By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
By Britt Chester
By Noah Hubbell
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?'"
Actually, the tracks cut by Jodeci (the word is a conflation of the foursome's names) haven't always been so fleshy. The group's 1991 debut disc, Forever My Lady, sold 3 million copies largely on the strength of the single "Come & Talk to Me" and the title cut, a ballad that includes the lyric "There's nothing more precious/Than to raise a family." But rather than follow Boyz II Men into the land of spiritual chastity and sweater vests, Jodeci offered up Diary of a Mad Band, a considerably randier platter whose content led to sniping from the usual collection of cultural puritans. These complaints increased in 1993, when DeVante and K-Ci pleaded guilty to gun charges and sexual contact, respectively, following a wrongheaded encounter with a woman they picked up at a Manhattan club. Since then, the singers have tried to tidy up their image by getting involved in an organization called urbanAID for LIFEbeat, which focuses on increasing AIDS awareness among teens. Mr. Dalvin sees no contradiction between these efforts and the tunes on The Show, in which sex with all comers seems as casual as an episode of Mister Rogers.
"We meet a lot of people, and they tell us stuff like, `Yeah, me and my girlfriend make love to your music all the time,'" he says. "And we're like, that's fine, if that's what you want to do. You make up your own mind about that. But if you're going to do it, wear a condom. And we need to say stuff like that, because we have a lot of young fans between 12 and 25. We need to be responsible.
"That doesn't mean we're trying to be role models, though. I don't think anyone should have a role model who's a sports figure or someone in the entertainment business that they've never met. Because those people have to live their lives, too. It's hard when everybody just latches on to you and expects you to walk the straight and narrow all the time. Nobody can do that. Everybody has to let their guard down sometimes, right? Doesn't everybody have the right to have fun?"
Jodeci exercises that right throughout The Show--and the knee-jerk hedonism that's the byproduct of this privilege makes the disc infinitely more enjoyable and considerably less self-conscious than the work of most other current R&B harmony acts. Appropriately, the recording's success has inspired the quartet to branch out, with separate production companies and the like (Mr. Dalvin's firm, Clownin', landed a song on the rapid-selling soundtrack to the film Dangerous Minds). "We're involved in everything we do business-wise, from the music to the artwork on the album to the videos," he says. "I even make all of the clothes that we wear. And we have to deal with accountants and all those kinds of people. I never expected how much work all of this was going to be."
Fortunately, there are compensations. "We just like to talk about lovemaking," Mr. Dalvin concedes. "We like talking about lovemaking a lot. We'd talk about lovemaking whether we got paid or not. But it's nice getting paid."
Jodeci, with Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G., the Bad Boy Family, Faith, Total, Craig Mack, the Junior M.A.F.I.A., Puff Daddy, Naughty by Nature, Adina Howard, Luniz. 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 31, McNichols Arena, $25-$30, 830-