NJS4E: DeVante & Da Bassment as a collective developed an incredibly unique and special sound, not just melodically, 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?
Definitely. Let me tell you: that musical sound that you heard back then that creatively moved mountains in the music industry? That musical sound was mostly DeVante. It developed in Da Bassment and was managed between him & Timbaland, but it was mainly DeVante in terms of the development, because he really was the only one who had the skills to do that. Timbaland at that point was a very talented young man but he was learning and being schooled by DeVante. The actual bass drums, and the way Timbaland would pattern his drumbeats, that was actually a combination of my mouth and a producer called SMK that DeVante liked and brought in from Rochester. What would happen is, like I’d already described- a typical day in the life of Da Bassment consisted of what we called vibin’. So we’d be vibin’ in a cypher and we’d all be just impromptu singin’, rhymin’ freestylin’ and somebody would have to bust a beat out. So the way I used to beatbox with my mouth- I don’t know if you’re going to hear this clearly over the phone properly, but I’d do this (Accion beatboxes for 15 seconds and it sounds uncannily like what we classed as a Timbaland drum beat between 1997-1999). So I’d beatbox like that, but I wasn’t producing music, so what would happen is DeVante & Tim would go into the studio and duplicate my pattern with the drum machine and develop it. SMK’s music was very bass heavy so he brought in the bass pattern to match with my beatboxing & DeVante’s drum pattern, and it sounded like this (Accion beatboxes for another 15 seconds). So basically DeVante & Tim took those two ideas and then developed it further and made that sound you’re referring to.
NJS4E: That would explain why there’s been talk of a rift between DeVante & Timbaland since the Da Bassment days. Timbaland has made a number of claims that his style was all his own and had nothing to do with DeVante. What’s your take on that?
The two are inter-related. I think Timbaland’s style came from the same place as Da Bassment, a place that DeVante founded. DeVante mentored and developed Timbaland and showed him what he could do and what kind of potential he had. I mean, everybody knows that DeVante took Timbaland under his wings and developed him as a producer. Now, Timbaland was already producing when he met DeVante and he was a naturally skilled producer with a raw talent, without a doubt, but he wasn’t producing at the level he got credit for when he did Aaliyah’s second album, for example, because back then he was developing his craft to be what it became, under DeVante’s tutelage. I don’t think he would have been producing at that level, had it not been for DeVante, in much the same way myself and the other Bassment artists wouldn’t be what we are today if it weren’t for DeVante.
NJS4E: Do you think DeVante & Timbaland’s musical styles are similar, if not the same?
I would say that they have different styles. DeVante had his own unique signature sound and Timbaland over time mastered his own signature sound too, but the difference is that Tim’s came after Da Bassment, whereas DeVante had it naturally- he developed it long before Da Bassment and Jodeci. I think the main difference between the two in terms of their musical styles was that DeVante was musically sound, especially with the instrumentation. So when he’d do a track, melodically and with his drum-beat, it just sounded incredible. When Tim would do it, it sounded very good but it was incomparable to DeVante musically, only because DeVante actually played instruments and composed music himself and to a grand degree.
As Timbaland developed himself further and mastered his style, he started bringing in people who knew how to play music or had some sort of expertise in that area, and that’s what helped improve his production in the musical terms. Tim was a great producer too but as I said, without DeVante and the experience within Da Bassment camp, Tim wouldn’t have developed to create what his signature sound is today, because that sound was founded from Da Bassment days with DeVante. Tim took things from there, developed it further and made it his own. What you hear now from Tim is not much like the Bassment sounds- now it’s very much Timbaland’s thing- sometimes I hear remnants of Da Bassment in his music, but nowadays it’s mostly very much his own thing. When his beats sounded like Da Bassment beats was from mid-90’s to 2001 or so. That’s when it was exactly like what we collectively came up on, under DeVante’s leadership of course.
NJS4E: And would you say the sounds/beats that Timbaland produced after the mid-90’s, for example in Ginuwine’s first album The Bachelor and Aaliyah’s second album One In A Million, was the Bassment sound?
Oh yeah, that was clearly the Bassment sound: there is no denying it and there is no disputing it. That was the sound that was born in Rochester, New York and came to fruition in Rochester, New York, when Da Bassment were together. That’s the sound we were developing day in and day out in Dahjelon studios and what we collectively came up on, under DeVante’s tutelage. It’s only natural that Timbaland’s work would be an extension of that.
It’s amazing to think looking at the major players in the industry now, just how many careers were launched from that sound and from DeVante’s creative direction.
Yeah. It’s not just Missy and Timberland and other ex-Bassment members who launched their careers out of that either. Puffy’s Making the Band is based completely on what DeVante was doing with Da Bassment. I think Puff actually took on DeVante’s idea and made it happen for his record label later on when he had the means to. I remember he’d come and talk to us on that tour we were all on and basically study us and how DeVante was developing us. When Puff brought out the Bad Boy camp, I realized he must have been studying the formula DeVante came up with and using that as a blueprint for Bad Boy. It was as if he modeled Bad Boy after seeing the way DeVante was doing things with Da Bassment and after seeing the way we were conducting ourselves on that tour. That was the tour in ’95 when Jodeci & Mary J Blige were the headliners and the Bad Boy camp were on the roster of acts too. And I kid you not, the way that the group Total dressed after that tour was the way that Sugah used to dress, the way that Biggie dressed was exactly like the way Mr Brendal was dressed on that tour and even the way Mase & Puffy were dressing with those all in one shiny suits, I used to wear those. Puffy really emulated what DeVante was doing. The difference was Puffy was a doer and DeVante was more of a dreamer. I don’t think DeVante ever got credited for any of that kind of stuff though- or even was recognised for it, though I really feel he deserves to be.
NJS4E: Despite a Bassment single/album never coming out and the incomplete dream of getting signed to a major label, to this day each of you are still recognized for your individual talents and for being affiliated with DeVante though. Does it surprise you that Da Bassment & the form of music that was developed during that era is still something that’s talked about so many years on?
I know! That’s just amazing to me, that we still have that buzz. It doesn’t surprise me because the type of talent that was embedded in Da Bassment movement was so phenomenal and because everybody brought something so unique to the table, what came out of that fusion and DeVante’s leadership & creative direction, was just a powerful musical entity. It just amazes me that here we are, a good 14-15 years after me being a part of it, and it was already in motion a good couple of years before I joined- the fact there’s so much interest now? It’s just amazing to know that people still deem it historical. Had it materialized the way DeVante had planned, it would have been ground breaking AND historical, for sure.
NJS4E: Being part of Da Bassment you must have spent a lot of time working with him as well as seeing how he worked. It’s been documented that he was quite a perfectionist who worked hard and would not leave a track until he was completely satisfied? Does that ring true with you?
Oh yeah! DeVante is a total perfectionist. There would be times that he’d have tracks where everything was done- the lyrics, the music, the production, the vocals had already been laid- everything was complete. But he would just go over it over and over and over and over and over again and again. And I think that’s the reputation that he built up in the industry – that he was phenomenal producer, a phenomenal arranger, a phenomenal songwriter, a phenomenal musician – but he couldn’t finish a song in the sense that he was happy enough to release it. He’d always hear some sound or something in it he felt he had to improve, so the process with him was longer. Nothing would come of anything unless he was 100% satisfied. It’s a good thing but as with everything there’s a limit and I think labels didn’t appreciate just how much of a perfectionist he was. As for his work ethic- it was inspiring to say the least. We’d work hard but then we’d see the way he worked with 150% dedication-and we just had to up our game- he was THAT diligent. And he barely slept. When he wasn’t sleeping he was producing music. I can honestly say music was his life, and life was his music. He was constantly in studio-mode, always coming up with new sounds, melodies, beats, lyrics and trying to break down more and more barriers in music, creatively. He was doing stuff for other artists all the time and he was the driving force behind Jodeci & Da Bassment at the same time as well as recording his solo project. That solo project at one point was coming out on Madonna’s label because they were good friends and he had dated her in the past. He had a lot going on so the responsibilities were never-ending. For that reason, I just don’t think there were ever enough hours in the day for him to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish, so he just kinda sacrificed himself in order to make it all happen. DeVante without a doubt put his whole self into his projects. All his energy, time and money was spent dedicated to his music.
NJS4E: Can you recount what DeVante was like in the studio?
Oh yeah, it’s unforgettable what that was like. Being around his presence for so long, we saw DeVante in the studio all the time. To be honest because of how long I’ve been doing music, where I’ve been and the extent of what I’ve seen in my past I don’t shoot around terms like “musical genius” loosely- because I know what a genius is by definition and I know what a musical genius is by definition as well as through my experience of life. And when we talk about musical geniuses, we’re talking about Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Quincy Jones. Those are people who are musical geniuses right? And without hesitation or reservation I would add DeVante to that group in a heartbeat. I mean, this dude, I literally watched him go from instrument to instrument, four or five, sometimes even more, one after another. He’d be on the piano, then he’d pick up the bass, put the bass down, pick up the guitar, put the guitar down, go get on the drums, put the drumsticks down, pull out the saxophone and play that. I mean this dude was just INCREDIBLE. And he wasn’t just a talented musician. He was also an incredible songwriter. He’d hear the music and he’d have the lyrics done instantly. He would write as if he’d had days to think about what to write, except you knew he’d heard the music the first time and he had it done within minutes of hearing it. The way he arranged vocals and laid them on records was just phenomenal too. And when it all came together? When he’d actually produce and he’d put the music, the melody, the beat, the vocals together? It was amazing. The way it all came to him naturally was just mesmerizing to watch. This dude is music at its finest. Every single element of his work was to an incredible standard. And that was signature DeVante – that’s the kind of reputation he had in the industry for so long.
NJS4E: That doesn’t surprise me. It seems to be the common opinion of him as a producer – that his talents were endless.
Yeah, I mean he produced, wrote the lyrics, played the instruments, did the backing vocals and arranged the music on almost every Jodeci track. And when he produced for others every part of the song was owned by him – it was all DeVante. And that’s why his talents are unparalleled, because he really broke barriers with the amount of himself creatively and musically that was in a record, without ever compromising the standard of quality. And he earned that the moment he signed his record deal for Jodeci, when he was a teenager. I don’t know if you know this but he told Andre Harrell (CEO Of Uptown Records) that they should put “Forever my Lady” out as Jodeci’s first single. Andre at the time was thinkin’ What is this kid on?! What does he know?! He’s new to the industry and he doesn’t know anything! And because “Forever my Lady” sounded nothing like the New Jack Swing era that was taking over R&B at the time, Andre chose to put another Jodeci single out, “Gotta Love.” And it flopped. Jodeci was at risk at not becoming the Jodeci we know today. So then Andre thought, I’m gonna listen to this kid and give him a chance. I’m gonna take his advice just the once. He put “Forever my Lady” out as their next single and the rest is history. From that point on everyone took DeVante seriously because they KNEW what they had on their hands was a truly gifted young man who was going to change R&B- and he did and he’ll forever be renowned for it.
What always fascinated me was this story I once heard from DeVante’s mother that just made me think this man’s astounding talent must have been gifts from God. When I was living with Dalvin, their mother actually came and lived with us for a while in Long Island. And she told me that when DeVante was a young boy, his parents being religious and his father being a Reverend prayed over DeVante’s hands that he’d be blessed with musical talent. And what was strange was that I had already noticed that Devante’s pinky finger and his ring finger on both hands were stuck permanently in the playing position- as in they don’t bend- his fingers just don’t bend! I mean I always knew they didn’t bend because he had to get his rings especially made for his fingers, because his rings just don’t slide on like normal. In fact, he had to get rings that clamped on instead because his hands were naturally just set up in perfect instrument playing position. But when I heard what his mother said, it just fascinated me- it just made the term “God-given talent” even more enlightening.
And what people don’t really know is that he was always that talented, from the time he was a child- way before Jodeci & Da Bassment. When DeVante’s dad would preach in the church, DeVante would always be the precursor to his father’s preaching and he’d come out and set his keyboards, saxophone, all his stuff up, and he’d play the music that preceded his father’s preaching and even then I have heard he was phenomenal. Man, I mean I can’t really give it justice just saying words of what he can do. But I can tell you there’s nothing he can’t do when it comes to music. And I can tell you with ease and conviction that the reason why it’s a common opinion that he’s a phenomenal producer/arranger/song-writer/musician is because he is.
NJS4E: So can you tell me what the vibe like when you first joined Da Bassment?
When I got in, it was at the turning point- when things were getting good again. I got in just when the other artists who’d been with DeVante for longer had gone from being quite unhappy to really happy and that’s because the tour was just about to materialize. We were all going to be the opening acts to Jodeci, so it was a big confidence booster that musically we were progressing. But prior to that tour the mood amongst the older bassment artists was very somber. But of course that tour lifted everyone spirits because it seemed as though everything that DeVante was developing them for was actually coming to pass. That’s why I believe I have a very unique perspective on what happened with Da Bassment situation, only because when I actually signed on, everything that was going on with Da Bassment was already full blown and in motion, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to become bitter or have a change in opinion about DeVante or the situation. The others had been with DeVante for a long time before I came along but for me personally, no sooner than I graduated from high school I was on a national tour with Da Bassment & Jodeci so I hadn’t yet witnessed or experienced the situation the other members had been in.
NJS4E: That tour must have been a great morale boost not to mention an amazing experience for all of you-sharing the stage with the biggest R&B and hip-hop acts of the time and you hadn’t yet secured deals yet?
Right! It was! That tour was the biggest tour in the US in ’95: Jodeci, Mary J, Bad Boy camp, Naughty by Nature, Luniz & Adina Howard. And we were supporting Jodeci who I kid you not were treated like gods on that tour. The fact we were running with them and because everyone had the utmost respect for those guys because they were golden- DeVante especially, we too were treated as highly important people. And it was our first performance so you can imagine how major that was. And what was fascinating was the first few dates when we performed, no one was really paying attention – they just wanted to see Jodeci. But then a quarter of the way through the tour, because we had created such a buzz and with DeVante plugging his groups the way he did, any given night we’d look up from the stage and people were not just acknowledging us but enjoying it and wearing Da Bassment t-shirts! It really was the start of something spectacular, and that was the point when connections with labels and executives started to fall into place. After that tour, once Da Bassment had created all that buzz, that was when DeVante started getting offered multi-million dollar deals for Da Bassment.
NJS4E: And that must have felt like a great achievement – finally DeVante & Da Bassment’s hard work was paying off?
Exactly. It was monumental and finally we were at the milestone we were all working towards. One thing I distinctly remember was that Motown was one of the labels that offered DeVante a multi-million dollar deal. Andre Harrell had moved from Uptown Records and just taken over at Motown and when we went to New York to visit him, he walked up to each of us and told us he thought we had something special and that he was really interested in us. He had that look in his eye. He knew that if we signed to him, we would make him the 20th century Berry Gordy. Because of course Berry Gordy did it with The Supremes, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye right on that same record label. He was really pushing for that deal with DeVante to take place, because that would have been his major contribution to the music industry, via DeVante, an old artist of his. We also met with Jimmy Iovine at Interscope Records and EMI Records. All three record labels offered us multi million dollar recording deals.