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Special Feature: Da Bassment - Susan Weems Pt.3

NJS4E: And then what happened?

Missy ElliottI think people just couldn't deal with it anymore - the negativity, DeVante changing, working long hours and having nothing to show for it in terms of records and labels offering record deals. It just made more sense at the time to leave, before it could get any worse. By that point Sista had already gone- Missy included. That was actually because he couldn't have both groups working with him under the same label- there ended up being too much jealousy between the female groups, so he ended up sending Missy & the rest of Sista home (that actually happened after he sent them to live with us in Rochester and he could see that there was no way it was going to work with all the fighting going on). It was DeVante's decision at that point to send them home. Then Ginuwine left and as time went on, so did each of the rest of the Da Bassment family.

NJS4E: That's really interesting - it's always been on record by the media that Missy left off her own accord?

Well I don't know the ins and outs of things. All I know is that DeVante ended up sending her & the rest of Sista home because working with two female groups caused too many fights and jealousy. The first to leave off his own accord was actually Ginuwine.

Timbaland & Magoo left after him. Playa signed to Def Jam and left too. In fact, we also signed to Def Jam at the same time they did, but Def Jam didn't want DeVante to have 100% creative control over our group or Playa (that was their terms of the agreement).

Obviously, DeVante was totally against that arrangement even though he did want us to sign with a major label, so we ended up not really doing anything with Def Jam in the end just because we didn't want to hurt DeVante by going against his wishes. We just left our deal with them to stay with DeVante and our group kinda became defunct.

Playa obviously stayed with Def Jam. That must have been around 1997. After that, slowly all the remaining Da Bassment artists drifted - we were the only original Bassment members to stick with DeVante, until of course 2000.

NJS4E: With everyone leaving- did they all leave at the same time, or was that something that happened over time?

Playa (L-R): Static Major, Black, SmokeyIt didn't happen all at the same time. It just happened suddenly but over a period of time. The ones that did leave before Playa - they all kinda left separately behind DeVante's back and it was abrupt. I think Playa & us were one of the few artists who really talked to DeVante about leaving. We didn't just disappear and sign with other labels - I think that's one of the main reasons why he took it so badly by the time Playa & my group expressed that we wanted to sign with another label, and also why he was so upset when we finally left him later on (though we never really signed with anyone after DeVante. We just broke up.)

To be honest with the others who left prior to Playa, I think they felt at the time if they did discuss leaving with him before they left, there would have been a conflict. It didn't change the fact that they did leave in a manner which DeVante didn't appreciate. I think it really hurt him and that's one of the main reasons we didn't think of going when we saw most of the camp go. At that point we were being loyal to DeVante, specifically because everybody had left and I know that it was a horrible thing for him to go through, and we wanted to show that we were loyal to him. We thought that because of our loyalty, he would put our group out and that's why we stayed with him so long. And that's despite the fact that like Playa, we really did want to sign with Def Jam or any major label who was interested- we wanted to get our records released and be heard because we'd been working so long.

It was just that when a lot of people had left behind his back, and when we saw DeVante's reaction when Playa discussed staying with Def Jam despite the fact that it was going against DeVante's wishes to have creative control, it was enough for us to know that we really didn't want to put him in that situation again. We saw how he took that and the fact that it shook things up further and hurt him even more. And like I said, with us being the few artists remaining, we really believed he'd focus on us coming out.

NJS4E: The move to Def Jam - that didn't turn out to be a good move for Playa in the end. Considering how talented they all were, it's been reported that Playa really had to fight to have creative input and weren't appreciated for the musical repertoire that they had built up previously? They were pressured to succumb to what was considered to be most popular commercially, at the behest of the label they were signed to?

That's right. That's what happened to them and that's how it is in the industry because record labels have their own agenda and want to have ultimate creative control. Playa did come out but they didn't do as well as they really should have done. I don't think Def Jam really supported them, their style or their sound. Playa weren't the same Playa that they were when they were under DeVante for sure. The vibe that Playa had wasn't the same Playa I knew from Da Bassment days. DeVante had a way of bringing it out of us- whatever special thing it was that we had that was transferred into our music. I don't think anybody else could have done that. He appreciated it and that's what he really was trying to develop in Da Bassment as a group.

It's funny because that's probably why DeVante did want so much creative control over us all. DeVante had a vision that everybody else didn't see, and I don't think Def Jam had the same vision that DeVante had. That's probably why when Def Jam didn't want DeVante involved as much, he thought, "well, if they don't have that same vision, then they can't have you, because I have a bigger picture and they're not goin' to do it properly if they get you." So yeah, I think Playa's success which they really deserved, suffered having to adjust to the Def Jam way.

NJS4E: OK, so a lot of Da Bassment members had left and Sugah's deal never solidified with Def Jam. What happened with Sugah afterwards?

Sugah (L-R): Susie, Tweet, RolitaWell, we stayed with DeVante the longest. At least Tweet & I stayed with him up until 2000. We were the last group to leave him and we held on, thinking that since there were only us to deal with, he would definitely put us out. We were working on our album the whole time. We probably recorded and re-recorded our album so many times in that period, moving from state to state and recording it, but it never got released. It was just this cycle that kept happening - from Rochester we moved to Charlotte and then to California recording and re-recording. By that point there had started to be conflicts within the group - lots of insecurities and jealousies and disappointment that really stemmed from us having difference in opinions musically and personally. It was a really unhealthy situation that just got messier over time.

So at that point in 2000, Tweet & I just made the decision to leave DeVante & the apartment he had got us in California. It was a difficult moment telling him because we knew he'd be really upset, which he was. He was really angry about it, 'cause I think he felt that we were ungrateful. I do believe out of the whole crew, that he saw Sugah & Playa as his babies and that he genuinely loved us. We always knew that he loved us too - I think that's why it was hardest for both my group & Playa to leave him, so by the time both groups did leave, he was just as upset about it as we were- it's just he had a different point of view.

Rolita ended up having to choose between DeVante and us. She chose DeVante and that was the end of our group - Sugah just broke up. You know it was again one of those things that all three of us didn't want to see happen, but it was very much an "enough is enough" type of situation and if two members decide to bail out, and one member won't come your way, well, there goes the end of your group. Rolita, for the most of Da Bassment era was dating DeVante, so obviously she had other reasons for staying that Tweet & I didn't have, so of course in her mind she couldn't really leave him over her singing group.

DeVante always used to say that if Tweet & I left, he would do a solo project with Rolita so I think that's what happened after we left. Her project didn't come out in the end either.

In the meantime, Tweet had her solo albums after hooking up with Timberland & Missy again. And as for me, I still sing, write for other artists like Tweet & do the music thing, even though I never came out as such. I was able to do things with all that I learned from DeVante and all that I took from Da Bassment. As with all the artists from the clique, it's always been a passion so we just keep on.

NJS4E: So did you ever talk to DeVante after the group formerly split up?

No, we haven't talked since. When I told him I wanted to leave he was really upset with that, so in the end we didn't leave on good terms. I always hoped that we'd reach out to each other one day- I have a lot of love for that man. If I had the chance to speak to him again, I'd say the same. In terms of working with him again, I would love to. I really would.

NJS4E: Did you keep in contact with any other of the Da Bassment artists at the time that they were estranged from DeVante or even now?

Well when it first started happening in terms of them leaving, it was a very sensitive situation. DeVante really didn't want us communicating with them, so we were torn between our friends and him, when we cared about everybody. We did start speaking to some of the artists, without DeVante's knowledge though. We used to take phone-calls from the others secretly-with Playa for example, or sneak away to see Missy. We only really hid that from DeVante because we knew that he wouldn't take it well because of what he had felt that they had done to him. I kept in contact with Black (Playa) a lot back then and I still do a little bit now, but I remember speaking to Black soon after they left DeVante and he said to me "Have you talked to DeVante? Tell DeVante I love him." I remember that so clearly because I was like "What is wrong with you?! He told you to leave his house!" I never passed that message on obviously, but that just shows you how much Black loved him. And that goes for all of us, even the ones who might not admit it.

Live in concert: Tweet (left) and Susie (right)Over the years we've all started keeping in contact with each other- especially in the last 5 years or so. Rolita & I got back in contact too after some years of not speaking. Rolita especially keeps in contact with Missy. The only one I haven't seen since Da Bassment days is Timberland. He called me once but I think I was sick that day and didn't pick up my phone - I think he thought I really didn't want to talk to him because he wasn't with DeVante anymore. That really wasn't the case though but he never called me again after that.

NJS4E: That must have been difficult for all of you - the split in loyalties, even though you all obviously cared about each other- DeVante included.

It was difficult but that's how it was at the beginning- we'd all try and keep in contact on the quiet, because we knew DeVante wouldn't approve seeing as he didn't talk to Timberland etc. from the moment they left. I think over time he did start keeping a little bit of contact with Playa- mainly Static. I kinda knew that was always going to happen, even though he was unhappy with them leaving, just because Playa were always one of his favourites. He really loved them and I think he would have found it hard not knowing what they were up to and how they were doing. I think Static really bridged that communication gap now and again.

NJS4E: That whole timeframe when people started leaving 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?

Exactly. Well 1995 was the last Jodeci album, and probably not so long after that was when things started going wrong. By 1996/1997, when people started leaving was when DeVante started being less productive, and it's something we actually witnessed because we were one of the last groups living with him. By the end of it, he had lost all the energy and motivation and ambition that we knew him for. He used to always have this beautiful aura about him, but it was like that had been sucked out of him. He still worked but that was sporadic. It was just so sad to see at the time, because he was such a great man with so much to offer. I mean, he had achieved so much so young but he still had so much more to give. I just think what happened with Da Bassment really affected him to the point he just couldn't give anymore. He'd lost a lot of trust in people and the industry in general when people abandoned him like that and did things behind his back. I think the experience really burnt him and he was sad. It was hard for us to watch that all happen to him- we were really sad.

NJS4E: That makes me feel sad too. I can understand why he might have felt like that - mentoring artists and then losing them to rivals and seeing them succeed without him must have been quite difficult to deal with, especially when it was his idea and one that he developed creatively. I can also understand the frustration and the feelings of the artists and what they may have been going through. I'm sympathetic to both sides.

DeVante Swing - 4HISDAMNSELFWell, here's the thing. There are always two sides and yes DeVante made mistakes and his behaviour became difficult to deal with. But at the same time, there were a lot deeper issues going on with him - stuff I'm sure we never knew about at the time and things that deeply affected him once artists started betraying and abandoning him. He did have a whole lot of groups and he took care of everybody. When people started getting impatient and leaving because of the negative vibes, the desire to be signed and so forth, I really think the motivation wasn't there anymore because in his opinion, what they did was unforgivable. I guess he felt, you know, where's the loyalty? I think that's what was going through his mind - how could people just walk away like that after everything he did for us. I think he felt so let down and was just so mentally exhausted after it all fell apart, because he did invest a lot of time, creative energy and money into Da Bassment project. So much so that he just couldn't do it anymore.

The other side of the story was that at the same time, we were really torn because as much as we loved him and respected everything he stood for and that he did for us, there were other things that we couldn't stay for anymore. We just didn't know how long we could keep on waiting for nothing to happen. We had a choice to stick it out knowing time was just passing, knowing we had nothing to show for it and hoping something would happen, or try and find a way to do it elsewhere. I know it sounds weird but that really was what happened. Something happened to him, and then when things got worse when people left, that really weighed him down a lot and then everything kinda slowed down to a halt. None of us wanted to see him sad and de-motivated and he was such an influence on us that we were like that too, and we didn't want to stay like that either - stuck in the same cycle. So what were we gonna do? We really didn't have much of a choice and when we did leave, that was it.

I guess the situation was already shaky and then all of us had so many of our own expectations- there was a difference in opinions in terms of our expectations & DeVante's - we expected our records to come out & fast and he expected loyalty & patience, and in the end being in Da Bassment wasn't meeting our expectations or DeVante's anymore. We never wanted to leave him though- just like we never wanted Da Bassment to end. It just panned out that way because of the way things actually happened and it was a big disappointment the fact it turned out the way it did.

I wanna say though, whatever went down in Da Bassment and whatever the media says (and there's a lot of dirt that has been stirred up by them which is untrue), I can sincerely say that almost everyone had a deep love towards that man and still admire him today for the person that he was and probably is today. We never stopped caring about him. It really did hurt me seeing him go through that and I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt like that. Even those people who were watching and hearing things from afar - those same people felt the same way, even if some of them won't want to admit it. I'm sure now looking back most of us think "we should have done things differently," or "that could have somehow made the situation better." We knew something had changed him and it wasn't the same DeVante we had grown up with. But I also think the disloyalty that was going on at the time really made things even messier.

There were a lot of things that went wrong and I wanna stress the fact that the blame doesn't lie solely on DeVante, no matter what you've seen and heard. There were a whole lot of deep issues that involved a lot of people - all amounting to the same thing- that when the family did break it wasn't good to any of us.

Move On To Part 4!

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