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Special Feature: Devante's Swing Mob - Smokey Pt 2

Continued from Part 1...

NJS4E: About the way DeVante worked- it’s been documented that he was quite a perfectionist and would not leave a track until he was completely satisfied? Does that ring true with you?

DeVante was definitely a perfectionist. It may have got him into a lot of situations with record labels due to the fact that in their eyes he took too long. But in my eyes, and what really was the truth is that he was a perfectionist. You gotta allow this man to give you a hit, coz you know he’s gonna give it to you! You just gotta allow him to create it.

NJS4E: And describe what it was like working with him- in terms of how he was in the studio? It’s been well documented that DeVante’s talents were endless; aside from the signature sound, as a reputed song-writer & a talented instrumentalist. Rumour has it he can write a hit track in 5 minutes!

Oh man it was just amazing. I mean, once I sat and watched him early morning go get the guitar (I would always spend late nights at the studio just like he did. That’s where I get my vampire-late night shit from!). I remember him buying the guitar and within months, him getting me and saying ‘Eh! Come upstairs real quick.’ Then he got on the pool table and started playing ‘Good Luv’ which went on The Show album. And I’m like there sitting thinking ‘You’re a crazy-ass motherf****r!’ You don’t just buy a guitar and start playing like that. Who can just do that typa s**t?! I mean he was that amazing. I’d just sit and watch him do that type of s**t a lot.

Another time, I’d sat there and watched him work on that Al green song ‘Could this be the love’. I’d sat and watched him do the track, write the song and tell me what to sing within minutes!! And it’s like ‘You are CRAZY!’ I mean who does that typa sh*t?! I even remember when we first moved into his house, I saw him go buy and some equipment in order to prepare for our move to Rochester. He got me & Static (Major) to come check out the new equipment later on– It’s 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and he’d just start playing shit even though the equipment was practically brand new- coming up with different melodies and sounds in minutes!! CRAZY! All I could think was this cat right here is somethin’ else. As for the writing, those things you hear about how quick he is- the 5 minute thing? That’s no lie. I’ve seen it. That’s why…I mean, there are a lot of tight producers out there, including Tim. A LOT of tight producers out there, but they aint got a motherf****n’ thing on DeVante. And it’s not because I admire him. It’s not because I’ve worked with him. That’s just because of what I’ve seen & heard. I know aint nobody doing s**t like that; they aint moving it like that.

NJS4E: That’s very impressive. So he didn’t need time and space to think and be creative musically?

No. He could just do it. That was just him. I mean, he’s the type of guy when he turned his back, you’d be looking for where you could take out the batteries. He never slept or else it never seemed like he ever slept. He was always working and would always come up with new shit. I mean it was just ridiculous! You’d hear a song and then hours later, after you’d already heard it, it would have more shit to it. And it was ALL good. It was like ‘Damn! You don’t quit!’. It was crazy….just amazing. He’s phenomenal. Period.

NJS4E: Jodeci were a phenomenon for many reasons and was known somewhat as DeVante’s brainchild. Was DeVante the driving force behind the group because he had a lot of creative control- he wrote, produced & played the instruments on almost all the tracks on their albums?

Right. Oh yeah, that’s true. The others had a bit more freedom on the last album in terms of production and writing including Dalvin, but DeVante was mainly the one who did all that and in terms of vocals he told them what to do and how to do it. He’d say ‘It goes like this’, ‘You should do this, do that, don’t do this’ etc. But then once the melody and how the song went had been instructed by DeVante, well K-Ci & Jo-Jo would do their thang; they’d just go to war with whatever it was that he gave them and take it to its limits vocally. They’d do it their way. That’s what made them Jo-de-ci.

NJS4E: You must have seen them in action a lot. During the period you were under DeVante’s tutelage, did you get a chance to tour with them?

Oh yeah. We did for 2 months, maybe more. And it was them, Total, Craig Mack, Junior Mafia, Biggie, L’il Kim, Mary J Blige, Naughty by Nature, Adina Howard & The Luniz, from what I can remember. We were on tour with all of them and opened up every show and that was a hell of an experience. Every night was like a new night watching Jodeci. It was like WOW! EVERY single night! I mean it was big step. It didn’t mean much looking back on it now in terms of our careers, coz it didn’t guarantee any of us longevity, but at that time we were all excited and we thought it was BIG- that we were doing something major. After that tour, we were all anxious- we wanted to see Da Bassment out.

NJS4E: As we all know, Da Bassment broke apart. There’s been a lot of talk about what exactly happened, and some interviews with artists have claimed there was a falling out with DeVante. What’s your opinion on that?

Everyone has their own opinion about that. For the most part, from what I’ve seen and heard from the media and all (coz I’ve read and seen that stuff too), there seems to be a lot of displays of animosity or maybe even more-so, disappointment. Yes DeVante did factually kinda flip the script with his attitude- there was a lot of ego-tripping about certain things which were unnecessary. I’m not saying the things that he tripped about were petty, but it was just something that wasn’t necessary or we didn’t need to let it go that way. But when I look back at the situation, I cannot help but to focus on the fact that I would not be where I am right now or who I am right now, if it hadn’t been for him.

NJS4E: 1995, Uptown Records becomes absorbed by MCA, Swing Mob is put on hold and eventually folds and Da Bassment breaks apart, with no material ever released through DeVante. What happened there?

I’m not sure what happened exactly. I believe around that time part of the hold-up was the beginning of labels not appreciating how long it would take DeVante to get work done (but like I said before, give the man the time and you sure as hell got a hit). I think he had a lot of other things going on that we weren’t aware of- a lot of other business to take care of. One thing I do know is that he was also trying to find the best deal and situation possible for not only us, but for him & Jodeci too. For us, it ended up being a deal with Def Jam. DeVante gave us the option to sign to Def Jam through him or sign straight to Def Jam. We chose to sign straight to Def Jam and there was a trip about that because it became a question of loyalty- that whole situation about choosing between him & Def Jam almost became a test of loyalty to him. It was never like that for us. We still planned to be in Da Bassment all day long & still wanted to be with DeVante all day long. We just wanted to do what was best for us business-wise- still down with DeVante 100% but as far as signing papers, we wanted to go straight to Def Jam with it.

NJS4E: Why did you feel it was best for you business-wise, considering the fact he had all the intentions to release your material, and had invested in trying to make that happen for you all at some point, not to mention how hard you must have worked during your time with him?

We felt it was a better business move coz after workin’ day in, day out for a good few years with DeVante, we didn’t have anything to show for it in terms of our OWN records- and especially coz we had hardly got to work with him in that he rarely produced our records. We’d only really worked with Timbaland, Stevie J, Darryl Pearson, yknow? He had the intentions to release our music and that was what was planned. It just didn’t work out that way even though we really wanted it to. You have to remember we were big admirers of Jodeci & DeVante especially- we wouldn’t have stayed so long with him if we didn’t want it to work out with him. It just so happened Def Jam came to us with an opportunity and at that point in time we felt it the wisest thing to do.

When we finally decided to sign to Def Jam and we told DeVante, he wasn’t down with our decision. That was around 1997. Like I said before, that didn’t mean we were leaving Da Bassment or him- that was just the paperwork we were gonna have. And that falling out per sey that we had regarding that, was what shut everything down with Playa being a part of Da Bassment and being with DeVante. That’s the day we left.

NJS4E: Did you ever talk after that?

No, we never talked from that point on. I mean I would have liked to. Just like I would love to talk to him right now. I would love to work with him now, just like I loved to work with him then. I mean I haven’t known how I could ever get in touch with that man, but I would love to.

NJS4E: Were the other Swing Mob/Da Bassment members still there when you left? Or did you all leave around the same time?

Sugah were still there, as were a few others. But Missy, Timbaland & Magoo, Ginuwine & Stevie J had already gone before us. The others all left sporadically. I don’t remember anyone’s reasons for why they left in terms of talkin’ about it or even their individual situations. But them leaving sporadically could have been one of the reasons DeVante was so on this loyalty tip when we said to him we’d like to sign with Def Jam. He could have already been scarred and wounded from them leaving. So at the time it might have looked like we were doing the same thing. A lot of people look at what happened with him, on a business man-tip but I think it had a lot to do with emotional s**t- we don’t know what he was going through in his life. I mean, I didn’t know. All I know is we signed with Def Jam instead of under him, and he was upset ‘bout that.

NJS4E: Having so many artists under his wing must have been a difficult feat, considering what he was trying to achieve with many of you, and how young he was too. With less members to work with, why do you think the other remaining Da Bassment members material was never released?

There were a few artists still there. I’m sure there were probably a lot of others who were involved with him after we left too- we don’t know-it might still be a case of the Last of the Mohicans even now! I think the others, like Sugah’s music for example, didn’t get put out not because they weren’t a hot group. I think the reason nothing happened with them is because they stayed with him after we all left and because of everything that happened the way it did, as far as Da Bassment as a group was concerned. Them not having anything out could possibly have been a result of his whole motivation being lost, after that whole experience.

NJS4E: That whole timeframe seems to coincide with the time when the public started hearing less of DeVante on the production & writing side. And of course there was and as yet still is no new Jodeci album?

Yeah, but I don’t blame that on DeVante or his management of things. I blame it on the music industry itself. If you can tell, music ever since then has started to do a 360. And music today is one of the main reasons we’re having this interview today because music today is crap! I mean, think about it, we can’t even sit here and talk about today’s music- we’ve talkin ‘bout s**t back then. We’re doing an interview about BACK then, when R’n’B was good. Just like whenever you break up with somebody, or when you have a negative disruption or interruption in your relationship, the only thing you can think about is the good times. And that’s pretty much what’s up with R’n’B-it’s dead like a motherf****r! We have no option but to think about the good times and talk about the good times which was back THEN, when R’n’B was all about just that- Rhythm and Blues! So when music changed and flipped the script on all of us and did the f***in’ 360 that I’ve been talkin’ about, that type of thing started shutting DeVante out, because the industry isn’t doing music the way it should be done; the way DeVante can do it. There’s so much real, true, undeniable vintage talent out there, but they would rather put out bullshit. So that’s what pushed out someone as talented as DeVante who still to this day is a musical genius, into a box. He’d have to succumb to bulls**t in order to get work like he used to. Like any of those artists from way back then. Gone are the days where you’d be hearing those big harmonies like on a Jodeci album.

NJS4E: And the industry definitely suffered from that and from DeVante’s absence, in his own right and as part of Jodeci. So what do you think about the ‘new ‘ Jodeci album? Year in, year out, their upcoming album has always been the most talked about and most anticipated album in R’n’B history- 14 years later & I know I’m still waiting!

The new album? I don’t know what’s goin’ on with that. I don’t know what to say about that either, coz just like you I’ve been sitting and waiting too!

NJS4E: Speaking of albums- your group was credited a lot in Jodeci’s last album and you yourself produced half the work on the first Playa album, not to mention background vocals for some of DeVante’s other productions. Not many people today are fully aware of that, particularly with tracks like Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ which was a huge hit?

Yeah. The Jodeci album we were credited. Pony was created back in Da Bassment days. But our names weren’t credited then. But yeah, Timbaland did the track, the chords played and the music were basically me, & Static helped write it. We were all involved with that record but not all of us got that recognition at the time. But that’s how it is.

NJS4E: Do you still keep in touch with Timbaland, Missy & the rest of the orginal Da Bassment members?

Some of them I keep in contact with and some others I’d seen at Static’s funeral. The only one I haven’t talked to in a while is Missy but Rolita (of Sugah) told me that her & Missy had been watching my solo material recently, and Missy had said that ‘I still got it’, which was nice to hear. Y’know when you haven’t been in contact with someone for a while & you wonder what they’ve been up to? They were happy to see I still got it which is nice to know.

NJS4E: It’s interesting you called it a type of movement earlier – because the Swing Mob collective & Da Bassment in particular had a really unique style-something that was a big part of Timbaland & Missy’s work and something that’s present in your work even today as a solo artist. Collectively, had it lasted you would have been phenomenal because as individuals you each had immense talent & you still exude that Da Bassment vibe.

Uh-huh. Yep. It could have been a movement like nobody had ever seen. Each of us have got that in us, coz that’s what we were for so long- like I said DeVante had Motown all over again!

Move on to Part 3!

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