Jodeci’s rise and fall played out as another rags to riches tales we’ve heard many times within music . This was a group that had it all; The money, the fame, gorgeous women platinum records only to lose it all. Jodeci’s story played out like a tragic Behind the Music special with them attempting to rise again and I felt that it should be told with the corded truth.
Many media publications wouldn’t give Jodeci their fair share of credit for some odd ball reason, Their story should be shared throughout because you can learn from it. With this blog/write up here, I’m gonna go in full in-depth behind what possibly could have caused the downfall of one of R&B premier groups of the 90s.
The Beginning of Jodeci
Jodeci came together as a group in the early 1990s emerging out of Charlotte N.C.. The group members consisted of brothers Kci and JoJo Haley, Devante Swing(whom was looking for work as a producer) and Dalvin Degrate. What come across as a surprise to many whom are familiar with Jodeci’s raunchy material is that these four inspiring singers started off as Gospel singers for Pentecostal Church in Charlotte NC. They originally pursued the Gospel route. They released Gospel songs and albums as Little Cedric and the Haley Singers. Dalvin’s Father was a minister so there was always a mutual interest of pursuing music. Devante left Charlotte N.C. at the age of 16 for Minneapolis Minnesota in hope to work for Prince(whom was his idol). Prince turned him down and it hurt his feelings for little bit. But it didn’t stop his ambition as he returned to Charlotte to revamp his craft. JoJo recorded a song with him which brought along Kci and Dalvin shortly thus forming the group Jodeci was born and the four started on their journey for success.
Signing with Uptown and recording Forever My lady.
The group knew that in order to find success, They had to go outside of North Carolina. New York was where opportunities were endless and their best chance of getting signed to a label. The Group took their 29 recorded demo songs and took a grueling drove up to New York City to shop label deals. Things didn’t turn out as planned because they were rejected by almost every label executive. They had recorded the album over and over and tried submitting them to no avail. This wasn’t until Sean Combs(now known as Puff Daddy) start giving them guidance on song direction and took the talented trio under his wing. This was Puff’s first opportunity to really make it big and he saw a serious diamonds in the ruff.
Puffy was the type of A&R that the group needed, He was hungry, he was aggressive, and he knew Jodeci had superstar potential, He started by pushing for the release of Gotta Love and was facing the risk of being terminated by Andre Harell if the video and song didn’t take off. Puffy took a 100% control of the direction of the single, If it wasn’t dancing in the rain, directing the video himself or even shooting a side video for Stay which would be the group’s potential next single.
The interesting aspect about the creative process of the single Forever My Lady was that it wasn’t even supposed to have been even a single. It was actually a interlude which transformed into a song. The Controversy about the song at the time was the opening line of Forever My lady where Kci sung “You’re having my baby ” which drew concern because they were pretty much teenagers at the time. Written by Al B Sure! Kci felt uncomfortable in singing it and Devante resented it but it made sense business wise to go with it and it became the smash hit the group needed.
Stay was another interesting single because it wasn’t even a Jodeci song.It was a song written for AL B Sure! But he didn’t want it so Devante changed the whole entire sound of the track around and added the rest of the group on the re-arranged track. Al B Sure! also has a version titled Stay on his 2nd album but He also wanted to keep the track Touch You so it wouldn’t be no confusion amongst the releases. Come and Talk to Me and the I’m Still Waiting Remix were more sexually charged and officially crossed the group over into the mainstream. Both of the songs reached #1 on the Billboard which followed sensuous remixes. These two songs were what made Jodeci certified sex symbols and officially put the trio from Charlotte North Carolina on the map.
DIARY OF A MAD BAND
Jodeci started working on their second album titled Diary of a Mad Band after the success of Forever My Lady started to wane and it grew more anticipation. Devante started to become more of a hermit in the studio as the pressure to excel expectations grew much bigger than their previous. He knew the group needed new sounds and new creative energy so he recruited future superstars whom were then unknowns Missy Elliott, Timbaland for direction. From January 1993 to August 1993 The camp worked extremely hard at creating Diary of a Mad Band. Resulting in close to 96 tracks. 20 of them were keyboards and another 20 of them were background vocals so that was really most of Jodeci’s sound, keyboards, background vocals and really loud drums.
The direction of Diary of a Mad Band was more experimentation. The up-beat New Jack Swing sound of Al B Sure! was obsolete and more replaced with updated hip hop like sounds(As you can hear on the track You Got it With Redman) and Wont Waste You) The Group also found that perfect balance of balancing sexual grooves with Grown and Sexy Love Ballads which showed the group’s sensitive side as well. The Tracks such as Cry 4 U, My Heart Belongs to You, and What About Us were sultry enough for audiences whom loved Neo Soul and the more clean cut R&B styles.
They also knew how to push their image of being R&B Bad Boys with sexualized songs such as Feelin, Ride and Slide, and Sweaty. Diary of a Mad Band became Devante Swing’s blueprint as a producer and really certified him as a official Musical Genius or as Prince Charles Alexander(The groups Audio mixer, engineer, and studio musician for the album) would say, A “Charlie Parker” in the making.
Diary of a Mad Band would be critically acclaimed as Jodeci’s best overall album to date. The Group dodged the sophomore jinx and sold even more copies than their debut with 2 million sold all across the U.S. and Worldwide. The album’s singles Feelin and Cry for You would become instant classics which made Jodeci’s stock sky rocket. Devante Swing started to become the go to guy for work next to Dr Dre and Teddy Riley during that time period as well. Producing for acts such as Usher, Changing Faces, Al Green, Tha Dogg Pound, H-Town, Tony Thompson and the late Tupac Shakur.
Drunk in Success
With two smash hit albums under the group’s resume within a 2 year span. The Crossover notoriety became new to the band and they were exposed to a different lifestyle that was totally the polar opposite from their upbringing: Gorgeous Women, lavish cars, homes, millions of dollars in their bank accounts, The Group was finally living the dream that they have sacrificed and worked hard to achieve. But what they would soon find out is that with the success comes a heavy price to pay.
With the success of Diary of a Mad Band came controversy. Kci formed a intimate relationship with fellow star singstress Mary J Blige and while they sound great on record together(Their chemistry was amazing). It was the polar opposite of what they were presenting to the public. Constant Drinking, Drugs, KCi’s affairs with different women along with rumors of alleged abuse from both sides pretty much plagued their relationship and became R&B’s new version of Ike and Tina Turner.
While Kci was battling his own intimate problems, That also increased alot of his drinking as well as JoJo’s whom both have a history of alcoholism that runs into the family. The Group would also run into serious controversy when Devante and Kci were accused of raping a female fan, but it was later thrown out of the window due to misrepresentation of evidence. The group were clearly influenced by their new industry peers(Mainly Suge Knight and Death Row) and started to act out more in public. Shortly They were found guilty of gun charges but were reduced to community service. Despite the troubles, it didn’t slow down the groups popularity one bit as they continued to get work throughout the industry and Devante continued to be in high demand for work.
The 1993 Robbery, Affiliation with Death Row and The Show, After Party and Hotel
The home invasion attack of Devante Swing in the summer of 1993 has been the heavy topic of questioning for many years. Many even put the blame on Suge Knight for possibly orchestrating the attack. But whatever happened that night literally changed Devante’s life forever and he clearly was never the same person. Intruders broke into Devante’s home in New Jersey and robbed him at gunpoint for 20,000 worth of Jewelry along with pistol whipping and assaulting him. Rumors even went as far to claim he was even “sodomized” during this attack. Its clearly something occured during this event because he traumatized him and his erratic behavior since the incident would show signs of that. It seems that he wanted to showcase his masculinity to hide that harsh reality.
The group along with Mary J Blige at that time wanted away from Puffy’s direction and Suge Knight was the one that was willing to offer top bidder for them. Devante would do production work for the Above the Rim and Murder was the Case Soundtracks along with future projects with Death Row artists, This was also the best time to push the groups image to the max with them being considered the “Bad Boys of R&B”. With Suge Knight and Death Row Records basically cosigning them, It gave the group more of a street edge than before.
There were rumored incidents of Suge literally trying to punk Devante out of production credits like he has many artists and writers during that period. It gotten bad to the point where Mike Tyson allegedly had to intervene and take up for Devante whom at that point was on the verge of a psychological breakdown. The Haley brothers were swimming even more into the pool of drugs and Alcoholism but the hits kept on coming so nobody really saw it as a serious issue.
The group started to work on their 3rd album titled The Show, The After party and Hotel during the summer of 1994 and released it the following year in the summer of 1995. This was the album that showed the direction of a slowly but surely breakdown of the group. They strayed away from the church influence of their first album and the love ballads of their second which gave them that support This album pushed the explicit envelope to where it was considered tasteless at times with the skits. The Death Row influence was heavily involved with more of a West Coast flow structure for the majority of the album. It comes across very crass and showed a group drunk within their own fame and indulgence of the Industry lifestyle The album did pretty well on the charts and remains as one of the best sellers of 1995. But little did the fans know that this would be the last Jodeci album.
Devante vanished out of the limelight shortly after and put alot of his energy on developing new and hungry talent. Devante had so many potential stars under his jurisdiction that its a shame that he didn’t even remain a player in the Industry. He put together next level talent such as Missy Elliot, Ginuwine, Tweet, Timbaland, Magoo, Sista, and Static Playa would be known as Da Basement.
Devante played the role of teacher, father figure, drill instructor, and handler to the group. But there was times where Devante’s demons would start to get the best of him and his erratic behavior would lead to him shouting at the group thus intimidating them many times which further led him to becoming very distant and very unapproachable.
Da Basement crew felt torn. They felt that they owed their lives to Devante for teaching them and grooming them as artists but felt they had to stray away from him somehow Devante’s personal demons and his obsession to keep them under his thumb was also keeping them from reaching their true potential. Devante would put out one more single from the Dangerous Minds Soundtrack titled Gin and Juice which clearly showed the decline in Devante’s creativity as a producer. He would disappear and fade to black while Da Basement members would land record deals as solo artists and producers.
KC and JOJO
KCi and JoJo on the other hand would enjoy success as a duo. They were featured on Tupac’s biggest records How Do U Want It, and Toss it Up on Death Row and continued to affiliate themselves with the Death Row camp. However due to Tupac’s tragic death, Suge being incarcerated and the company become directionless. Death Row’s empire crumbled in late 1996.The Brothers decided to take a different musical direction and it took a huge risk. The KC and JoJo albums were critically acclaimed and did well. It showed that the two has matured and showed more growth as men. Mr Dalvin would produce tracks on those albums and would release his own solo album in 2000 titled Met.A.Mor.Phic. The solo projects kept the group members name out there but it’s the Jodeci album that the crowd wanted.
Since their bizarre appearance in the BET 2001 awards, The group has been promising a “reunion” for almost a decade in a half. But judging by Kci and Jojo’s public struggle with alcoholism along with Devante Swing’s downfall from grace(which was evident in 2010 when he was video having a breakdown at a Subway in LA). It was evident that the Industry lifestyle swallowed these four up and spat them out. They really lived out their image of being the Bad Boy’s within R&B and it seemed to have caught up with them:
There were still instances where a reunion was highly possible, Jodeci as a collective would do shows together and appear on tracks for local artists but nothing official for a new album. Devante even reunited with KC and JoJo and did a track with H-Town titled “Knocking Your Heels off “thus building more anticipation for a possible reunion.
Just recently Devante took pictures alongside Timbaland and Mr Dalvin giving fans a glimpse of hope that a new album which would be close to 20 years in the making is on the horizon. Many long time fans are souped but at the same time very doubtful that the album is gonna come into fruition unless the guys have their heads and spirits together
To see the demons that these four battle overtake them and send them on a path down destruction made a great rise and fall type story for that of a bio pic. Jodeci’s story should be told because when they were on top, They pushed creative boundaries, made timeless music, and inspired many to follow their blueprint. Their downfall were mainly caused by the vices of sex, drugs, fast money, alcohol and hard living. It’s usually the story of many groups of Jodeci’s stature.
Fans of the group are still holding on and hoping at this point that they can finally rid themselves of the demons and come together one more time as a collective. Many groups have ripped their sound, their style, their image and it should be the time for them to come back one more time and let them the new generation know why they were considered the best group of the 90s.
Vic Da Ruler