in 1993, monica "mimi" doby, nichole "nicci" gilbert and charmayne "maxee" maxwell joined together in los angeles, california to form the foundaton of the group that would come to be known the world over as brownstone. though many people, upon first hearing the name, assumed brownstone to be a male group, nicci, mimi and maxee quickly demonstrated a strength and versatility in their vocals that is decidedly female. the first girl group to truly give en vogue a run for their money, brownstone have charted a careful and deliberate course in the music world, resulting in their acheiving, with only two albums to their credit, what others take a career to build.
born in detroit, guyana and new orleans, respectively, nicci, maxee and mimi were the first act to be signed to the fledgling mjj label owned by the crown prince of pop, michael jackson. distributed by epic records, the group's debut single, "pass the lovin'" made only a modest splash in the industry and in no way foreshadowed the tsunami of talent that would ensue. "if you love me"the sophomore release from their debut from the bottom upcatapulted brownstone into the spotlight, placing them in the top ten of both the pop and r&b charts and providing them with extensive airplay. the album, itself, was a tour de force in r&b, providing one more chart-faring single in "grapevyne". songs like "don't cry for me", "half of you" and "i can't tell you"a cover of the eagle's classicproved that brownstone had the vocal chops to hold their own against any r&b or pop diva, while edgier tracks like "party wit me", "pass the lovin'" and "wipe it up" demonstrated true street credibility.
though brownstone's core audience was firmly grounded in the urban community, that did not prevent them from being invited to contribute to a bevy of soundtrack and compiliation projects targeting a variety of audiences. from children's films to "chick flicks" to gritty television crime dramas, the voices of brownstone were being well received across the board. in addition to their many soundtrack and compiliation contributions, brownstone were also invited to perform with the likes of patti labelle, anita baker, celine dion, boyz II men, maze and blackstreet. during one memorable performance, opening for patti labelle at california's concord pavilion, troubles with the sound system forced the relatively novice performers to take the stage acappella in order for the problems to be corrected for the main attraction. needless to say, brownstone handled this situation with the aplomb of seasoned performers and instantly won the crowd over, leaving patti labelle with a tough act to follow.
unfortunately, mimi would not be around to enjoy the continued success of the group she helped found, as medical problems behooved her to give up the spotlight. in 1995, kina cosper stepped in to attempt to fill mimi's shoes. kina admits "coming in and fitting in with the group was a challenge and, yes, i was a little nervous when we first started recording the new album. but i'm very excited about how it turned out." the new album of which kina spoke is 1997's still climbing, the debut single of which"5 miles to empty"picked up exactly where from the bottom up left off with regard to lush, layered vocals fueled by powerful passions. adhering to a similar formula to that of their first album, still climbing seemlessly combined hip-hop tinged party cuts with meaningful and moving ballads. this time around, the girls didn't reach as far into the anals of rock music to produce a reworking of alicia myer's "if you play your cards right".
with reports that member kina is set to release a solo project called girl from the gutter, fans are wonder if the girls have gone the way of swv or if, like en vogue with the release of terry ellis' solo project, southern girl, they are merely taking a break to explore individual interests. brownstone's public is likely to devour whatever the girls are willing to offer up, be it solo work, guest spots or an entirely new album. it seems that, in spite of the number of entries there are into the market, only one sensational female vocal group rises to the top, per decade. undoubtedly, it's a difficult task to locate that perfect combination of talent, attitude and beauty to form a truly stellar creation; harder, still, is to hold it together when the trappings of rapidly-acquired success contrive to pull it apart. regardless of their fate, brownstone continue to be a shining star in the r&b horizon. like en vogue, in the 80s, brownstone breathed new life into a genre which the music industry, itself, repeatedly attempts to canibalize. that, alone, is enough to earn mimi, maxee, nicci and kina the title of diva.