 the debut of the R&B group Brownstone, being signed to Michael Jackson’s record label MJJ Records what that time was like for you?
Nicci: I probably had the most unfiltered passion and excitement, zest and dedication. I remember being in college and not having any money and being really poor and wanting to go home, but being really excited about hanging out with my friends exploring new things. So it was like I know I shouldn’t be here because I have no food and no place to live; and this was pre-1994 like 1992, 1991, before we got our deal. There was just knowledge in my heart and in my spirit that God had something greater for me. I knew that it was risky, but, I was really passionate about a career in music. I put out local auditions in a paper and I wanted to have this super group of women that were not about being pretty faces in short mini dresses, it was really about our songs , our gift, the music. I have always been a little revolutionary, the stand up and accept yourself in whatever skin you are in at a younger age. So I put a group together and we had a few really great opportunities or so we thought that did not pan out. So one day stranded in the desert resulted in us having a meeting with a publisher who just happened to have a friend who ran Michael Jackson’s label, but we did not find that out until after we got our contract. We signed to Michael Jackson’s record label. It was one thing to have a record deal; it was really big deal to have a record deal with Michael Jackson. I was probably one of the most serious, dedicated 23/24 year olds you would have ever met (laughs).
Tia: I remember being in middle school in 1994 listening to your record and watching your videos on Video Soul with Donnie Simpson; but I remember specifically you being signed to Michael Jackson and that was a big deal. Moving on, we all know Michael passed a couple of years ago and it was tragic, and of course the media likes to focus on the negative things instead of the positive. Is there a specific positive memory that you have of Michael?
Nicci: I remember we were at a convention and taking pictures with him. This was the first time I kinda had one-on-one dialogue with him. I just remember him saying “I’m so proud of you guys, I’m so happy for you guys, I love you and I love the album, it’s great.” I remember saying, “I’m so happy you like the album because it was a lot of pressure.” He said “I signed you because you were great, and I signed you because you had a lot of potential and you have the potential to change the world. Don’t allow the pressure of my accomplishments to affect that.” That was very profound because I was shaking in my boots while taking this picture and for me to have an opportunity to keep it real with him and for him to respond the way he did was great. That was like the exhale moment for me because I would always shy away from pursuing dialogue with him. I had a similar conversation with Tyler Perry and it just confirmed that nothing is by coincidence everything is purpose driven, and, I’m a firm believer in God and him putting you in the places you are supposed to be.
Tia: Any chance of having a Brownstone reunion?
Nicci: Well, the Brownstone story is a very sensitive one for me right now. We are very good friends we love each other dearly. Anyone who has followed the group knows we have gone through a number of changes. My passion is not in music right now. My passion is using my ability to empower women in different ways. Part of it which you will see on the show, there were some really stressful times when I was in the music industry. I didn’t feel free and feeling free is very important to me.
Tia: I looked at a couple of the videos and I noticed that you were more voluptuous than the other girls. Did you consider yourself full figured then? When did you really take on the title of plus sized/full figured and have you always been a full figured woman?
Nicci: Great question. I thought I was chubby as a child, but, looking back on the pictures I realized I was just tall. I wasn’t heavy until I got into college because I was eating pizza every single night. I was a little chunky in high school too. When I got to California obviously my eyes opened. When I got into LA I was like, “Wow I am as big as a house.” I started auditioning before I put the group together and I would always get “oh you have such a cute face but you need to lose weight”, so I became really aware of it. When I was in the group, yes I was aware I was the big girl. Maxi is a size 2, Mimi was a size 4/6, and I was a size 22/24 so obviously I knew I was the bigger girl. I think that subconsciously I definitely had issues with that; but I would never really let people see me sweat. On that first album, in addition to putting the music together; the struggle for me was, how do I change my body? The record label said they would advance me $27,000 to have cosmetic surgery. They found the doctor and they arranged the consultation and I had liposuction and a tummy tuck. My mom wasn’t there and I just remember being in a lot of pain, I mean really in a lot of pain. I remember it felt like they had cut my stomach in half, I had no idea what the procedure was because I was only 25. You don’t understand someone saying they are going to slice your stomach right in half superficially without moving any of your organs through the fat with a laser and then I’m going to staple you back together. You don’t know what that is but you want so desperately to be skinny and small and you do whatever you have to do. It was also encouraged by people around me which I don’t have a problem discussing it now, but really! I think that was pretty irresponsible for people who were supposed to care about me.
Tia: Recently you have transitioned into television I know you have R&B Divas debuting August 20th on the TV One Network. You have all-star cast of divas. It’s going to be you, Faith Evans, Monifah Carter, Keke Wyatt, and Sylenna Johnson.
Nicci: Yes and we will also have some surprise cameos, but you have to watch to find out. (Laughs)
Tia: I have a couple of questions for you about this reality show. A lot of celebrities do not want to do reality shows because it is so invasive and you are really giving a lot of yourself when you do it and it is very personal. You are not only in the show, but you also created it and are executive producing it right?
Nicci: Yes Faith Evans and I are Co-Executive producers. I didn’t look at the fact that we are singers; I looked at the fact that there was a void in reality television. I am a singer, playwright, director and producer. I see people getting super-duper wealthy off of these shows if you use the branding right; so that was the initial idea. I reached out to all of the ladies and I knew we needed an anchor someone that everyone knew, and someone that everyone loved. Faith and I have been friends since before she had a deal. I knew that she was the right person.
Tia: So, it’s safe to say this won’t be another Basketball Wives type of reality show, but there will definitely be some drama?
Nicci: You are going to see a lot. The beautiful thing about this cast is that everyone is so vocal and you’re gonna see honesty, you’re gonna see truth , you’re gonna see adversity, you’re gonna see triumph, you’re gonna see sisterhood, and you’re gonna see love. You won’t see a drink flying across the table, but you might see Keke cuss her husband out (laughs). There are definitely times when we have to check each other. You will definitely get those moments but every single one of those moments is protected by love. It’s a lot of excitement, not a snooze fest.