By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
If you really want to frighten the hell out of Mr. Dalvin, one of the four youthful, testosterone-spewing love machines in the R&B steamroller Jodeci, all you need to do is mention one word: marriage.
"That's scary, man," he chatters. "Maybe when I get older I'll take that kind of thing more seriously. But right now it gives me chills. I mean, in our new video [for the single "Love U 4 Life"], I'm getting married to T-Boz--you know, that girl from TLC--and when we were shooting it, I had to keep taking breaks because it was so real. I kept seeing myself walking down the aisle really getting married, and I just couldn't take it. That was the strangest feeling I think I ever had."
Monogamy is allegedly what Mr. Dalvin practices; he and T-Boz have been an item for what seems to him to be an eternity (in truth, it's been more like several months). But the appeal of the message Jodeci is spreading these days is not rooted in the concept of staying true to one mate for a lifetime. Indeed, Mr. Dalvin and his fellows (DeVante DeGrate--Mr. Dalvin's brother--and siblings JoJo and K-Ci Hailey) may be able to harmonize like the members of Boyz II Men, but Jodeci's platinum CD The Show, the After Party, the Hotel, released earlier this year, couldn't be farther from the Boyz' sincere/corny declarations of love. Rather, it's a sweat-slicked documentary about trolling for groupies, featuring items such as "Let's Do It All" (about the joys of blowjobs), the self-explanatory "Pump It Back," and the jumbo hit "Freak 'n You," which, predictably, isn't about Halloween.
How much of this material is fanciful--the equivalent of a Penthouse Forum letter--and how much was inspired by actual orgasms is unclear. Mr. Dalvin is a swarming mass of just-barely post-adolescent contradictions when speaking on practically any topic, and the subject of promiscuity is no exception. At first he calls The Show "a really mild version of what happens--the PG version. Which is cool, because even if critics are dogging you, your fans are able to express how much they love you." But when he's asked if T-Boz has a problem with the frequency with which he opens his fly in the company of willing sperm repositories, he insists that "a lot of things that people have written about us or tried to identify us with just aren't true. It's just a lot of hype and negativity. Besides, I don't sleep with every woman I meet. When I was growing up, I was never a stranger to women, if you know what I mean. So it's not like every time I have the opportunity, I have to do it. Sometimes it's just nice to talk."
"I'm serious, man," he maintains. "It's just nice to sit down with someone, have a conversation, you know? It's amazing the different things that people think or say. Some guys think that women are all the same and they all think the same way. But I know that's not true just from talking to them. And there have been a lot of women over the years. A lot of them."
In the beginning, however, the DeGrates and the Haileys had other things on their minds than pulchritudinous pleasures. Theirs was a higher calling--to celebrate not the comeliness of the female form but the glories of God. When they were still children, the four were members of traveling gospel acts: DeVante and Mr. Dalvin toured with their father, the Reverend Donald DeGrate Sr., while JoJo, K-Ci and their dad, Clifford, performed under the collective moniker the Haileys. K-Ci, in particular, seemed on his way to becoming a full-fledged gospel star; he was tagged "the Michael Jackson of gospel," not because he had a fondness for sharing beds with prepubescents, but because he combined a staggering voice with a sizable helping of charisma.
But the size of gospel's congregation ultimately became too confining for the vocalists, much to the chagrin of their parents. Mr. Dalvin swears that his mother, who forbade her kids to listen to rhythm and blues, has neither heard his secular music nor watched a single Jodeci video.
"It doesn't bother me that she's that way," he claims, "because my mother and my father have been that way since before I was born. If all of a sudden they decided to listen to something that we made to find out what it was all about, it would make me think that they didn't believe all the things they told us over the years--like they'd decided that they weren't true.
"But they do hear things about us. Someone will come up to them--someone who knows who we are and who knows that they're our parents--and they'll say, `Did you know that your sons are making these songs with all kinds of nastiness in them?' And then my mother will come to us and ask us, `Is it true that all of your songs are nasty like that? Someone told me that there's nothing in your songs but bad words and sex, sex, sex.' And I'll be like, `No, Mom, that's not what they're all about,' and"--he laughs--"I'll tell her the words to our cleanest song and say, `See, that's not that bad, is it?'"