NJS4E: And life in the studios of Da Bassment?
It was awesome. There’d be a lot of us in the studio at one time but there were two floors and lots of different studio rooms. It was big enough for all of us to do everything. We threw parties there, we worked there, we ate there, we slept there, everything! Our life revolved around making creative music and that was the focus – everything else just happened around it! It was hard work and sometimes it could get stressful because we all wanted to come out with something and soon and because we were a family there would be a few family disputes now and again, but mostly it was so much fun and it was like that until things started changing.
DeVante was around us most of the time overseeing everything. We used to have these meetings that he would call at the studio on Mondays, where we’d all sit around this big table and he’d run through everything that we were all doing. It really was like music college and before things did change the way they did, there was just this vibe and feeling when we were all in there together- it was really special. It was just something I don’t think anyone could ever duplicate.
NJS4E: So what do you think DeVante liked about all of you seeing as he hand-picked you out to be part of his own collective?
I think he just recognised that each of us were talented in a way that he could groom further. I think like with Jodeci, he had a natural knack for knowing what would work and how it would work and he must have seen that in each of us. And then the idea of Da Bassment which he came up with – a crew that consisted of all that – I think he just knew he could make it happen and that it would be very special. He also pretty much picked a group that was self-sufficient too. It was never like if he wasn’t around we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. If he wasn’t there, work didn’t stop. We always had the studio at our disposal so we just tapped into our skills, knew what each of us was best at and what DeVante expected, and worked together to create something very different to what was heard in the past and even now. That really was what Da Bassment was all about: vibing off each other and using each others skills to produce something totally out of this world and different.
NJS4E: Who were you closest to in the crew aside from your own group and DeVante?
We were all close. But if I had to pick other artists that we were closest to, I’d say we were most tight with Playa. They were like the male version of our group and we hung out a lot, of course because we lived with them. Aaaah, we had a lot of fun with them! We were really close to Missy too-not so much the rest of her group though.
NJS4E: DeVante & Da Bassment as a collective developed an incredibly unique and special sound – not just melodically or beats-wise or even in terms of the style of singing. It was a combined result of all three and one that’s unique to each and all of you and has helped launch a number of careers which are still going strong to this day. Do you think that sound which we have seen with Timbaland, Missy etc. was born from the days with Da Bassment & DeVante?
Yeah definitely. We really did have a unique sound and style and that all started from being around DeVante and learning from him and the rest of the talent in Da Bassment.
We just had a different way of doing things in there, it was so creative and special. We just vibed off each other and brought the best of each other out into the open. So whatever it was we were all doing, whether it was singing or writing, production or playing instruments, everyone would be doing something they were skilled at and just jump in and free-style, ad-lib and just VIBE. And that’s how that sound was created. It was just so NATURAL and that natural energy and those musical vibes really was what made the best music and that sound that you saw in Da Bassment and beyond. It’s one of those things where I can say it now and it might not mean as much to you, but if you were there then you could FEEL it. It’s a bassment-specific thing you know? Only Da Bassment artists understand that whole thing because they were there and feeling it too and we were all working towards the same goals. And that’s what Da Bassment was all about and what made us so different to anything else- a family that produced really creative music you could feel. And every single one of us was really molded by that.
The music that Timbaland started doing himself was what we saw in Da Bassment. I think, that’s the reason a conflict arose between DeVante & Timbaland, because DeVante really didn’t want him to do anything that was similar to what was that was going on in Da Bassment. But that’s what Timbaland ended up doing. I’m not saying that Timbaland never had his own style and sound that was different to DeVante or that he stole that from DeVante – he did have his own sound and he came to the camp with that natural ability. It’s just that a lot of it was developed from the knowledge gained during Da Bassment era and being around DeVante. I’m talking about Timbaland’s style and sound when he first came out and was doing tracks with Aaliyah. That was the kind of thing he was doing back in Da Bassment.
NJS4E: How about DeVante & Timbaland’s styles of producing? There’s always been talk of their long-standing feud since the Da Bassment days because of Timbaland’s claims that his style was all his own and had nothing to do with DeVante etc.?
Well here’s the thing, with DeVante’s music and everyone knows this, it was just one of a kind. You couldn’t replicate that. DeVante was always signature, and with time after leaving Da Bassment, Timbaland created his signature sound. They were always different from the beginning BUT Timbaland’s sound really was created and developed to be what it was in 1997-1998 time, AFTER being in Da Bassment. DeVante did groom Timbaland’s natural skills and Timbaland must have learned from him, in the same way we all did.
I don’t know if he hadn’t have met DeVante and been in Da Bassment, whether that sound he created would be what it was for so long. I just think Da Bassment wouldn’t have been the same without Timbaland’s sounds, but Timbaland’s sounds wouldn’t have been what they were in Da Bassment and after Da Bassment, without DeVante’s capabilities. One without the other and the result wouldn’t have been the same. I think the same with Missy. They were all naturally talented people and it’s the same for all the artists that fell under the group. It’s just that DeVante helped us all unleash it creatively. He gave us the opportunity and the means to develop our skills and he really coached us.
I think it’s a lot closer to the truth than not that we ALL took a piece of DeVante when we left. We all definitely took a piece of that man. I think coming from Da Bassment we all have that work ethic DeVante instilled in us, and we sing with feeling like DeVante had taught us, and we arrange our vocals the way DeVante did, and we create a musical style that really stems from Da Bassment, which again comes from DeVante too. I mean, really and truly and I don’t think anybody could deny this: we all have a piece of him musically still growing inside of us.
NJS4E: Agreed. Especially after hearing the various Da Bassment artists solo material – I really can hear that ‘Bassment’ sound and even a bit of Jodeci!
Right. You ever heard that saying: you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl? That’s exactly what it’s like with Da Bassment. You can take the people out of Da Bassment, but you can’t take Da Bassment outta the people!
NJS4E: So how 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?
Oh yeah DeVante was a perfectionist. He had to be 100% satisfied that whatever he created was perfect. We couldn’t just sing a line he gave us and do an average job. You had to put everything into it. Your heart and soul and sing like you meant it. Sing so every single person around could feel it. It meant we had to re-do things a lot and it would get tiresome because he wouldn’t be satisfied but that was always, in DeVante’s mind, for the greater good. And I have to say, even when it did get tiresome, when we’d hear the finished result, he was always right. He just worked so hard to maintain this quality in everything he did. He never let anything be mediocre or average: it had to be perfect and something special. That’s just the way he was. That was just him. Everything to complete perfection.
NJS4E: And describe what it was like working with him- in terms of how he was in the studio?
His work ethic is just amazing. That is the only way I can describe him. There are just numerous occasions that spring to mind but I remember when he used to teach us to sing songs not just on our albums, but even gospel songs, he would arrange them on the piano, and then arrange our vocals, instruct us how to sing, “Susan, this is how I want you sing your part, Rolita, you should sing it like this, ” and then with Tweet, and it would just be effortless. Everything would just be automatic-it wouldn’t take days or even hours for him to arrange something to sound amazing. His arrangements were like no-one else’s, and as far as producing songs, everything just comes to him. The music and the lyrics just come to him, just like that. It’s just all in his head and he just creates it. And when he’s in studio mode, he is IN studio mode! He could be in the studio for 2-3 days, working on music, NOT going to sleep while we’re all fallin’ asleep. We’d always be thinking how does this man have the energy to stay up like this?! We’d feel bad for fallin’ asleep while he was working hard, and try to stay awake and not fall asleep because he wasn’t fallin’ asleep. I mean it was crazy! Keeping up with DeVante was impossible. He was just that into music. He’s a genius- a total genius. I’ve never seen anybody like that or heard of anybody like that in my life.
NJS4E: It’s always been well documented that DeVante’s talents were endless, aside from the signature sound, as a reputed songwriter & a talented instrumentalist. Rumor has it he can write a hit track in 5 minutes?
Instruments? Yeah, anything he picked up he could play. ANYTHING. And he was the one who actually taught me how to play the guitar. Not to his level, but enough that I keep it up to this day. I remember I was watching him once and I admired him so bad, and just said, “DeVante, please just teach me how to play the guitar,” and he sat there and taught me. And the thing is he didn’t even get lessons or anything! He just picked it up and taught himself and he could just play and play incredibly! That’s what he was like! He could pick anything up and it was so effortless for him. I think he even taught Rolita how to play the bass at one point. That’s just the guitar I’m talkin’ about but that’s what he was like with EVERY instrument. And on the piano, he was phenomenal. He could play by ear-he could make up hit melodies on the spot- he really could do anything. He was a REAL musician- it was just a God-given talent.
As for DeVante’s writing, as soon as the music was done the song might as well have been done, ’cause he could write just as instantaneously as he did everything else musically. He could write a song in a minute- a whole song! He always had something going on in his head that he could write about. Nothing was an issue for him- everything came to him naturally. And writing was just another thing he was super-talented with. You know Jodeci’s first album Forever My Lady and all those songs? Do you know that DeVante wrote all those songs when he was 15?
NJS4E: I knew he wrote them when he was young, but not THAT young. That’s amazing!
EXACTLY! So that’s what and how his mind was back then, you know what I mean? At 15, he had created all those lyrics and all those melodies for Forever My Lady, an album that came out probably 7-8 years later and was no 1 for so long and sold millions and millions of records. He had that in his head at 15!!! That’s WHY he was so young and producing for so many artists and groups despite the fact he really was a kid when he first landed Jodeci a deal. Everyone in the industry knew he was a genius from the very beginning. And it’s the truth! He was just so super-talented in EVERYTHING he did- there’s nothing that man can’t do. He’s just a genius. That’s the only word that I can use to describe him and it’s the undeniable truth.
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 and was in charge in terms of musical direction?
Yeah that’s true. He really was the glue that held them together. In terms of Jodeci as a group, they were all so talented and amazing at what they individually did. DeVante & Dalvin played instruments. DeVante did most of the writing and production, and then Dalvin did some too, though Dalvin had his own style which was also unique to anybody else’s & different to DeVante’s. K-Ci & Jo-Jo on lead vocals were such a huge force too, but yes ultimately DeVante did have most of the responsibilities, he did everything. He really was the one that had creative control, managed them and led them to be the success that they were. That’s why we all just put our lives in his hands like that, because we saw what he did with Jodeci and we trusted that he’d make it happen for us in the same way.
NJS4E: You must have seen them in action a lot. During the period you were under DeVante’s tutelage, did get a chance to tour with them?
Oh yeah, we went on this huge tour with Puffy’s Bad Boy camp, when Jodeci were playing with Mary J Blige, where we (all of Da Bassment) opened the show up every night. That was the first time we really had a chance to perform our music to the public so it was a really big deal to us all. It was really exciting opening up for Jodeci like that and an amazing experience being on stage and on tour with so many talented artists and being involved in such a major show. I think after that tour though was when everybody started getting even more anxious about coming out, even though we all knew we all couldn’t come out at the same time. Times had already become rocky but straight after that tour we were happy and motivated again until DeVante left us on other business. It was only then that the impatience started building up again.
Once that tour was over and after DeVante left us all in Rochester for quite a few months while he worked on other projects that I think he was doing for Suge Knight (CEO of Death Row records) was when Da Bassment really started crumbling. We carried on making music for a while and focusing on getting work done, but everyone started getting tired and more impatient as the days went. DeVante kept in contact with us at the time, but he was gone for a long while- it was during that time when a lot of people started leaving for good. The first to leave was Ginuwine.
NJS4E: There’s been a lot of talk about what happened, and some interviews with artists have claimed there was a falling out with DeVante. What’s your opinion on that and why the collective broke up the way it did?
Everything was really good until everybody started getting very impatient for one thing. Like I said, that really started building up to a more extreme level after the tour in 1995. People wanted to see their stuff put out and were getting impatient after working hard on records and after some time they just couldn’t wait anymore for him to do it. Once record executives found out about us and saw us perform or heard our music, record labels started wanting to deal with certain groups from Da Bassment. I think some artists even had outsiders in their ears telling them to leave DeVante & sign with them, because they’d put them out right away without the need to wait for DeVante. I think there were a lot of shady situations like that going on. That led to a lot of people doing things without DeVante knowing. We would have ALL loved to come out under DeVante, of course, because if it weren’t for him none of us would be who and what we are today, not to mention the contacts made during that period. But we couldn’t wait any longer and that anxiousness started setting in too much on all of us. Some people made decisions without really consulting DeVante as such, and that was a big factor in the break-up. The stuff to do with DeVante was goin’ on around the same time too though.
Things really started getting difficult with him once he started dealing with Suge. That really was the turning point with DeVante as a person. He changed a lot from who we knew him to be and the person we had grown to love. There were control issues. He wanted to have complete control over us because we were like his babies you know? He didn’t want to see that go, because he’d invested so much time, energy and money in us and into creatively developing us. There was definitely that going on with him: the need to have so much power. It was always his way or the high way. What he said was the law and we didn’t have a choice in anything else. And then there were just a lot more arguments and confrontational situations taking place that had never happened before. It just got to the point that the negativity started taking over the happy family that we were for so long, and we all started becoming really sad. The fact we couldn’t wait forever to see our records out and the bad vibes circulating… it just ended up that people got too tired with it all and broke apart. Sometimes the only thing you can do is just walk away, even if you really don’t want to.
NJS4E: You mention Suge Knight. It was rumoured that he did become DeVante & Jodeci’s manager at a time when DeVante was increasingly unhappy with the way Uptown Records was treating him & his band, and that was reported by the media in 1995. Aside from Suge’s reputation, do you feel that it was this association that introduced a lot of the negative energy that caused the break-up of the collective?
Uh-huh. Personally I always felt that once Suge started comin’ around, DeVante definitely changed. I think that’s when everything really started falling apart. There was just a negative vibe that was always around and it just got worse. I don’t know if Suge actually became Jodeci’s manager at the time, though I do think he pretty much was acting like he was. All I know was that whenever Suge came around, there was a negative vibe and all of us noticed that and the change in DeVante’s behavior. I never felt comfortable whenever Suge came round, even though he was nice to us all. He’d talk to us and joke with us and he was protective of us, but hearing the things you hear and knowing the type of person he was, there was always that negative vibe around. It just didn’t feel right. And we could see that DeVante was changing from that point and his personality suddenly flipped. He just changed into a totally different person that we didn’t know.
I’m not saying it was Suge’s fault – I just feel that Suge was a bad influence on DeVante. The person who he became is not who DeVante really was. He was such a beautiful person with such a good heart that turned into someone we just couldn’t relate to. He did things that he never did before like lashing out on us and he just seemed increasingly unhappy with us in general. We never knew why or what was going on- it could have been something personal he was going through that he didn’t want to discuss – I really don’t know. All I know was that he went from being this warm and caring person to someone who was unapproachable and aggressive. And to me, once Suge started comin’ around, was when that started happening- it just wasn’t the same with DeVante from that point.