Interview: The “Ego Maniac” Mr. Dalvin Knows He & Jodeci Are Still in High Demand
There’s no denying the impact that Jodeci has had on R&B. Besides their classic hits such as the timeless “Forever My Lady”, their style and sound has single-handedly influenced and paved the way for groups like Jagged Edge and Dru Hill. There’s also no doubt that Jodeci is more than just a group now, it’s a brand which is why to this day, Jodeci is still being talked about and many music listeners are still hoping for new material by them. Now, after being away from the music industry for almost 17 years, Jodeci is set to make their comeback both individually and collectively. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with Mr. Dalvin to talk about his upcoming solo project “Ego Maniac”, the return of Jodeci and the “Jodeci” brand. Dalvin also reflects some of Jodeci’s past projects which include his production company “Clownin’ Records” and Devante’s “Swing Mob” label.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you’re currently working on a solo project. Talk to me about that.
Dalvin DeGrate: Me and my nephew who is Devante’s son, we went in the studio and I just had an idea on how to change R&B and bring it actually back from the stuff that’s going on around. We were just in the studio and recorded a bunch of songs and I picked the best 9 songs that I did. We’ve been doing shows like with Bow Wow and Lil Kim. We’re just getting started off the ground.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When can we expect your project to drop?
Dalvin DeGrate: Hopefully no later than August. The album is done, it’s called “Ego Maniac”. The album is incredible.
YouKnowIGotSoul: This is your second that you’ve put out. The first one came out in 2000, so how did you know now was the right time to put out another one?
Dalvin DeGrate: The thing is that I’m a really creative person. On the first album, I was signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records. Madonna is a really good friend of mine, but I didn’t really have the creative control that I wanted. I kind of went with it because it was my first endeavor of trying to do something on my own, so this one I had 100% creative control. This one I feel more comfortable. Like even when I perform the album and the songs on the album, I feel more comfortable because it’s my creativity, so it’s a lot better for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: After being with Jodeci for so long, did you ever see yourself being a solo artist?
Dalvin DeGrate: Well growing up, I always wanted to be a solo artist, but I love my group. That’s my foundation and my base. I was with JoJo last night and he’s excited for me. K-Ci is excited for me and Devante is excited for me. Right now, I just feel like this is where I wanted it to be growing up as a kid. I never wanted to be in the shadow of nobody else and now I feel like I’m prepared to do what I got to do as far as a solo artist.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I wanted to take it back to Jodeci’s last album “The Show, the After Party, the Hotel”. My favorite song off that album was “Can We Flo?” Can you give me some background on that song?
Dalvin DeGrate: Well actually, it’s funny that you ask that because most of the songs on the album weren’t supposed to be on the album. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the album. That was like a song that we did in the studio one night and we were just working and writing. We wrote so many songs and a lot of the songs that we thought would be songs that would make the album and they didn’t. We recorded so many for that album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I wanted to talk about Jodeci now. We’ve heard reports that you guys have been working on album, but nothing has really come out since that last album. What’s the status of Jodeci and the new album?
Dalvin DeGrate: As far as the new album, Devante has a project coming out. He’s doing a solo album which is really incredible. I have a project coming out which is really incredible, it’s called “Ego Maniac”. K-Ci & JoJo are on tour right now, so I think that we’ll probably go on tour first because we haven’t toured the States since like ’96, so we’re probably going to tour the States and then everybody is going to come back together and put out that album. We’ve got like 200 songs recorded already, we got so many songs recorded so we’re probably going to go through them and put an album together. We got hot songs that we never released or nobody ever heard. Everybody think we broke up, but we never broke up. Everything is just doing their own thing right now. Man, everybody thinks that we just broke up and we don’t even speak and no one even talks or nothing, but it’s nothing like that. We’re family and people don’t understand that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Something that I found crazy is that right after the last Jodeci album, we didn’t hear too much from you guys producing for other artists. There’s been some speculation that you guys have been ghost producing throughout the years. Can you talk about that?
Dalvin DeGrate: It wasn’t really ghost production, but I just started writing and producing for a lot of people. I worked with Mariah Carey, Wu-Tang Clan and 2pac, who was one of my beloved friends. I worked with Mary J. Blige. I worked with a lot of people, we stayed busy. And between times, I still worked with Jodeci. Like me, K-ci, JoJo and Devante were in the studio and recorded every night, but everybody thought we had broken up. We were just recording songs and ideas, so it’s never like we just stopped working. We just kept working and being creative as far as artists. Then we went to London, we toured Europe and sold out every night. We sold out Wembley Stadium, it was 18,000 people a night. We went to Amsterdam and sold out. We went to Birmingham and Germany. We were working, we never stopped working together or nothing. Even when K-Ci & JoJo went out, sometimes I would show up at their show and make an appearance on stage. Devante would show up and make an appearance on stage, so people had the perception that we just broke up and we don’t even talk, but it’s nothing like that. We’re still tight and a family.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the sound of Jodeci because like I said, we haven’t really heard too much from you guys since 95. How has your sound evolved from the last album? I would say the sound Timbaland and Missy Elliott came out with was an extension of Jodeci, but what’s the sound of Jodeci now?
Dalvin DeGrate: Jodeci is different from my sound as far as a solo artist, but as far as Jodeci, we go through hundreds and thousands of sounds and we create things that people wouldn’t usually do or usually write. That’s what made Jodeci different from any other R&B group. I mean the sound of Jodeci now, it’s still current and it’s still old school where we left off at. It’s going to be the sound that people are going to recognize when they hear it and say “That’s Jodeci!” You got groups like Dru Hill that come out and try to duplicate that sound, but it’s not the same thing. Missy and Timbaland and all of them came from our camp and they can’t even duplicate the sounds that we do. The Jodeci sound, once you hear a new record that we drop, you’re going to know it’s us whether it’s me, Jodeci, K-Ci & JoJo, Devante, you’re going to know it’s a Jodeci record because of the sound.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s probably hard for you to say right now, but when do you expect a Jodeci album to come out right now?
Dalvin DeGrate: I don’t even want to promise you nothing, but I would say probably near the end of the year.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Would you guys be releasing that album independently or with a label?
Dalvin DeGrate: Well we’re still signed to Interscope/Universal. I can’t promise you a date though, so don’t quote me on that, but If I were to guess, it would probably be the end of the year.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You mentioned earlier that Timbaland, Missy and everyone else came your camp. I know back in the 90’s, you had your own label “Clownin’ Records” and you had the producer Stevie J. There was so much talent coming out of one camp, what was the hardest thing about running a label?
Dalvin DeGrate: I see you did your homework, that’s pretty cool. *Laughs* “Clownin’” was actually a production company and I had Stevie J and a bunch of groups from my label. When the music business started to change, everything started to change and people don’t understand that. When Jodeci came out, we went out to New York and we had to struggle for a long time before Jodeci even came out. People don’t know that, they thought we just came out overnight, but we didn’t. We sat in New York in the projects for almost 3 years. Sometimes people don’t understand that, so it gets a little confusing to people because they’re like “You’re Jodeci, you can do this, you can do that!” Plus nowadays, the music industry is so different but you still work hard, you never stop working because talent at the end of the day always paves the way. A lot of artists don’t understand that, they just want to be overnight and want overnight success, it’s just different.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s been 17 years since the last Jodeci album. Are there any regrets with waiting so long to put out another record?
Dalvin DeGrate: Well, have you ever heard of Da Bassment? It was Static, Playa, Timbaland, Missy Elliott and everything. You go through these changes and everybody expects you to fix everything for them. As far as the Jodeci not coming out, it was a little difficult because K-Ci & JoJo went off and had success on their own. It’s like The Eagles when Don Henley went off and did his own thing. You look at Kiss and Gene Simmons went off to do his own thing. Everything goes a full circle, so when it comes back around, you just make it work. That’s all you do. We have a brand that’s been there and everybody knows what our brand is. So Jodeci is a brand, it’s bigger than us as individuals and as a group. Jodeci is a brand, just like Kiss and The Eagles. It’s bigger than us, so it’s always going to be there. The Eagles didn’t even speak for 40 years and they go out and make 200 million, that’s what they do. That’s what Kiss does and that’s what it is. We can tour off our songs because we made classic hit songs. That’s just what we are right now. As far as the new material, we’ll release new material, but everyone wants to hear “Forever My Lady”, “Stay”, “Come & Talk To Me”, “Cry For You” and “Freek’n You”. Everyone wants to hear those songs, so that’s what we do. I was listening to Prince talk one time and he said he would never sing “Purple Rain” again and everybody was like “You’ll never sing Purple Rain again? You are Purple Rain!” I went to see his concert and hung out with him and he had to sing “Purple Rain” because that’s what everybody wanted to hear, that’s why we came to him! But that’s Prince, that’s just what that is.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Speaking of Static, we’re huge fans of his writing and singing, so talk to me about what it was like working with him.
Dalvin DeGrate: You ever heard of the song we did on “Dangerous Minds”? We did a song together, we were rapping. Static isn’t a rapper and I’m not really a rapper.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The song “True O.G.” right?
Dalvin DeGrate: Yeah, exactly. A lady in charge of the soundtrack picked it out for a cassette. Me and Static were just playing one night in the studio and when she came to the studio to meet Devante because he kind of put the whole soundtrack together, she heard the song and was like “I want this song on the soundtrack!” But it wasn’t even finished, it was just me and Static playing around in the studio. She heard it and she came in the studio, we were just rapping and she was like “I want this song!” I gave her the cassette and was like “You can have it. Do whatever you want to do with it.” We never mixed it or anything, she took it and next thing I know it was on the soundtrack. She just took the cassette and put it on the soundtrack.
YouKnowIGotSoul: With you guys being gone for so long, have you found that you guys have had to listen to the radio and keep up with what’s going on or have you guys been doing your own thing?
Dalvin DeGrate: You know we try to set trends, we’re on our own mission and do what we do. We don’t sit there listening to the radio like “Oh this is hot, let’s make a beat like this.” We’ve never been like, that’s what sets us apart from everybody else. That’s what makes Jodeci different, we’ve never done that. We’re a self contained group as far as production, writing, singing, performing and the way we dress. We set trends and everybody else tries to follow us. It’s like once you get to that point where you have to start following trends, that’s when I feel like you lose your creativity as far as being a self contained group or even being a group that’s paved the way for a lot of groups. You can’t follow trends because you fall in that category. We’re not in that category, Jodeci is the “Bad Boys of R&B”, that’s what we’re always going to be. Dalvin is one of the Bad Boys from the biggest R&B group in history, so I don’t follow trends. I don’t listen to radio, I don’t listen to Usher. These are all my competitors, but I don’t listen to them. I just do what I do and that’s the best way I can. I don’t follow trends, but I mean I respect all these artists. I love their music, but I don’t follow the trends.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You mentioned Da Bassment earlier and of course, each member ended up having a lot of commercial success from Ginuwine to Missy Elliott to Timbaland. Did you expect that to happen when you first signed these artists?
Dalvin DeGrate: That’s the reason Devante recruited these artists. They were all talented in their own right. It wasn’t like they didn’t have any talent. Devante recognized the talent and I recognized the talent. I worked with everybody in Da Bassment. Even being in the studio long nights, we worked together and I recognized the talent and I knew why he handpicked all these people. As far as that, I saw Missy Elliott and I knew that she was talented. Not the most attractive person, but I knew she was talented. We just knew how to pick talent. Even when I saw Stevie J, he was playing a broke down piano at a wedding. I went to a wedding in Rochester when we were working on the last album and I saw him playing the piano. The piano was out of key and it was out of tune, and I was like “Man this dude got something!” I remember I went to talk to him, he introduced himself and I was like “Stevie J!” and I even named him Stevie J, his name is Steven Jordan. I was like “Man you got something. Why don’t you come to the studio?” and from then on, me and him were tight. We were inseparable. We still talk and he went out with P. Diddy and everybody else. First he went on tour with us then he went with P. Diddy and everybody. He worked on Biggie’s album and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. I recognize talent when I see it and my brother does too.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You guys have been on tour overseas for a while now and it’s interesting because you guys have been selling out every show. How do you explain that?
Dalvin DeGrate: I think that overseas, they don’t get to see America’s artists a lot so the fans stay loyal to the artists because they don’t get to see us a lot. So whoever they choose to listen to and be fans for, they stay loyal. It’s a different story in America because there are so many artists over here and it’s really like they just flip flop, but people love Jodeci. You create a brand and people are going to love you for who you are regardless of who it is or what it is. I see a lot of my friends that’s entertainers and artists and they can’t sell out a club. Jodeci is a household name and everybody tells me all the time “Man, I had a baby off Jodeci,” and I hear people who say “I named my baby Dalvin or I named my baby Devante.” It’s not really the same loyalty because it’s like you go to the same grocery store everyday and you always get the same meat. It’s nothing exciting, but if you go overseas and they don’t get to see you or hear you like that, they only get to read the tabloids and look at the newspapers to see what you’re doing. When you come there, it’s a big thing because they don’t get that pleasure of seeing you all the time. They don’t get to see you walking down the street or get to see you going shopping or in Hollywood or wherever. When you go there, they appreciate seeing you. It’s such a different story, it’s just a different thing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When someone says “Jodeci” even now, it just has a special feeling to it. Did you guys ever see that happening back in the day where even now, people are still talking about Jodeci?
Dalvin DeGrate: I mean, when you’re a kid, we all used to do Gospel music. When we first started Jodeci, we never even imagined that it would explode the way it did. We never imagined that. We were just doing music because that’s what we do. It’s like working at McDonalds and you make the best hamburger and then all of a sudden, you’re the best hamburger maker. You never expect that, that’s what I do at home. I make hamburger meat at home, that’s what we do. You never expect that, but when it happens, it exploded out of nowhere. You just ride the wave and all of a sudden, that’s who you are. I’m part of this group that is the biggest selling R&B group of all time. We sold more albums than The Temptations. You don’t expect that because we look up to these people. You don’t expect that, so when it happens, you just have to learn how to deal with it. It’s bumps and bruises on the road all the time, but you just learn how to deal with it. You learn how to deal with it and try to stay sane. When everybody is screaming your name and you can go to a festival with 80,000 people and they’re screaming and yelling, it’s a little surreal but it feels good because they respect and love what you’ve done. To us, it’s just another day. *Laughs* But you love that feeling though. I can say that for any entertainer that’s ever sold 100 records in their life. You don’t expect it because that’s what you do. That’s your life and when it happens for you, it’s like “Man, this is surreal.” You never expect it though, we’re just making songs. Most of the songs we made for Jodeci were for our girlfriends. “Come & Talk to Me” was made for Devante’s girlfriend. He wrote it for a girl who went to the army and that was one of our biggest songs. She had the original demo tape! You never expect that and you never know how to react to it, you just try to go with it and see what it does. We sold out arenas and stadiums, and that’s just what we do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You guys had talent like Stevie J and the whole Bassment clique. I noticed around the mid 2000’s, Devante had Flo Rida and Keyshia Cole at a time. Just talk about that and are you still developing talent right now?
Dalvin DeGrate: Well right now, my main focus is on my solo album. I just worked with another artist that’s on the Carter Management, her name is Autumn. I’ve worked with her and I’m about to work with another artist, his name is Caleb. We’re going to do that and we’re still developing talent all the time, that’s all we do. We never stop. As we speak, I’m sitting in the studio right now working on something. Cee-Lo has an artist and me and my nephew are working on her project right now. I just wrote 7 songs for Autumn, she’s coming out. We constantly work, we work until the sun comes out. Our sleeping schedule is so off, but we work all the time. We just work, that’s what we do. That’s the main thing we do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Hypothetically speaking, let’s say that “The Show, the After Party, the Hotel” was the last album that Jodeci put out, would you be comfortable leaving like that?
Dalvin DeGrate: Good question, great question. I’m going to tell you like this, now you got people that are pushed out of the industry and you got people that are wanted in the industry. I’m going to tell you that Jodeci is wanted in the industry. I think that Jodeci is very necessary. All of us individually and collectively, we are necessary and I’m going to leave it like that.
Make sure you follow Dalvin on Twitter @MrDalvin.