By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
"It is a little different," admits Naturi, speaking from a cell phone on the group's busy tour bus. "Because we do appeal to really young kids. But I'm sure people like Nelly and Eve do, too, and we were really cool with them on the TRL Tour."
While their new album, A Girl Can Mack, will reportedly find Kiely, Naturi and Adrienne addressing more grown-up issues ("We can't isolate ourselves and be like, 'Oh, we really don't think about this,'" Kiely recently told MTV. "We really do. It's normal. We're teenagers"), it's also clear these normal teenagers are in no particular hurry to grow up and, in fact, already seem to miss some of the simple joys of adolescence they're missing out on.
"I do feel a little different than other kids, of course," says Naturi. "I mean, I'm not in regular school, I'm not participating in, like, cheerleader squads and stuff like that. But I'm pursuing my dream," she adds, beaming, "a dream I've had since I was little. And it's worth it."
Not that Naturi and the girls are falling too far behind in their studies. "We do have a tutor on the road, and we're still learning and getting our education." Youngest member Kiely (who, with her decidedly youthful, nasal rap style, is poised to take over the void left by the loss of TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes) is even getting an advanced education of sorts by being grouped with the older girls. "Sometimes I think our tutor forgets that I'm not in the same grade as them!" she chimes in. But the trio surely would have needed remedial education if they passed on the opportunity to live the pop dream in favor of trying out for the pep squad.
"I must pursue what I've always wanted to do: singing and dancing," Naturi insists. "And it's such a blessing that I can continue school and do what I've always loved."
As for spending so many months on a tour bus, Naturi (the name is pronounced Na-tour-ee) shrugs off any complaints. "It's not that bad, actually. Because it's a long bus ride between most cities, so you get to get so much sleep. It's actually better than a normal kid's schedule, where you have to get up early every day."
3LW's fans identify so strongly with the trio's regular-girl vibe that, when word leaked out on a fan site that Epic Records had plans to make over the girls as another tough "street group" for their second album, the group's message board on the label's Web site became flooded with so much angry e-mail they finally had to shut it down. An Internet campaign initiated on one fan site even posted the phone numbers of label execs and publicists and urged fans to deluge the "high paid pimps" with calls demanding they keep 3LW sweet and innocent.
Apparently, those fans have little to worry about -- at least for the time being. While Naturi and the girls have already worked with such mature-audience rappers as Jay-Z and Nas, the guest gangstas have so far treated the girls with "lots of respect," she says. Naughty by Nature's party-loving Treach calls the girls "our little sisters." And the raps that have been added over 3LW's tracks have so far managed to keep the girls' ages and image in perspective.
Fugee refugee Nas put it proper in the rap he added to his remix of "No More," admitting a wild attraction to the girl in the song but cautioning, "Shorty jail bait, might get me five to life. Place school, study law," he advised, "I'm a pay your tuition/Come on campus, buy you books/Do your babysitting." He finally wrapped up the intro with a line that perfectly summed up the odd marriage of "fly, thuggish ballers" and the sweet-voiced beauties who add melody to their hardened views of the world.
"See, now you was unaware that this thug had affection," he raps. "Let me be your angel and I'll be your protection."
If the former Puff Daddy now in charge of 3LW's sound just manages to keep his girls' rap-spouting suitors showing them that kind of respect, he may actually distill that perfect mixture of affection and protection we've all been craving for so many months.