The Mystery of DeVante Swing
~By Bridget Harris~
June of 2001 was the first year that television station, BET broadcasted their own award ceremony. The show started off their first category, which is for best group. Since we haven’t heard from R&B quartet, Jodeci since 1996, it seems like ages and people were beginning to wonder what happened to our favorite “bad boys of R&B”. Brothers K-Ci and JoJo were making success out of their career as a duo and had left us wondering what happened to the other two brothers, Mr. Dalvin and DeVante Swing? Rumor has it that Mr. Dalvin is making his ways into becoming an actor and opening his own clothing line. So that leaves it to DeVante- the acknowledged leader and the man who brought the sound of Jodeci to the table. Coming through the stage to present the first award, DeVante stood out the most with tan-colored, plastic-like jacket along with the pants to match for it, with white high top sneakers, that something Geri Haliwell, the artist formerly known as Ginger Spice would wear, and press on perm mullet. He appeared spaced out, as if not knowing what was going on. People who tuned in on television and those who followed DeVante through the years would agree that something is wrong with this picture. What could possibly be wrong with him?
His group, Jodeci came out to the scene in 1991 and became a household name. Instead of wearing a bow tie and a suit, their trademark leather boots, hip-hop clothing, with a street attitude, they broke the rules of traditional R&B sounds and looks. And things didn’t stop there. A follow-up album, Diary of a Mad Band in 1993 and 1995’s The Show, the After Party, and the Hotel and things couldn’t get better for Jodeci. In the middle of Diary and The Show, DeVante created a record label, Swing Mob Records. He discovered talents from rappers, Missy Elliot, Timbaland and Magoo and R&B crooner, Ginuwine, who would earn success and fame in their own right. But before they became famous, they expressed their experiences working with DeVante. In most cases, they had a hard time dealing with the man. They weren’t going nowhere with their music and been working on the same songs for a year, maybe even more. And plus they weren’t getting paid and rumors had it that DeVante may have suffered financials and gone bankrupted. And around the time their third album came out (The Show, the After Party, and the Hotel), things weren’t looking bright for DeVante and after promoting the album, Jodeci decided to take a break and parted ways. As for his artists on his record label, they decided it’s time to part ways as well. After failing Swing Mob Records, DeVante continued to produce music for other artists, including his bandmates, K-Ci and JoJo on their first solo album, Love Always in 1997. However, DeVante Swing slowly disappeared and never was heard from again. But he might have a good reason or two to go underground.
Before he was known as DeVante Swing, he was Donald Earle DeGrate JR. born in Hampton, Virginia and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. The young, loner obsessed music lover, Donald had big dreams to become a famous musician and was determined to aim for that dream. Growing up singing and playing instruments at his local church he developed into a gifted musician by playing 11 instruments. He even developed song writing by the time he’s in junior high school, which will later be a well-known songwriter with feelings as if he been heartbroken so many times from the likes of Forever My Lady, Feenin’, Cry 4 U, and Stay. But ironically, he never had a girlfriend in his life. “Believe it or not, all through high school I never had a girlfriend.” Said DeVante, from the 1993 issue of Vibe magazine. “I had one girl in junior high school, but I only went with her for like two weeks.”
At the tender age of 16, Donald ran away from home to Minneapolis to get a job with Prince. But after going back and forth, begging the receptionist to give him a chance, he realized that he would never get a job with the purple one. He went back to his hometown and gathered his younger brother, Dalvin and two other Charlotte residents, K-Ci and JoJo and became Jodeci. With a demo in hand, $300 in their pocket, and a key to DeVante’s white Escort, they headed out to New York in search for a record deal. Next thing they knew they were signed to Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records and the rest was history.
The first single off their first album, Forever My Lady, Stay starts off with a deep and husky voice. Something women would fall on their knees like they did when they hear Barry’s voice. “Don’t talk, just listen…” was the first line you’ll hear. In the video, spotted a honey eyed, pouty lips, and good-looking guy sitting in a black-armed chair. That man is DeVante Swing, introducing himself to the world. After that video, DeVante became the group’s sex symbol and everywhere he went, men would come up to him, looking for a fight because their girlfriends loved him. But not only the guys threatened him. Women can do the same, like many other women who chased their favorite male sex symbol. In 1993, DeVante and K-Ci were accused of raping an 18-year-old fan. The two were later found guilty for gun charges and sentenced to community service.
But it doesn’t seem to slow DeVante down one bit. Every platinum record the group made, DeVante bought bigger homes. A good feeling from DeVante that he’d actually made it. But will later learned that there was still more trouble to come. In the summer of 1993, a trio of men barged into his home, while he was asleep. They tied him up; pistol whipped him, and stole $160,000 worth of jewelry. For someone being in a R&B group, they appeared more like “straight out of Compton” than “straight out of Charlotte”, it scared DeVante straight. But later, he shrugged off as if it was no big deal. He wanted to appear tough and hard, that he had to bend backwards to prove to the people who lived the hard life like, Suge Knight and Mike Tyson that he’s down. In the early 1990’s gangsta rap were very popular and being hard is what’s in, while being the opposite from hard is out. But what’s he trying to hide? He’s a country boy from North Carolina coming up from God-fearing people.
Fans and critics would agree that their third album, The Show, The After Show, and the Hotel wasn’t the group’s strongest album. Instead of heartfelt ballads, they sing about sex, sex, and more sex with a little help of the sounds of west coast gangsta rap to cover it. Maybe DeVante shouldn’t be bending backwards far enough.
It’s now 2004 and still no word on when Jodeci is going to reunite and bring us the music, we always enjoyed. But, the market isn’t what it uses to be. With younger more recycled than original music arises and popular than ever before, but there are still a few artists such as Alicia Keys, India Arie, John Mayer, and Norah Jones to keep “music” alive and well and unlike DeVante’s time in fame, they’re weren’t pressured to be “marketable”. After the infamous BET 1st Annual Award show, people still want to know if DeVante is really okay and wonder that maybe the music industry may had scarred him on a professional and personal level. If he had not disappeared from the music world, he would have been one of the most talked about producers and songwriter in his time. Without the pressures to prove someone that he’s hard, the society pushing him over the edge, and being a failure at running business, like his first record label, he can still come out fresh and anew. But if he decided to step back and not make music anymore, it’s what floats his boat, but his fans is cheering for him and hoping that he’ll make a strong comeback- on his own or with Jodeci. But when?