Interview: LaShawn Shellman: From DeVante Swing’s Bassment to being Missy Elliott’s “Sista” and Beyond
The success of artists who worked under the tutelage of Devante Swing during the mid 90’s has been well documented. Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, Timbaland, Tweet along with the R&B group Playa all got their start from Devante and each eventually ended up having commercial success years later when they had an opportunity to come out with their music. However, as some may already know, they were not the only musicians that came out of Devante’s “Bassment” crew. There have been a handful of others who never got the chance to showcase their talents to the world. YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to talk with LaShawn from the R&B group Sista (which Missy Elliott was also a part of) about her experience in Da Bassment, life after Jodeci and her upcoming music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: As part of Sista, how were you originally discovered by Devante?
LaShawn Shellman: Well basically Timbaland discovered me at the Hampton Coliseum in Virgina. I was a solo act and Sista had like lost a member or something and I was singing before Mary J. Blige, TLC and Bobby Brown at a concert. The show was delayed so they called some girls up on stage and I think I had just arrived, I thought I had just missed the opening part of the show, but I guess I was right on time. All my friends had pushed me up on stage, so I sang a song and had a standing ovation. Timbaland happened to be in the crowd and after the show, we kind of crossed paths at the McDonalds outside of Hampton Coliseum. He asked me if I was the girl singing and I was like “Yes” and he was like “Well I work with Sista which is Jodeci’s girl group. Would you be interested in joining the group?” That’s how I came about with Sista.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to Sista’s debut album, what do you remember about recording that album?
LaShawn Shellman: The process was very interesting. You know how when you first get a record deal, you do it for the love of it and then it becomes a job like the pressure and meeting the deadlines. We had a lot of fun. We recorded the album in our apartment in Newark, New Jersey and then we went to Maryland and laid it down in the studio when Devante had rented out a little spot down there. We worked with Ginuwine, Playa and Sista so we knocked it out pretty quick. We were just trying to get the work done. It was exciting and new. We were ready and young. It was a really good experience.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You guys had the single “Brand New” but unfortunately the album didn’t get a chance to come out. Why do you feel the album never got a chance to come out?
LaShawn Shellman: Basically it wasn’t because of any ends on our part. It was because Jodeci was having that little spat amongst themselves. As we were doing our promotional tour, they were doing their tour so when their plans fell through, ours fell through too because we were about to do the Dangerous Minds soundtrack and we had just recorded a song with Craig Mack. It was collaboration with Bad Boy and plans just fell through. Jodeci broke up and the whole camp really broke up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me through a day in the life of Da Bassment.
LaShawn Shellman: We all sat around, we sang and we were young. Everybody was talented, it was nothing but singing going on around there. I remember Static from Playa, he used to whistle tunes and other members of Da Bassment would join in with harmonies. It was just fun, we had a good time and it was a good atmosphere. To be honest, there were some bad memories but overall to me, it was very good memories. I can remember when the rollerblades first came out and we were all trying to get in the shape. We would get up at 5 in the morning and meet at the park. We’d go rollerblading and playing basketball. I always used to always beat Dalvin in basketball. *Laughs* We had fun, it was really fun for us. We were young and away from home and just doing what we loved to do which is sing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know Sista was one of the earlier acts, so did it ever make you feel a certain way that while you guys were signed to Devante, he continued to add different members to Da Bassment?
LaShawn Shellman: To me, it didn’t bother me in the beginning because I just felt like he was sharing his musical genius with the world and he had an idea of what he wanted his company to be, but it kind of took the focus off of us. The focus was there, we were the first group released off Da Bassment crew, but the attention that was supposed to be put on us wasn’t always there because his attention was spread out so much. It was like “Okay we’re doing Sista’s project but we have to squeeze Ginuwine somewhere.” It was always other people, but I loved it because it was family-oriented. Business-wise, it could have been handled different but I think he had something good, it just didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Speaking of Static, we’re actually huge fans of his writing. Can you talk to me about what it was like working with Static?
LaShawn Shellman: He was like my little brother. They were from Kentucky. We were a little older than they were. Static was cool, he used to come up to the apartment and just write songs and harmonize. He was a good soul, he always had a smile on his face. We used to just sit around, sing, harmonize and just have fun. We would just dream that our music would be shown to the world.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the end of Da Bassment for Sista.
LaShawn Shellman: We were young and we had put blood, sweat and tears into our projects. We just got discouraged at the end basically. We all had our own lives before Da Bassment and Jodeci. Some of us stayed back in New York, Missy stayed back doing little things. I went to certain projects with her with Aaliyah, we were on the “If Your Girl Only Knew” video set, I was going to be in that. We tried to do different things and things just didn’t work out. I had kids, I was young. I was the only one with kids, so I decided to come home. Things just didn’t work out, we just got discouraged.
YouKnowIGotSoul: After Da Bassment, were you guys still a group or did you guys break up?
LaShawn Shellman: From when we first broke up, we made a pact that Sista would always be forever. If one got put on, the other would get put on. I could remember going into the record label. Sheryl Konigsberg, she was a lady working with Jodeci at the time, she was like “Stuff is about to hit the fan. A lot is about to go on. I think you should do a solo project.” She took me to a record company and snuck me into a meeting with Busta Rhymes’ people and Salt-n-Pepa and I actually turned that record deal down because they didn’t want Sista on board. I felt like Sista made a pact that if one got put on, we all got put on and I didn’t feel comfortable taking the deal. At that point, we were a group but at another point, Missy ended up taking hers. She already had writing credibility with different artists, so that’s when the group started shying away from one another because our intentions were in different scenarios. I was kind of upset because I turned down my solo deal, but it is what it is. At the time, we were a group when we first broke apart but other things happened. People started going different directions.
YouKnowIGotSoul: During that time period, were you still trying to pursue a music career?
LaShawn Shellman: When I left New York, I left Puffy’s studio Daddy’s house, I was doing some work out there. I just came home and tried to regroup. I got my kids and raised them, but I was still doing music. Missy used to call me all the time like “Hey LaShawn, I just signed Tweet to a record deal” and “Guess what? I just signed Nicole Wray to a record deal.” But for me, it was like “Okay great, but what about your group?” It was never any type of collaboration with Sista. I started doing solo projects. I’ve done mad underground music. I’ve got a lot of music, my kids do music. I still do music and a lot of people invite me to ghost write on their stuff and I give pointers and I try to teach what I’ve learned in the business. I still do music to this day. I just released a song on YouTube, it’s a dedication to Sista, Jodeci and Da Bassment crew. It’s basically a song saying that it’s me again and it’s basically me stating how some time has passed and I would love to see them, it’s just a song dedicated to them.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It seems now you’re really trying to push forward with that music dream again. Why do you feel like now is the right time?
LaShawn Shellman: I always thought Da Bassment crew was premature. If you’ve noticed a lot of the things Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Ginuwine and Playa do, our music still lives on. It’s almost as if we were before our time. My kids are in music now. I have a 22 and a 21 year old who are pursuing their music career, so I try to guide them in the right direction. I’ve been doing music for all these years and people are like “Why aren’t you trying to get a record deal?” Well, I really don’t want to be an artist, I just want to be a ghostwriter. I just want people to hear my music and lyrics because I felt like I never had the chance to show the world LaShawn before Sista. I have that love of music and I just love music and that’s what I do. If it wasn’t for music, I wouldn’t be LaShawn. I tried to put it on hold and forget about it, but people still love my music. I still got the ability and talent God gave me, so why not push it? It’s not really for me, it’s for my fans because those are the ones that keep asking me “When can we hear something from you?” I basically released that song on YouTube for my fans because they hit me up on Facebook all the time. That’s basically why I’m doing it now because the love is still there, I still got a little fan base and I really think my music is good and the world should hear it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: To this day a lot of people still talk about Da Bassment even though none of the music you guys made actually was released. How do you kind of explain that?
LaShawn Shellman: I just think we had something. Devante saw it a long time ago and we still have talent. The business to me nowadays is all about who you know. The talent is there, but it’s not real singing. The people who have heard our music even though it was underground, they could feel it. Whatever we did, it came from the soul. It wasn’t those Hip Hop or Rap beats, it was singing. I think we left an impression on the world and I just want to give a little back to those who are still supporting me, Sista, Jodeci and Da Bassment movement. I thought I was forgotten about until Facebook came about. Facebook networking is amazing because it has connected me with fans and people from Da Bassment crew. That’s basically where I’m hearing that they’re still interested in Da Bassment crew.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I believe you were trying to get something done for a book. Talk about that if you can.
LaShawn Shellman: I really don’t want to put too much out there, but I’m in the process of writing a book about my life. I dated K-Ci, we have a 13 year old son together. He was premiered on the K-Ci & JoJo show. It’s a lot of history behind my life that people still ask me about. I basically get tired of repeating those questions over and over, so I’m just going to give them a little insight about my life and what I experienced. It wasn’t just Missy or Ginuwine or Timbaland, it was Da Bassment. There were more members of the group. They’re only hearing Missy’s side and how she felt, it was 4 girls and I’m trying to inspire Radiah and Chonita to speak out also. We were not just pretty faces and I read in magazines and I’ve heard interviews that we were basically referred to as pretty faces. I was the lead singer, I was the one who did all the leads on the stage. Basically, it’s just to get my voice heard for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Speaking of Devante, there have been a lot of different opinions about him and how he handled Da Bassment. Looking back at it now, how do you think Devante handled everything?
LaShawn Shellman: I’ve always been the one who has been on his side because Devante was a genius. If it wasn’t for Devante, a lot of people may not have got their chances to even be a part of Da Bassment. Devante had his ways, he was very stern and strict, but he had a vision. We were a part of that vision and that respect has always been there musically. He could have handled certain situations differently, but he had a lot of lives in his hands, he had a lot of people looking up to him and depending on him. I think he did a good job, but the Jodeci thing kind of deterred him. He tried to handle so many careers and situations, he just got sidetracked. I don’t fault him, I don’t blame him or hate him. I still chat with him to this day. He always told me “You’re going to be okay because you have talent.” I love Devante to this day. Nobody is perfect.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
LaShawn Shellman: I just want all our fans to know that we enjoyed being Sista, I wish it could have lasted longer. I wish things could have ended differently. I still got love for Da Bassment, it was the best part of my life.