You might remember Nicci Gilbert from back in the 90’s when she started the R&B group Brownstone, the first artists to be signed to Michael Jackson’s label. Her passion and soul came through in her vocals yet the pain of her struggles with her weight ultimately led her to pursue other avenues.
Years later, happily married and following in her mother’s footsteps as an entrepreneur, she’s mastering reality TV as co-executive producer of R&B Divas (premiering August 20th at 10pm on TV One) and launching a “big girls” clothing line, Curvato Clothing.
MN: Who introduced you to entrepreneurship?
NG: My mother was the first entrepreneur that I knew. Not only was she a jazz singer but she owned five or six houses and two buildings. My childhood was filled with going to these houses that my mother would buy and cleaning them out, painting and getting them ready to rent. I remember sitting in the car most days watching my mom go to collect rent from her tenants. I didn’t know it at the time but she was instilling that constant Detroit hustle and grind in me.
I was the older of two younger sisters and it was my job to make sure they were ready for school. Most times my mom would work at the clubs as a singer at night and she opened a resale shop so we’d go to the shop and work after school. As it pertains to business and my hustle, everything that I know and learned was from my mother.
MN: What does hustle mean to you?
NG: Beyonce said it best: “A diva is a female version of a hustler.” In my opinion, it just means going for something with everything that you have and to not limit what you have to do temporarily to reach that passion. Hustling means to never give up. With me, I always have a few balls in the air.
MN: What’s “the Octopus theory”?
NG: “The Octopus theory” means there’s one head controlling all of these arms, fully aware of what each of these arms is doing. [At times] some of the arms might be a little limp, which means the other arms have to take the slack.
MN: What did you learn about business from being a part of the R&B group Brownstone?
NG: I saw the movie Dead Poets Society and I was just moved by this whole “carpe diem” theory (“Seize the day”). So I went out to LA and placed ads in the paper, auditioned girls and started a female group. What I realized is that not everybody takes kindly to direction and from the beginning I was very much the direction girl. I like to control as many aspects of my life as I can.
MN: What were your struggles with Brownstone?
NG: When I started the group, I wanted us to be singers. It wasn’t about fashion or being the cutest. We were to be the best singers out there, the best writers, have the best songs and give great voice. But later on, the label just wanted to figure out how to market up to a mass audience. By then, I was the chubby girl and when it came time for the second album, I was being told to starve myself, get plastic surgery or do whatever I had to do to fit into this other mode.
It was then that I just started to see that maybe this wasn’t the train that I was suppose to be on. I found myself changing from this bubbling Detroit hustler girl into the girl looking in the mirror every five minutes because I was constantly told that I was just too big. So that kinda started to diminish my passion for music.