Although she now records as a solo artist, Los Angeles resident Nichole "Nicci" Gilbert is best known for her years as the lead singer of Brownstone — one of the top urban contemporary female vocal groups of the ‘90s. Brownstone only provided two albums before breaking up, but while they were together, they were quite popular. Often compared to En Vogue, TLC, SWV, and Destiny's Child, Gilbert's Brownstone shouldn't be confused with a ‘70s group that had the same name.
Gilbert isn't from L.A. originally; the urban contemporary/neo-soul vocalist grew up in Detroit, where her mother was a jazz singer. Gilbert's mom did a lot to encourage her interest in music, and when she was in high school, Gilbert performed Madonna's "Crazy for You" in a talent show. After graduating from high school, Gilbert studied music and drama at Eastern Michigan University. But she ended up dropping out after two years so that she could move to L.A. with a friend and be closer to the music industry. It was a risky move, but one that eventually paid off for her. At first, Gilbert struggled in L.A., where she appeared in various talent shows while paying her bills with non-musical "day gigs" (including a job at Taco Bell). But things started to pick up for Gilbert when, in 1993, she formed Brownstone's original lineup with Monica "Mimi" Doby and Charmayne "Maxee" Maxwell (a native of Guyana). The following year, Brownstone signed with R&B/pop superstar Michael Jackson's MJJ Music, which was distributed by Epic/Sony—and in 1995, MJJ/Epic released the vocal trio's debut album, From the Bottom Up (which lists Jackson as executive producer). Brownstone's first single, "Pass the Lovin'," was only a minor hit, but their next single, "If You Love Me," became a smash in both the R&B and pop markets. From the Bottom Up also contained Brownstone's hit remake of the Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why," which was originally a pop/rock tune but received an urban contemporary makeover from Gilbert and her colleagues. When Doby had to leave the group due to health problems, she was replaced by Kina Cosper — and in 1997, Brownstone unveiled their new Gilbert/Maxwell/Cosper lineup on the trio's sophomore effort, Still Climbing, which turned out to be their final album. Much to the disappointment of Brownstone's fans, the group broke up that year. Gilbert didn't pursue a solo career right away; instead, she branched out into acting and had roles on various television programs (including Martin and Living Single). She also got into management and started a company called Charmed Entertainment.
After taking a five-year break from recording, Gilbert aggressively pursued a solo career and signed with MCA as a solo artist in 2002. That year, she recorded her first solo album, Grown Folks Music, and MCA chose "My Side of the Story" as the album's first single. Grown Folks Music was released in January 2003. ~ Alex Henderson