‘Queens’ features cast with strong musical backgrounds

Rick's Reviews

ABC’s “Queens” stars (from left) Naturi Naughton as Jill aka Da Thrill, Eve as Brianna aka Professor Sex, Brandy as Naomi aka Xplicit Lyrics, and Nadine Velazquez as Valeria aka Butter Pecan. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

The new ABC drama, “Queens,” is built around the idea that four women who dominated the music world in the ‘90s have reunited to try to recapture the fame and swagger that came with being legends in the hip-hop world.

Their popularity skyrocketed with the success of their chart-topping single, “Nasty Girl.” At one point, they were considered to be one of the greatest girl groups of their generation. All of the success could not counter the internal conflict and jealousy that sent them in different directions.

It would have been easy to cast four actors to play the roles and added the music later. Instead, the cast of “Queens” is loaded with performers who bring musical backgrounds to the series.

Eve is Grammy winner who has released four multimillion-selling albums and 32 singles while Brandy has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. Naturi Naughton was a member of the platinum-selling pop trio 3LW before she started working heavily in TV and film.

This rich recording history will translate into a series that is not only about the music but also will focus on the people who are behind the tunes.

Eve – who plays Brianna aka Professor Sex – says, “I think what we want to convey is that we want to bring the artistry back to hip-hop. We want to bring back those amazing stories. We want to bring back the lyricism, which is what I’ve always been attracted to as an MC.

“And really rap means rhythm and poetry. You know what I mean? We want to give emotion and really show how skillful hip-hop really can be, used to be, is – depending on who the artist is.”

Not only does Eve bring a solid musical element to the group but she’s also developed her acting skills with a long list of TV and film credits that include her own self-titled comedy series plus “Barbershop” and “Whip It.”

Naughton also has been able to put together an acting resume to go along with her singing career. She has appeared in such series as “Power,” “Power Book II: Ghost” and “The Client List.”

It took some adjustments for Naughton to be on the same musical page as the rest of the cast. She didn’t bring a big history of rapping to the project.

Naughton – whose character is Jill aka Da Thrill – says, “A lot of people underestimate how much it takes to rap. Obviously, I’m more of a singer. As a singer, it does take breath control and rhythm. But I played a hip-hop rapper before.

“Playing this character has taught me – I just literally bow down to all the rappers who are dancing, performing, killing it. Because at the end, I’m like, ‘Whew, I’ve got to get in shape. This is a lot of work.”

Brandy has had almost as much success in the acting world as she has had as a recording artist. She starred in her own long-running series, “Brandy,” and appeared in numerous movies. In “Queens,” she is playing Naomi aka Xplicit Lyrics.

The rapping part of the role makes Brandy very happy as she describes herself as being a “hip-hop head” since the ‘90s. She finds rap more difficult to perform but she loves the challenge.

Nadine Velazquez is the only member of the group who doesn’t bring a musical history to the show. But, she makes up for that with a lengthy acting background including the role of Catalina in the NBC comedy “My Name Is Earl.” Her other credits include  “Snitch,” “Hart of Dixie,” “Major Crimes” and “Love Is a Four Letter Word.”

She’s tackling the musical demands of portraying Valeria aka Butter Pecan the same way she approaches any part of an acting role.

Valazquez says, “I’ve never rapped ever before until the show. Never. Not once. And I love it. I just love finding and listening to music and studying rappers now and just hearing different things that I didn’t hear before.

“So it requires a lot of my ability to act because I’m not really pulling from any place other than that.”

These actors/singers are being called on to tell a story – according to executive producer Zahir McGhee – that is a character drama about women looking for a second chance.

McGhee adds, “What makes this special and the right time now is, number one, we have a lot of the real people who were there doing it at the time, which gives it a certain level of authenticity.

“And on this network, and most places, we don’t have a show where you can have five women of color and a man of color front and center. That is just not common on ABC and not common in broadcasting media. And we have the opportunity to tell the breadth of stories about the experience of women of color and Black women in this country that isn’t the pressure of Eve having to be the one Black character to say the thing that matters.”

 “Queens” debuts at 10 p.m. Oct. 19 on ABC.

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