Featured, Music, Pop Culture

An Ode To DeVante Swing On His Birthday

Today is Donald Earle “DeVante Swing” Degrate Jr.’s birthday. According to Wikipedia – the world’s most reliable source of information – he is now 47 years old. Based on the series of unfortunate sightings of Jodeci in both its parts and its formation, I think I speak for everybody in saying that it’s an amazing feat of both grace and mercy that all of the members of Jodeci are still with us.

Yaymen.

Jodeci is my favorite singing group from the ‘90s (though SWV is 1a.). And without DeVante, there is no Jodeci. K-Ci and JoJo could sing, and Dalvin tagged along better than anybody in history (and played the drums in videos in aggressive fashion on occasion, too), but DeVante was the principal architect of the group. He was responsible for the sound. And while nobody could Jodeci like Jodeci, the times DeVante stepped outside the quartet for work, notably on songs like H-Town’s “Part Time Lover” (RIP Dino) from the Above The Rim Soundtrack prove that DeVante was the reason for the season.

Let’s start back at the beginnings with 1991’s Forever My Lady album. The production was sharp, the songwriting was effective, and they had a string of slow jam hits from “Stay” to “Forever My Lady” to “Come and Talk To Me”. The “Come and Talk To Me” Remix took them to a whole different level. It’s where you could hear that real hip-hop edge that DeVante would carry over into his work with other artists. Sure we loved the Jodeci ballads, and of course, I really wanted (I really wanted) her to come and talk to me, but when DeVante decided to become a rapping ass singing ass producer, the Jodeci feel was created.

Enter the album with the most perfect string of six straight (“My Heart Belongs To You” to “Alone”) songs in the 90s, Diary of A Mad Band, the 1993 album that kicked in the door, waving the .44. DeVante took his producerial chops to a outer space. The first half of the album is full of slower songs and one of those perfect Jodeci love songs, “Cry For You”, aka The Reason Folks Remember Jodeci and Don’t Care About Boyz II Men, and the second half is the more uptempo half with hip-hop infused beats, including Redman features and early Missy Elliott features.

But listen, each of the first six songs on Diary sound different but all have that unique DeVante signature. This n-word showed his ass. I still listen to the album and am amazed by how much growth I heard in his production. “Alone” by itself should be placed in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture for how hardbody of an R&B song it is. In fact, if I saw a display that featured this album in there, I’d just nod my head and say, “mmhmm, that’s right” and keep it moving to the next item.

Following this album was the last album I truly credit to Jodeci, 1995’s The Show, The After Party, The Hotel, an interlude-laden album that felt twice as long as it was. I don’t even listen to any songs until “Get On Up”, which is track 8 on the CD. But this album is ANOTHER leap in production for DeVante. The music is cleaner, the “swing” is more palpable. And it creates the song that is arguably the epitome of the Jodeci sound and the DeVante signature in “Freek’n You”. It’s raunch and sex set to an amazingly hip-hop/R&B beat that is 100 percent mood music but dope enough to blast from your car window. It is, in a word, perfect. Every time I close my eyes, I hear this song. That’s not true. But if you’re still reading this, it’s too late.

This album also contains ANOTHER perfect DeVante helmed ballad in “Love U 4 Life”, a song that could be used in any wedding, any place that also had an awesomely 90s video.

DeVante is also responsible for the last half of the 90s in the principal players he tutored while trying to get The Swing Mob off the ground. Timbaland and Missy Elliott are the still present superstars from that time, but DeVante had a hand in the success of Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Nicole Wray (she got what you want), Playa, etc. DeVante crafted a sound that Timbaland and Missy took all the way to the bank after creating their own unique takes. If there’s no DeVante, who knows what hip-hop looks like during the late 90s and early 00s. I’ve never felt like DeVante truly got the credit he deserved for how instrumental he was and is to the music we view as the sound of those times. I also feel the same way about Teddy Riley and Jermaine Dupri. Shit, Prince Paul too for that matter.

While DeVante definitely had some moments that made many of us wonder if he was hitting some of those good drugs a little too frequently, and I’m guessing there was a fallout of the Swing Mob, the fact is that his work with Jodeci was strong enough and staple enough to STILL sound good over 20 years later. Diary of A Mad Band sounds as fresh today as it did then and I can still remember the day I purchased the album. K-Ci and JoJo had successful careers as a duo and Dalvin Dalvin’d (he actually got into songwriting and production). But everybody’s best years were during the Jodeci heyday and that’s in no small part thanks to DeVante and his musical abilities.

So today, on this is 47th birthday, I salute Donald Earle “DeVante Swing” DeGrate, Jr. as a beacon of sound and a titan of production who helped create the soundtrack of my life as well as the lives of others. Happy Birthday, DeVante.

May the Swing be with you, now and forever.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • TJ

    DeVante is an American treasure. Great piece Panama!

    Stay is my fave Jodeci track.

    • brothaskeeper

      Come and Talk to Me for me.

    • charisma_supreme

      I can’t pick a favorite, but this is fav sweet one (you gotta have a sweet and a nassy [sic] one) …

      https://youtu.be/tJeR3JJBxUg

    • Cleojonz

      Yes! This is my ish. I would be ok with never hearing Forever my Lady or Come and Talk to me ever again.

  • miss t-lee

    I still wish that “Room 454” would’ve been an entire song instead of an interlude.
    Long live DeVante Swwaaaaaang.

    • MyKayEl

      Yeeessss the PIB 4play interlude was another favorite of mine on that cd.

      • miss t-lee

        Yasssss.

  • HoobaStankyLeg

    Donald Earle DeGrate, Jr.

    AKA “DeVante Swing”

    Come on name!

  • DeVante needs his own Unsung. He da real MVP.

  • WenzelDashington

    I’m for building a museum for all the artists from the show Unsung down the street from NMAAHC.

    • I’m right there with you. There’s an open space on 7th street where the crime and punishment museum shut down.

      • A.G.

        That museum shut down?!?? Oh wow.

        • Yep – last year. It’s hard to have a museum that charges on a city that has the Smithsonian

          • A.G.

            You’re right. The only non-Smithsonian I would pay for is the Newseum. I love that one but it’s basically a visual version of the Internet

  • Madame Zenobia

    Lordt. Not “Earle” with an ‘e’. What is the ‘e’ for? FathaGawd.

    I feel like there needs to be a 30 for 30 of Black music, DeVante/Jodeci could be the first episode. You could argue that show exists in the form of Unsung, but really Unsung’s production and format isn’t up to par with 30 for 30. (Obviously, I understand the budget differences between ESPN & TVOne, but still.) Really, besides the monetary issue, the best thing about 30 for 30 is the producer/director of each episode has an intimate love for the topic. That’s what they need to do with Unsung. Could you imagine what a Panama produced Jodeci Unsung for 30 would be like?

    Sigh, just thoughts. Nothing of substance to add. Other than, “So, you’re having my baby” is the best opening line of the 90s. That song could have gone so many ways after than line.

    • panamajackson

      Man, I’d LOVE to be part of something like that.

      • Cleojonz

        Pitch it Panama! You could do it!

  • Negro Libre

    http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Devante-Just-for-Me.jpg

    The 21st century’s been rough, but happy birthday nevertheless.

    • panamajackson

      You ain’t right. It’s a tribute. lol

    • Dee Squared

      That pic is tew much, tew much I say….

    • miss t-lee

      It hurt my heart to see my former crush looking crazy.

      • Mochasister

        Tee hee! He was a cutie back in the day. If it weren’t for that stupid Pimpi (yes, I purposely wrote Pimpi.) Longstocking ponytail and that stupid tattoo, he would still be a nice looking man. Oh well, we still have Morris Chestnut (Lawd, hab mercy!) and Blair Underwood. On second thought I have them. You can just look.

        • miss t-lee

          That’s all you chica. Morris and Blair do nothing for me…lol Never have.

          • Mochasister

            Different strokes for different folks! More man candy for me! Lol!

            • miss t-lee

              Yes indeedy.

        • Nik White

          Morris is umph, umph, umph!

          • Mochasister

            Yes! A thousand times yes! Big ole hunk of chocolate!

    • AnswerMe

      Is that a 3D tattoo? Keloid?

      • Val

        It’s a tat. I think it’s just the camera angle and the glasses that make it look weird.

        • Mr. Mooggyy

          Naw Val! I think its the struggle-tail with the curls at the end that’s throwing everything else off!

        • Mochasister

          Now, sis. You know it’s not the camera angles and them glasses that make him look weird. It’s that Pimpi Longstocking ponytail and his mid life, wth was he thinking tattoo that he placed right smack dab in the middle of his cheek instead on his neck like all the other OGs.

          • Tonia682

            That Pimpi Longstocking comment took me out… bwaaahaa!!

      • Nik White

        I blame Mike Tyson with his half face tattoo.

    • I guffawed. His black cracked like a muhfucka.

    • Val

      Does he have foundation on?

  • I play the Freek ‘n’ You remix with Wu Tang all the time — best random remix ever. Thank God for old school Napster and illegal downloading as that was never — to my knowledge — released as a true single.

    • miss t-lee

      The SWV “Anything” remix was another good random remix.

      • Val

        SWV has to be the most remixed group of the 90s.

        • miss t-lee

          I’m not sure. However I do miss well done remixes.

          • Val

            Yeah, it’s a lost art. Everything is a Euro-dance remix now.

            • miss t-lee

              I don’t mind a Euro dance mix, but it’s not a proper remix.
              A good remix makes you forget the original song

              • Cleojonz

                Right, it’s not just the music change it’s the addition of other artists that weren’t on the original track, or different lyrics all together.

                • miss t-lee

                  Zacklyyyy.

          • cakes_and_pies

            I miss maxi-singles for this reason.

            • miss t-lee

              YES!
              Loved some maxi-singles!

  • Looking back, one thing that surprised me about Jodeci was that most of their hits were slow jams. Devonte, Teddy and Jermaine do deserve more credit.

  • Ana W. Barraza

    His production of “Forever my Lady” is responsible for the baby boom of 1992. If you were born anytime during 1992 and early 1993 you should probably thank him.

    • miss t-lee

      Also the reason there’s so many kids names DeVante running around.

      • PhDivaLife

        Mannn, my first 2 years of teaching were full of kids named DeVante and Shaquille.

        • miss t-lee

          I’ve seen a bunch of Shaquille’s also.

        • Lmao

        • brothaskeeper

          My first year teaching (Y2K), I had a lot of Whitleys, Jaleesas, Kims, Denzels, and Dwaynes. Around 2011, that’s when I started to get all the DeVantes, and boys/girls named Kasey, Kaysee, Keisei, Caysie, K’Seigh, Key’sieh, etc.

          • Zil Nabu

            Some people should not be allowed to name children.

          • K’Seigh tho?
            Bruh.

            • brothaskeeper

              I legitimately wish I was making up all these names.

              • Mochasister

                Sadly, I know you’re not.

          • Mochasister

            I remember when it seemed like every kid was named Jaden or Jalen. Alize was popular too.

          • Cleojonz

            I am always so excited after the first day of school to see what kind of names the kids in my husband’s class have. I’m always like and how many apostrophes and dashes? It’ snot funny but it’s funny lol.

      • panamajackson

        I’ve never met a DeVante in real life. I’d like to meet one.

        • miss t-lee

          I know 3. All under 20.

    • K_

      bwahaha my mother had my brother after an 11 year gap on a kid.. i was suppose to be an only child….. he was born in 92 lol

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