Fifteen years after his smash song about an infamous female undergarment, SisQo is ready for a fresh start.
The Baltimore native announced that his brand new solo album will be released in 2015, and he admits that the pressure is on.
"In my mind, having not released any solo material in 12 years is almost like being a brand new artist all over again," he says, though with more than a hint of optimism in that ever-familiar raspy voice.
SisQo – born, Mark Althavean Andrews – became a superstar with 2000’s “Thong Song,” dominating radio and music video play for his ode to that "thong thong thong thong thong." His soulful ballad “Incomplete” helped solidify “Unleash the Dragon” as one of the year’s most popular albums. The album sold more than four million copies.
An MTV television show, movie roles and awards followed. But after the release of second solo album, “Return of Dragon” in 2001, the platinum-haired performer seemed to disappear from the mainstream music industry.
More than a decade later, SisQo, now 36, is returning to the spotlight, promoting his 13-track album, “Last Dragon,” which is set to be released on Feb. 10. SisQo has been candid during his press tour, sharing detailed explanations for his music hiatus.
The singer said that he was black-listed by mainstream music executives after he began to push back against politics within the industry. According to SisQo, differences over collaborations and claims that he was hard to work with created rifts between himself and his label. Now, he hopes that the focus will return to the most important thing: the music.
"The kinds of things that business partners want you to do to promote your music," he told ABC News. "A lot of times, it takes precedence over the music itself."
According to SisQo, his industry struggles led to the expansion of his independent label, Dragon Music Group. Working together with his distribution company Massenburg Media – owned by former president of Motown Records, Kedar Massenburg – he now enjoys the freedom of being his own boss.
"I'm the CEO," the singer proudly states, "I get the final say-so."
SisQo first entered the spotlight in the late 1990s as the lead singer of the R&B group Dru Hill, contributing to the albums “Dru Hill” and “Enter the Dru” before his solo career took off. He has been touring with the group in recent years, contributing to Dru Hill’s latest album, “InDRUpendence Day” in 2010, as well as making appearances on reality shows such as “Celebrity Wife Swap”—despite the fact that he is not yet married--and “UK Celebrity Big Brother” while working on his latest album.
Even though he's no rookie to the field, the soulful crooner says returning to the mainstream is no easy task.
“The music industry has changed so much… On one hand, you want your peers to continue to respect you as an artist, you want people to buy the music, but you don't want to, quote/unquote, sell out. So I've been doing the best I can to walk that line of creativity and trying to sell the music.”
Despite his success with Dru Hill and a multi-platinum solo career, the name SisQo is still most associated with the female undergarment he sung about in 2000. SisQo tells ABC that's fine with him, but now he aims to target new audiences while staying true to his brand.
"I'm pretty much doing my best to create the kind of music that will speak to someone who may not be a fan of my music or may only know me for one or two songs--but might be interested in knowing me more as an artist and getting into my new material."
And SisQo’s core fan base, including some music industry insiders, are eagerly anticipating the album’s release, despite the long wait.
Noted music writer and producer Anthony “Shep” Crawford, who worked with the singer on his #1 single “Incomplete,” likened him to legendary icons James Brown and David Ruffin.
“Sisqo captures your attention before the first note in the first verse, and then follows it up with a great and strong vocal,” he told ABC News. “I look forward to hearing his new project, as it should be refreshing in today’s market."
If newly released singles indicate what to expect on the album, it can be called eclectic, if nothing else. Since last fall, the singer has given fans the up-tempo and auto-tune infused “A-List,” smooth and sultry ballad “LIPs,” Motown reminiscent “Round and Round,” and “Monsta” -- a bounce-worthy slow jam that rings familiar for fans of the first “Dragon” album.
SisQo says everyone should expect the unexpected.
"There are no two songs that sound alike on this album," he said. "Music is alive and as an artist and as a musician, you want to do the best you can to grow with music."
The vocalist became a father for the second time when his son, Ryu, was born in 2012, and his now grown-up daughter, Shaione, has come a long way from the little girl fans remember from the "Thong Song" music video. Yet, his schedule for 2015 shows his determination to juggle family life and a career in entertainment. A joint tour is scheduled for both SisQo and Dru Hill later this year, along with the re-introduction of his girl group, LovHer -- and he shares that more movies may even be on the horizon.
"As long as I'm still loving it and as long as it still feels organic and I'm having fun, then I'll be doing this," he said.