What year is this again?
There's Eve, rapping in her signature style while stalking through some wretched excess, flaunting a big house, a yacht and many scantily clad admirers in director Tim Story's video. It's as if "Now That's What I Call the '90s" has come to life.
But this is the opening scene for "Queens," a new ABC series that premiered Tuesday.
Eve plays one of four Nasty B—es, an all-female superstar rap group. Rounding out the party starters on the aforementioned yacht are Brandy ("Star"), Naturi Naughton ("Power") and Nadine Velazquez ("My Name Is Earl"). They also play the older versions of the women whose fortunes have shifted dramatically since their "one big album in the '90s."
It's an alternate history of sorts for Eve.
"I could never have thought that I would be in a show, kind of being a rapper from the same era that I was actually a rapper in," Eve says via Zoom. "But I have to say it's been fun for me, because I have been away from music for so long as myself."
Eve was living large in the '90s and throughout the early 2000s, being her "superhero self" onstage with platinum albums, Grammy awards and movies such as the "Barbershop" franchise and "xXx," and her eponymous TV show "Eve." Her real life parallels the show even more now, with her announcement over the weekend that at age 43 she's expecting her first child with her husband, British race car driver and entrepreneur Maximillion Cooper, with whom she shares four "bonus children."
Eve's Brianna, who was Professor Sex in that video, is a mother of five. Viewers meet her next as she navigates a hectic morning: doing hair, wrangling the children and cooking breakfast while reassuring (and fending off) her out-of-work husband as he tries to hold onto his tenure — and tries to tease out her old persona. Instead of the bikini — topped with a fur vest, natch — that we just saw her in, she's wearing baggy sweats. Such is life, huh?
The rich life of the character she gets to play, along with getting to work with creator and executive producer Zahir McGhee ("Scandal," "Stumptown"), were among the things that drew Eve to the show.
"I think I was the first person to sign on. When I read the script, I was like, 'Oh, my God. The script is actually amazing,' because it wasn't what I thought when I heard, 'Oh, it's a show about these women that were this big group,'" she says. "When I saw that the characters had these really incredible lives as well, as far as their story goes. And all these storylines, along with the fact that they'd be making amazing music, amazing videos ... that's what drew me in first.
"And then obviously, when I heard that Brandy and Naturi were signed on, I was like, 'Oh, my God,' and then that Swizz Beatz was doing the music. It was like, 'OK, this is perfection.' And even Nadine Velazquez ... She has never sang or rapped. But she's amazing."
The cast of "Queens" is full of people about that '90s superstar life: Brandy was a Disney princess with her landmark "Cinderella," starred in her own TV show, "Moesha," and dropped a self-titled debut album that cemented her among leading vocalists. Naughton was no slouch either as a member of girl group 3LW.
More than a show about rappers "reclaiming their throne" — as the tagline says — "Queens" is about women reclaiming their time, friendship, another chance at life.
"This show shares a lot of DNA with 'Desperate Housewives,'" executive producer Sabrina Wind, who had the same position on that show, says during a Zoom call outside Atlanta, where the show is shooting. "I always thought of 'Desperate Housewives' as a show about learning that life's opportunities get smaller as the years go on and then trying to figure out how you feel about that and what you're gonna do about it. It's about more than that."
"It is about friendship. It's about second chances. If you blew one of the biggest opportunities of your whole life and 20 years later, you get a second chance at it … What are you willing to sacrifice, what are you willing to do to get it, to fulfill that dream?"
Or, as Eve puts it, "it's just reclaiming that power of self."
The four rappers — Brandy's Xplicit Lyrics, Velazquez's Butter Pecan, Naughton's Jill Da Thrill and Professor Sex — lost touch after the high-flying '90s and reunite, er, "reclaim," under "Girls5Eva"-like circumstances. That is, a rising star of a rapper uses their big hit to make one just as big, they climb on the train and suddenly, they have another chance to get it right. But while Peacock's "Girls5Eva" is decidedly a comedy, and a good one at that — "ours is ... such a show all its own it doesn't matter that somebody else has our logline," Wind says — "Queens" has other genres on its mind.
"It falls into the same lack of category that 'Desperate Housewives' does, and yet it adds a new layer of hip-hop and music," says Wind, who felt it imperative to work on "Queens." "We have dramatic scenes, we have comedy scenes, we have music, we have moments that will make you laugh, will make you cringe, will make you cry. But at the same time, I played this show for my family at my wedding this summer, and people were saying, 'I had no idea that it would be accessible for me too. I didn't realize that there would be storylines I would relate to.'
"And it's because we do show the glitz and the glamour, but we also show real human emotions, we also show the trials and tribulations of being a housewife or being in a marriage or struggling with your career or all of these things or just trying to figure out who you are and what disappointments you've caused in your life because of that. So there's just so much relatable in just the emotional aspect of it."
"Dramatic" and "relatable" are the operative words for Eve, who has acted mostly in comedies.
"That has definitely been a challenge in the sense that obviously, I want to be believable and evoke those real emotions, which I haven't had practice on," she says. "But it's definitely been a nice muscle to try to test. And hopefully, that opens up some doors for some other things. You never know."
What she does know is that she's not the one writing the rhymes this time. And it's really OK.
"I get to be and do and be this character and sing this music that I'm really proud of," she says, noting that the show was the first time she's rapped in a cypher — "incredible" — in which it was all women. "But what's nice is I don't have the pressure of a label or trying to sell records on my own. So that part of it is actually very nice.
"Honestly, I'm happy with Swizz, because I trust him fully. We barely speak about the music or show ... except for the fact that I'm like, 'Yo, this song is amazing.' But the person that's writing along with Swizz, they're killing it. To be honest, the production schedule is so hectic, there's no time to even tweak anything with music. So thank God it's been perfect."
The video at the top of the series' packed first episode goes a long way toward establishing each character's personality. And music plays an integral role in that, with each song propelling the story.
The quartet's single and music video for "Nasty Girl" (not to be confused with the Vanity 6 single) dropped weeks ahead of the premiere of the show. The music, catchy as all get-out, is another character on the show. Eve has scaled heights before with Swizz Beats as her producer, when she was a member of the rap collective Ruff Ryders. It didn't take long for him to sign on either.
"My sister Eve called me about it and everybody started calling me about it. I said, 'So I guess this is the one we're gonna do,' he says and chuckles.
"Eve is a natural at this. She's been doing this for a long time, her and her supporting cast as well ... I've been scoring and executive-producing shows for a second, but this one is different because I love that it goes back to the era where I started, which was the '90s. And to be able to go back and visit that sound and have that be something that's launching in 2021, I think it's amazing."
Swizz Beats admires that the show is about "celebrating women," and he and his team strive to fit the lyrics to each character and star.
"Each character has an identity and musical identity that represents them, right? So we get all of the identities," he says of the process that starts with the script first and then the music, "a different choreography to producing. I get the identities of how we want Eve to sound, how we want everybody to sound.
"They know it's not just being thrown to a person who says they do music. It's being thrown to a person that they know does and respects music for many years now. So I think, you know, a lot of them said, 'When I heard you were involved, it made us more excited to close out and move forward.' That was a blessing."
It's also a different choreography for Eve, who walked away from the daytime show "The Talk" last year to spend more time with her family in London. Just because she'll be back on screens weekly doesn't mean she's back back. She likes her life the way it is, thank you very much. While "Queens" could well make her a TV star — again — home is where her heart is.
"I like my peace. I like my life in London," she says. "If I'm in Atlanta or L.A., to me, that's work. And I embody that fully. And not that I don't work in London, but my stuff that I do in London is a lot more chill. Like I have a podcast ['The Eve's Drop']. I just finished my second season, so I definitely stay busy. It's just I stay quiet.
"I don't think of it as like, 'Wow, this is gonna be this thing.' The show is definitely going to be big for sure. I do know that it's gonna be amazing, the music people will love, but you know I'm just ... I'm happy to be a part of such a cool project."
The '90s were very kind to Eve. With "Queens," she's returning the favor. Says Eve: "You're gonna love it."
MPAA rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under age 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sexual content)
Where to watch: 10 p.m. ET Tuesdays on ABC
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