Image: The Future Of R&B
By: Todd Davis
Michael Welch (MIC), Corey Norwood (N.O.), Frank Clark (FRANKY), and Vince Heard (VEE-DOE) make up the already award winning R&B quartet, Unique Image. Signed to Big Gates Records, a label founded by Ronell Lawrence Levatte and his brother rapper Plies, Unique Image who currently just dropped their heralded debut LP, More Than Music.
Let's get to know the fellas
First before we get started we want to take this time out to thank you and everybody at Rap Industry Dot Com for giving us this outlet of expression. We understand that you didn't have to give us this opportunity, and we thank you for that.
It is our pleasure. So without further ado, please introduce for me the members of Unique Image
ALL: What's good? This (is) your new favorite R&B group; Ya boy, N.O., VEE-DOE, FRANKY AND MIC, and we go by the name of Unique Image.
Tell me when you all first became interested in music?
MIC: My grandmother was the first person who initially sparked my interest in music. She had an old piano at her house that she used to play, and probably around the age of 3 she began to notice my interest in it. So, she would pick me up and sit me on her lap and let me play on it with her. And before long, everyone started to notice that I had a God given talent because I was beginning to learn how to play simple melodies of songs at a very young age.
N.O.: My whole family sings. It all started in church. I was in a group with my brother and cousins when I was about 10, 11, (and) we thought we were the gospel Jackson Five. *N.O. laughs*
FRANKY: I started in church mimicking my uncles, The Bolton Brothers, as a young boy. I became interested at the age of 9. I did a lot of traveling with my uncles. It all started for me when I received my first record deal with LaFace Records.
VEE-DOE: I first became interested in music at a young age. It began for me by listening to the old school records that my dad had. My mother, God rest her soul, started me out on the piano, and I chose to take that path.
Where do you all hail from? And, growing up, whose music did you all favor?
MIC: Born in Jackson, and grew up in Brandon, Mississippi. Growing up, my strongest musical influences was being in the youth choir in church and listening to the radio, because I would practice learning my favorite song from the radio on the piano.
N.O.: I'm from New Orleans; born, raised and manufactured. My musical influences were mainly gospel singers; Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, etcetera.
FRANKY: I was born and raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I later moved to Louisiana for a few years, and I then later moved to Cali to pursue a career in music. My musical influences are Jodeci, H-Town, Boyz II Men, Dru Hill, my uncles; the Bolton Brothers, The William Brothers and my uncle, Phil.
VEE-DOE: I was born and raised in Grenada, Mississippi -- Stevie Wonder was a heavy influence because I was amazed at his ability for musical instruments, and, of course, his vocals. Old school groups like The Temptations, but I believe that Shai was the group that actually made me wanna start a singing group. Along the way, 7 Miles, Blackstreet There was even a group that MC Hammer brought out called Special Generation that I was into. Just to name a few.
When did your pursuit of music become more serious?
MIC: For me it was about my sophomore year of college. I had always had a passion for music, but I was really able to see the potential of our group after we began performing on campus and recording our own music.
N.O.: Yeah, about the same time as MIC I found myself writing more songs and less homework. *N.O. chuckles*
FRANKY- I decided to pursue music at a young age. I was signed to LaFace Records when I was 14.
VEE-DOE: I can't really remember how old I was but it was when my mother told me to find something that is fun and something I can't see myself living without. Right then, I knew it was music.
How did the four of you actually come together to form Unique Image?
N.O.: MIC brought the original members of the group together at the University of Southern Mississippi. He felt that there weren't any R&B groups in our area, and felt we could fill the void. FRANKY entered the group at a later date.
You all are currently signed to Plies' Big Gates imprint, correct?
N.O.: Pat Charles, senior writer for BET's 106 & Park, and the BET staff (brought us to the attention of Big Gates and Plies). 106 & Park's W.O.W. [WILD OUT WEDNESDAY] made it possible for us to be noticed by Big Gates and Plies. We are the 2007 W.O.W. Champs for the male R&B competition, if you didn't know. *More chuckles* But, Gates and Plies saw us on the show and really liked our vibe. They inquired about us, and asked to hear more of our music. They loved what they heard, put their bid in, and, needless to say, BIG GATES RECORDS' PRESENTS; Your new favorite R&B group, Unique Image -- YA HEARD!
Where did the moniker, Unique Image, derive from?
N.O.: Well, to name anything; a pet, a book, an album, a group, anything is tough. This is our first impression, Ya know? The name came to me when I just looked at the makeup of the group; four guys from four different cities, from four different backgrounds, that have one common goal -- All on one agenda with the same outlook on music and life. If that ain't a Unique Image, I don't know what is!?
VEE-DOE: All of us being different, you wouldn't expect us to hang together, so that in itself is unique. You can describe our music as straight forward R&B. If you were a fan of the '90's R&B scene, then you will love Unique Image.
More Than Music is the name of your forthcoming debut -- Explain the meaning behind your album title?
VEE-DOE: It took so much more than music for Unique Image to get to the point that we are now, and it's gonna take so much more than music for us to keep going to reach our goals that we have set out.
N.O.: More Than Music to us has several meanings. A lot of songs are beat-driven, but we rely on our true story telling ability and our voices to draw you in. It also represents the fact that there is a lot that goes into making an album successful, a lot that goes into becoming the best R&B group we could be. People see us in the star light, but don't understand what it takes to keep the lights on! *N.O. jokes*
Who all did you get a chance to work with on More Than Music?
FRANKY: We've worked with several producers on this project; Sekay, ATL, Beat Roc from Oakland, Bobby "Fingaz" Herron, Mississippi, just to name a few. However, we are very involved on this project. In fact, more than likely half the album will be written by us, if not more. Also, there will be a few tracks produced by MIC and VEE-DOE.
VEE-DOE: We are very involved in our creative process by writing, producing and arranging most of the songs for the album. The label really gives us room to do us.
Any particular highlights that you all would like to point out at this time?
N.O.: The album is coming together nicely. We have over 30 songs recorded. At this particular time we're not going to let the cat out the bag about our features, but just know you will be surprised and enthused.
What do each of you; MIC, N.O., FRANKY, and VEE-DOE, bring to the table talent-wise? Tell me about each of your individual personalities
MIC: I would consider my songwriting abilities and production skills to be the talents I bring to the table for the group, although everyone in the group writes songs. My personality is very laid back and chill. And, I'm often labeled by the ladies as the quiet one. In other words, the one you gotta watch out for! *More laughter ensues* However, once you get to know me you'll find out that I'm far from quiet.
VEE-DOE: I'm one of the music producers/recording engineers of the group. We try to be as self-sufficient as possible. I'm laid back, cooler than the other side of a pillow. I bring a lot of laughter to the group, often labeled as the comedian of these guys.
FRANKY: Talent-wise, I bring my writing and soulful sound to the group. I'm a laid back individual, but will ride or die for my people.
N.O.: Is "swagger" a talent? My singing and writing ability is one thing that I bring to the table, along with my gift to gab and (I'm) business savvy. I'm the troublemaker! I don't hold nothing back! I'm a people person, though (a) real prideful and loyal dude. (I'm) often called the spearhead of the group.
Longevity, what are your ultimate plans for it?
MIC: Keeping God first in everything that we do has been the key to our success thus far, and as long as we keep doing that we know that He will continue to bless us in ways that we can't even imagine. We are aware that this industry is a grueling, but as long as God is leading the way we can't go wrong.
Very true! So, what about other outside aspirations -- Do you all have any?
VEE-DOE: N.O. is working on a movie. MIC is working on a book. We all are working on a clothing line. We have a lot going on in the wings. But now, we are just focusing solely on our music -- Our single "Fresh off the Lot," and our album More Than Music.
And, since VEE-DOE spoke on the fact that you all are a throwback of sorts to '90's R&B, what do you all think about today's musical climate?
VEE-DOE: I can't say that I'm 100% happy with it. There are people really singing, doing R&B justice, and then there are those that water it down so much.
N.O.: The R&B game is like gumbo there's a lot of people that make gumbo and they use a lot of different ingredients. Some taste good, some taste horrible! The ingredients we use make our gumbo taste like Mama's! At this point, we can only be concerned with our gumbo's taste, Ya heard me?
Tell me something about the four of you that people may be a little surprised to find out?
ALL: We are four humble, down to earth men, (and) very easy to get along with. We love people. Don't be afraid to come talk to us, we keep it 100. Oh yeah, there is no Bitch-Ass-Ness over here!
So, what do you all like to do for fun?
FRANKY: I spend most of my free time with my loved ones.
N.O.: When I'm not with the fam or friends, I'm most likely shopping, on the Xbox or getting tatted.
VEE-DOE: Playing Xbox or Nintendo Wii.
MIC: Traveling, Xbox.
To date, what has been your biggest career moment?
ALL: Our performances on 106 & Park, our performance at the World Famous Apollo Theater, (and) can't forget the day we signed to Big Gates Records!
What is your 5 to 10 year plan in entertainment?
VEE-DOE: I would like for Unique Image to be that household name that would inspire the next great young boy or girl not to give up on his or her dream.
N.O.: I see us being a brand. Unique Image being young moguls, (and) being staples in the game.
With that being said, what's up next for Unique Image?
VEE-DOE: As of right now, the single "Fresh off the Lot" is on the radio and spreading fast. Right now we don't have a definite album release date. But, we will keep you posted!
Do you all have any parting words?
ALL: Again, we want to thank Rap Industry Dot Com for giving us this opportunity. We want to thank Big Gates and Plies and the Big Gates Records' staff, our management, Corn and D-Man, and the whole Seagus Entertainment and UI Entertainment crew(s), our label-mates Chris J, Zach King and Lil Rufus, our families, every radio station and deejay that hold us down on the daily, especially WZLD, WILD 106.3 and KMEL 106.1. We gotta put on for our cities, so everybody in Mississippi and New Orleans, what up? We reppin' Y'all hard! To all the people that support our situation, we thank you and we love you for loving us. To all the haters, we love you, too, for keeping us motivated.