NJS4E: So what happened? Because as we all know, sadly Da Bassment never came out with an album or signed to a major label through DeVante in the end?
Right. You see, these labels were always only interested in a select group of us- they were always only interested in Playa, Ginuwine, Sugah, Me, Virginia & Timbaland as a producer. But there were more of us. I’d always tell DeVante, why don’t you get the ones they are interested in signed first and we can develop the others and feature them on our projects as well as Da Bassment’s project, before trying to get them signed again? But his mindset was fixed on signing everyone.
He had good intentions. He was doing the honorable and valiant thing because he did feel obligated and responsible to each and everyone in the camp. He wanted the best for everyone in Da Bassment and didn’t want to let anyone down. The thing is, you can’t expect labels to spend millions of dollars on artists they’re not interested in, and bearing in mind the deals were all set up to sign not only the solo albums with artists they were interested in but also a Bassment compilation album, which would have had the remaining members on anyway. I genuinely believe that had he explained the situation to the remaining artists, they would have understood and would have been on board with it for the greater good of the collective, despite not scoring a solo deal themselves. After all, we were a family unit. But DeVante wasn’t happy doing things that way and by being very much “it’s all or nothing” with the labels and playing the waiting game, he ended up creating a bidding war amongst the labels.
The idea was that we’d eventually go to the highest bidder. But the problem was he was taking too long to make the negotiations happen and the deals fell through. The problem that ensued was that while this was happening, everyone was increasingly getting tired of waiting for a deal. And that’s when everything started crumbling. I think what made things worse was during that bidding war, not only were we anxious but at the same time people in his camp like his manager Rob Reeves were starting to get anxious too, and because they were involved in the deals and knew people in the industry, they started underhandedly striking deals with different executives behind DeVante’s back. And of course because artists had been waiting so long for a deal, it was an offer too good to refuse. That’s how Ginuwine’s deal got established and why he was the first to leave Da Bassment.
NJS4E: And not Missy. There’s been misrepresentation in the media of Missy being the first to leave off her own accord?
DeVante sent Missy and her group home- she wasn’t the first one to leave. I think what it honestly boiled down to was the fact that DeVante thought he had a better shot from a marketing standpoint, at putting a successful record out with Sugah than he did with Sista. At that point Sista had already had a single, they’d already had a music video out, they had a record on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, they had a deal with Elektra at the time- so everything was already in motion, but the problem was they weren’t fitting as a group with the audience so despite all the buzz and a hot single “‘Brand Nu’,” their album sales weren’t doing well. Elektra started stalling any future Sista work and then the album got withdrawn and the group were dropped from the label. That really wasn’t DeVante’s fault because it was a label thing. In the end he had to make a call after seeing that it wasn’t working the way he had hoped. On top of all that, Missy is a phenomenal writer, a great arranger and a good singer but aside from her, only one of the other girls in Sista was a strong singer. Whereas the thing about Sugah was they were all solid singers and they hadn’t had a chance to come out yet. He had to think about it in strictly business terms and make the best decision he could commercially, based on all of that. So yeah, he sent her and her group home. A lot of people still don’t realize Missy didn’t actually leave the camp off her own accord.
NJS4E: Were you aware that was going to happen?
Nah, not at all. We used to have these regular meetings with DeVante – every Monday we’d be talking about the status of our projects and what needed to be done, that kind of thing. And there had been talk of changes that were going to be made for some time at those meetings. But no I never knew that he was dropping Sista. One day we all went along to the meeting and Sista were no longer there. That’s how we find out she wasn’t a part of Da Bassment anymore.
NJS4E: It all worked out in her favor though.
Yeah and she deserved it. I believe Missy reached out to Chad Elliott when DeVante sent them home. Chad was doing some stuff with Bad Boy & Rodney Jerkins at the time and that’s how Missy got the opportunity to get on some songs and do some song-writing.
In the end it was a blessing in a disguise what happened to her. I think it’s safe to say that some of the artists, particularly the ones that were songwriting and producing, kinda felt like they were in bondage and probably were looking for the first opportunity to come along for them to leave, but because things were materializing with DeVante and labels were offering us deals, no one really wanted to make that move because they had already invested so many years into what DeVante was doing. When DeVante let her go, she left Da Bassment with her solid craft, already knowing people in Elektra, having networked with other people in the industry. She had contacts and connections to make it happen another way. So it panned out just right for her- she did the Gina Thompson track, then the 702 track and then both her & Tim got pulled in to do the Aaliyah album.
NJS4E: So was that when Timberland, Magoo, and Ginuwine followed her out too?
Well yeah. Missy, Tim, and Magoo were very good friends from the same hometown. And you have to remember that the three of them and Ginuwine had been together as a part of Da Bassment longer than anybody else, so quite naturally once the door of opportunity opened for Missy, she was still plugged in to what Tim, Magoo & Ginuwine were doing. No sooner than her thing popped off, Tim and Magoo were silently establishing their progression musically with Missy. Like I said before, Ginuwine was pretty much doing the same thing but not directly with Missy. He was the first person to leave Da Bassment and Rob Reeves was silently establishing a connection with Sony/550 Music and negotiating a deal for Ginuwine, based on the song “Pony.” That record was penned by Static & arranged by Smokey & Black, who as you know were Playa. It was made in the basement, for Da Bassment and was supposed to be Ginuwine’s first single off the upcoming Da Bassment compilation album. Ginuwine obviously left and signed a deal with Sony/550, based on the song “Pony,” and soon after Tim and Magoo left. Tim was then pulled in to produce Ginuwine’s first album. All that stuff pretty much happened without DeVante being aware of it and from that point on DeVante just cut off any personal ties with them because the professional ones were severed in what he believed to be an unforgiveable manner.
NJS4E: And how about the remaining artists? Weren’t Playa the next to sign a deal without DeVante?
Well, we were all still there to begin with: me, Playa, Sugah, Boogie (Bazaar Royale), Mr Brendal & Reebok. Now Playa, hands down were one of the most talented and vocally strong groups I have ever encountered in all of my years of being a fan and a participant of the music industry. Needless to say but that is exactly what DeVante saw in them when he first met them, and that’s what he thought all the way to the end.
One of the last major labels that were still very interested in shooting big money at DeVante and giving him a deal was Def Jam. I think by that point he knew he’d never be able to get the original Bassment crew back and he also knew Playa had established some sort of connection with Def Jam and like the others had the option to leave and because Playa did consult DeVante about signing with Def Jam, I think DeVante did the right thing and orchestrated the deal on the condition that he’d play a major role in their career and creative direction. He managed to solidify a deal for Playa with Def Jam’s subsidiary, Def Soul, and decided to keep some sort of personal and professional relationship with them, so that things would run more smoothly than the other cases, by giving them what they want but at the same time assuming creative control. DeVante was also supposed to produce some of their solo project. But the thing of it is that once the agreement was made with Def Soul and it was becoming increasingly obvious to DeVante that he would play little or no part in their career or creative direction, that’s when everything turned sour and DeVante became unhappy about it.
Playa solidified their deal directly to Def Soul and not through DeVante. Timbaland was then pulled in to produce that first project.
NJS4E: And that’s how the collective broke apart from DeVante. There’s been a lot of talk about why the split actually happened. Some interviews with artists have claimed a falling out with DeVante. What’s your opinion on that and why the collective broke up the way it did?
It broke up over a number of reasons. People were feeling impatient and tired of waiting for something to happen with their music and as a result of that there was some resentment and disappointment towards DeVante. There were a few issues with DeVante himself. His demeanour towards people had changed in a negative manner and that impacted the relationships he had with most people. Then there were the music industry politics: the silent deals being made behind DeVante’s back, the alliances forged in the industry, and so forth. And finally the betrayal and disloyalty exhibited by some of the Bassment artists towards DeVante. There were a number of factors that featured heavily in the situation. I can’t say it was just the one thing or one person who was to blame and I equally don’t feel DeVante was solely to blame. With regards to him specifically, I’m not gonna say he was a saint. His character transformed into something that we didn’t recognize and he did do some questionable things to quite a few different members, though not to me personally. I think that damaged some relationships. At the same time though, he had a good heart and I do genuinely believe that he loved us and wanted the best for all of us. He had dedicated a lot of time, money and energy into the Bassment project and to each of the artists. I think he expected artists to be loyal to him so the way things happened, and the way it looked it seemed to him as if they turned their backs on him and signed with other people with little respect or gratitude to him for all that he done, I think that really hurt him.
NJS4E: There are always two sides to the story. It’s understandable why DeVante might have felt like that. The frustration and the feelings of the artists is also understandable considering what they may have been going through.
There are two sides and the two sides are equally relevant. DeVante did change and there were a few questionable incidents that happened. For some of the artists I think the bad outweighed the good, so the first time they got the chance to break out, they took it and didn’t look back. And they never looked back because the experience was too negative to ever consider returning to. But then at the same time, DeVante did do a lot for all of us. They wouldn’t have met the people they established their deals with, if it weren’t for him. They wouldn’t have been as developed to the degree that they were on their exit, without his tutelage and encouragement. We wouldn’t have known about the industry, up close and personal had it not been for our encounter and our relationship with him. And what people seem to forget is that DeVante didn’t HAVE to take on the responsibility of ANY artist. He could have very well just stayed focused on himself & Jodeci but he didn’t! He threw a large portion of his fortune behind the likes of myself, Missy, Tim, Ginuwine etc. He rented out loft apartments so we could live comfortably, he paid for us to have full access to the studio and he paid to promote us and develop us, so from his side it hurt him deeply when he experienced the betrayal and underhand moves taking place from the people he had expected the most from. He had taken us under his wing not for his own personal gain but because he believed in us and wanted us to excel, knowing that he helped bring that to life. So when I think of what he had to go through when Da Bassment was breaking apart and in a manner that it did -mostly behind his back and without his knowledge – I can also understand how he felt. This is what I mean about there being a number of reasons why Da Bassment split. This is also why I don’t blame any particular person for the split. Collectively we were all responsible.
NJS4E: How did he change?
He was more approachable, more reachable and more compassionate before but once he started making connections with Suge Knight and going in the Death Row direction, he started becoming a different person. And as Da Bassment started disbanding and once he started seeing the betrayal taking place within the Bassment family, I think that was a lot for him to deal with emotionally and mentally and he just became someone else completely. It wasn’t really DeVante.
NJS4E: You mention Suge Knight. It was rumored that he actually became DeVante & Jodeci’s manager at a time when DeVante was increasingly unhappy with the way Uptown Records was treating him & his band. From your knowledge, was this true?
I came in on the tail end of that situation with Uptown, when everything was looking sweet for DeVante & Jodeci. By the time I joined, I’m not sure if Suge was actually their manager as such, but Suge had already reached out to Uptown/MCA and let it be known he was in favor of DeVante & Jodeci and whatever they wanted to do. That ultimately meant Uptown couldn’t restrict DeVante in any way, in terms of the work he wanted to do, creative control over his group and Da Bassment, and that also meant a renegotiation of their contract in general. Suge let the label know he was standing behind DeVante and Jodeci 100%, supporting them and willing to put the muscle behind everything so they couldn’t be limited in any way. That was around the time when DeVante was entertaining the thought of leaving Uptown/MCA and signing with Interscope Records. It’s probably safe to say that The Show album was going to be the last album Jodeci did with MCA Records.
NJS4E: Do you think Suge wanted to sign DeVante, Jodeci & Da Bassment eventually to his own label, Death Row records?
Yeah that’s my understanding of it. Suge enlisted DeVante on a number of his projects on Death Row. He did a lot of production work for Suge. And you have to remember before Suge, aside from being the driving force behind Jodeci, DeVante was signed to Uptown Records as almost an independent artist himself- a producer on Uptown Records.
At that time Suge was running the most successful hip-hop label, with the biggest hip hop artists signed under him. I think he wanted Death Row to be the biggest R&B label too. I’m fairly sure he had plans for DeVante to join the Death Row roster as a producer and bring Jodeci and Da Bassment with him too.
NJS4E: Do you think it was his affiliation with Suge during that time that changed him?
Yeah, I think so. It definitely played a part. It’s not Suge’s fault and I don’t believe the blame lies on him by any means. He was just an influence because he was the mentor figure at that time. But I guess the situation is really no different to what happened with 2Pac. I think DeVante just had to grow up fast in the industry and deal with a lot because he was so highly sought after. In life you adapt and change depending on what you’re going through and who you have in your circle and that’s only natural. As with every human being in this world whose personality takes on different forms as they grow and experience both good and bad things, I think there were a few influences that brought about those changes in DeVante.
NJS4E: What do you think those were?
If I had one word to sum it up it would be the word hype. DeVante got caught up in the music industry hype and he like all young stars let that very same industry tell him who he was and dictate what his identity should be, based on his value as a producer and a songwriter- not his value as a person, primarily. You have to remember he was very young when he first came out and where he’d come from prior to that was a very strict, conservative background. Almost overnight he went from obscurity to superstardom. That’s so much so fast at an age when he had not yet had the chance nor had the time to figure out who he was or what his true identity was, so like anyone would do in his shoes, he let the industry decide for him and he trusted that very same industry. He was Donald Degrate and then suddenly at 17/18 he was DeVante Swing, not Donald Degrate. But DeVante Swing is not a real person. It’s an alter-ego identity for him as a producer.
And that was the endless rollercoaster he got on when he was in his teens – the success and the money was just rolling in, he was a workaholic producing here, there and everywhere for everyone credible. I mean he was a genius! He had Jodeci to maintain, Da Bassment to develop which in itself was a huge financial responsibility, he had his God-given talents, he had ladies chasing him, men wanting to be him, labels wanting to hire him – everyone vying for his attention. I don’t think DeVante ever wanted that kind of limelight though. I mean DeVante actually is a very private person and a homebody and it was always just about the music for him but because of the success and the royalty-like status he had to maintain, the rest came: the pressure and the dark side of the industry. And that’s a lot for a young man to carry on his shoulders when he is still growing as a person. I don’t think he was good at detecting who really had his best interests at heart as opposed to who had ulterior motives and were just interested in him for what he could do for them. And over time, naturally, when he saw the dark side of the industry, he changed to adapt to that, and stopped thinking with the same innocent mind and the same innocent spirit as when he first came on the scene. That’s why I say him changing is not the only reason and why I still maintain the split wasn’t his fault, just as much as it wasn’t anyone else’s.
NJS4E: So what was the atmosphere like after Ginuwine, Timbaland, Magoo and Playa had left? That must have been quite sad to accept for all of you, DeVante included.
Yeah. We were all together everyday for a number of years and we’d forged close friendships during that time. To suddenly get accustomed to certain members not being around and not being a part of the movement was strange to adapt to, and it was sad because we were missing members of a family. After Playa left the remaining people were myself, Mr Brendal, Sugah, Bazaar Royale & Reebok.
The atmosphere I wouldn’t say was damaged fully or not working properly because there were still so much talent left and we were still working on the music in the same way as before. It was just eerie, like something was missing and although we did notice it, nobody talked about it because of the way DeVante handled it – it was as if nothing had happened at all. And I think that’s what made it even stranger, because not only did we notice they were gone and no one’s talking about it, but we’re hearing them in heavy rotation in the radio and seeing them in heavy rotation on TV and almost having to pretend we haven’t seen or heard anything. But while we’re doing that we’re also fully aware that not only are they gone- but they’re actually doing what it is we all signed on to do together – and the music was the same kind of music from Da Bassment.
Personally it was bittersweet for me. Bitter because I felt that it should have been all of us doing it together as a family, because that’s what we were working toward before, but it was also sweet because I knew what they had gone through to get there and I was happy that it was really happening for them. All of them: Tim, Missy, Ginuwine, Playa. I really loved that they were doing what they were born to do. That their talents were being recognised and they were blowin’ up the way they deserved to. Tim put that Bassment beat on the map. And even though it wasn’t owned by Da Bassment collectively anymore, I was proud of them.