Last updated: 03/02/2010 10:00:00 AM
When was the last time you heard a love song that you really felt? What was the last song that really brought your emotion to the surface? These are questions that four-part-harmonizing group N2U answers dead-on. With soul-stirring music and lyrics that anyone who has loved can relate to, the quartet hailing from Atlanta and Southern California offer up their self-titled Virgin debut album, N2U – a vibe that's been missing for way too long. N2U – Chris Buck, 25; Mark Richard, 21; Don Lee Samuels, 20; and Antonio Avant (a.k.a. Asa), 25 – are ready to re-shape R&B music with gospel roots and songs that tell stories of attraction, heartache, and unconditional love.
N2U was formed when the talents of vocalist Chris Buck inspired visionary producer-director-manager Chris Stokes (B2K, Immature/IMx) to put together a crew of singers that would breathe fresh air onto radio playlists, while also evoking the best of traditional soul music. Stokes, who discovered multi-platinum songbird Brandy, often works with his artists at several levels – as stylist, manager, music producer/songwriter and video director. He has also directed the films ‘House Party 4’ and the street-dancing fable ‘You Got Served.’ In addition to his breakthrough successes with B2K, IMx and Marques Houston, he has also produced songs for Destiny’s Child and the ‘Dangerous Minds,’ ‘Menace II Society’ and ‘Barbershop’ soundtracks.
The four-member crew that is N2U cites Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Michael Jackson, and several gospel greats among their musical influences. "We want to be innovative and set the mold that people follow by bringing back soulful music, meaningful lyrics, and stories that touch people's lives," says Asa, a native of ATL (Atlanta). Between them, the guys have the experience to back it all up.
Chris Buck never wanted to do anything but music. Growing up in Carson, California, just south of Los Angeles, he's been singing since the age of four. From singing in church choirs to a string of locally successful groups, Buck says his thoughts about his calling in life are "deeper" than he can talk about. When it comes to his gritty and melodic voice, however, he has no problems expressing how he feels. On N2U's first single "Issues," he leads his bandmates in a plea for earnest efforts to work out problems in a relationship. It's a song about love and sacrifice – some things he's experienced while pursuing his dreams. "One of the things I believe in is 'follow your own heart' and that's what got me to the point of landing a record deal."
Asa, who the other group members call the "wise man," also grew up with his whole family singing praise music. "It was natural for me because my mom is a minister," he explains. Although he graduated from college and started a corporate career in technology, Asa was always honing his vocal chops. Providing back-up vocals for popular R&B crooners Keith Sweat and Joe, he was also an active player on the thriving Atlanta music scene that brought us Usher, Lil Jon, and Outkast. Even with respected producers Kenny Whitehead (Marques Houston) and The Underdogs (Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton) writing the bulk of the songs on the N2U debut, Asa contributed an interlude on the album called "Because of You." Not embarrassed by the music's blatant sensitivity, he wants to tug at the listener’s heartstrings: "If you take our voices away and leave the lyrics on paper, it reads like a love letter."
N2U's versatile Mark Richard likes to keep things real. He counts music as having saved his life. "I would sing anything for anybody--Frank Sinatra, Smokey Robinson, the jingle from a Sprite commercial--and literally prayed for something to happen," says the native Southern Californian who is of Mexican and African-American heritage. An aspiring athlete whose career was cut short by the school of hard knocks, Richard lived on the streets for a year until he decided to try his hand at producing records. On this path, he met Chris Buck and the rest is history. His bandmates say he keeps their minds open with his love of all types of music--including jazz and hard rock. "Some songs you just gotta dig," he explains.
The youngest group member, Don Lee Samuels, compares himself to an engine, always going and thinking, "What's next?" While singing in church, attending school in South Georgia, and working with kids at the local YMCA, Samuels started writing songs and working with local producers. That's how his demo and photo got into Stokes' hands last fall, at the height of his search for the four young men who would comprise N2U. "All our personalities connect and make this crazy chemistry," says Don Lee. "I think we're going to bring this unique sound and style to the marketplace that tells a lot about who we are