El DeBarge: Stay With Me

In today’s world, our youth have little or no idea of who El DeBarge is. A founding member of the legendary, family group DeBarge and recovering cocaine addict, El DeBarge finds peace in knowing that he’s been given one more chance. What today’s youth do know are Hip-Hop radio killers like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some […]

In today’s world, our youth have little or no idea of who El DeBarge is. A founding member of the legendary, family group DeBarge and recovering cocaine addict, El DeBarge finds peace in knowing that he’s been given one more chance. What today’s youth do know are Hip-Hop radio killers like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” which incorporates samples from El DeBarge’s “I’ll Call Your Name.” That’s just one of dozens of records that have sampled from the DeBarge family catalog.  While the ‘80s babies were babbling nursery rhymes in their playpens, El DeBarge was evolving from a lead singer in a group to a solo sensation. Early on in his career, he witnessed the effect of cocaine on his siblings and initially, seemed as if he was going to be spared from the addiction. But the lifestyle of a famous celebrity eventually caught up to him and the commonality of drug use in the entertainment business during the ‘90s encouraged it and came along with the territory. Although he was the last to mount the “white horse,” El DeBarge eventually began experimenting with drugs and served jail time, as did his brothers for drug-related charges. Today, El DeBarge is clean and rejuvenated with hope for the future and lessons learned from the past. He clears up recent slander in regards to a weekend spent in the slammer for fictitious charges concocted by the media, Janet Jackson’s rumored child with his brother, and sheds light on dark, family secrets.Allhiphop.com Alternatives: You and your brothers and sisters formed the Motown super group, DeBarge. Jermaine Jackson discovered you guys?El DeBarge: Yeah. Jermaine Jackson did discover us. My brother Bobby was lead singer in Switch, rest in peace. He had set up an audition that we didn’t know that we were doing. He told us to go to Jermaine Jackson’s office and wait for him until he gets out of his meeting with Jermaine Jackson. I’ve always been a sort of shy person, so what he did was had us wait in Jermaine’s piano room. He had a piano room on the other side of his office. While he was having his meeting, there was a beautiful, baby grand piano. You know I had to play it. So anyway, my brothers and sisters were there with me and we’re waiting for Bobby to get out of his meeting, so we’re going through songs, and songs and songs. We’re just having fun. When we got finished, there was a huge applause in back of us, and Jermaine was listening to us the whole time. Bobby set this up as an audition, which in hindsight was very clever because he knew I would shy up if I knew we were auditioning. So he talked to Jermaine about us because it was his dream for DeBarge for it to get on its feet and become famous as a “family group,” but he was stuck in the group, Switch at the time and contractually he couldn’t get out of it so he put us all together. He made me the lead singer of the group; it was the focal point of Bobby’s vision. And Bunny – he handpicked everybody for the group, just as well as he did that audition. We turned around and realized that we’d been tricked! The audition was done! That’s how Jermaine discovered us.AHHA: There’s a rumor that your brother James fathered Janet Jackson’s child although she denied it in 2005. For the record, are you an uncle to Janet’s daughter?El DeBarge: Well, you know it has been in the media for a long time. It has been a whisper and a “hush, hush” kind of thing. “I wonder if there’s a baby.” I’ve never seen this child. I’ve yet to see it. It’s something we don’t talk about whenever we see Janet. We don’t speak about it. My brother Janet and James – that info is privy to them. We just, you know, they’ll let us know when they’re ready to talk about it. We just respect it. [laughs]AHHA: As should everybody else. Growing up in a house full of talent, was there constant competition amongst you and your siblings?El DeBarge: Yeah. There was a healthy competition. I loved it. What happened was, my brother Bobby, my sister Bunny and my mother – they were writing songs all the time. They would use the younger kids to practice on. So they would critique me, individually. They’d critique us all individually and then they would critique us all together as one. They would put the harmonies together and some of us would catch on quicker then others so we would be like “oh, no I can do that! “I can do that better!” You know, we would just be like who would come up with the best cords for this song or who can sing the song the best. It was just so much fun because it taught all of us and we just got so tight like that. That’s what I mean when I say “healthy competition.”AHHA: When you came to the decision to leave the group and pursue a solo career, was it especially difficult for you since these were your brothers and sisters?El DeBarge: It was a tough decision, but it was natural. It was happening because the school of Motown always highlighted their “focal point.” Me being the focal point of the group, my brother started it off that way. He was the focal point of Switch. So he passed that same concept when he made the group DeBarge, me being the focal point. And then Berry Gordy, of course, was already using that method of operation in almost every group on Motown. It was just a formula that they used and it worked pretty well. I think that what happened was the drug scene, who everybody knows DeBarge is no secret to drugs. Am I right?AHHA: Right.El DeBarge: We don’t want to be ashamed. We are not ashamed where we came from and know that God brought us out victoriously. And there’s not a question that will go unanswered if you ask. I do have an answer for it. My brothers began to experiment with drugs; it began to affect the rehearsals, it began to affect the punctuality of rehearsal. It was just untimely. I wasn’t on drugs at the time. I was clean. I had never experimented with drugs as of yet, and I was the only one that was really on point. So it became natural. I was the only one showing up for rehearsals, showing up to interviews, showing up to the studio and things of that nature, you feel me? That’s how that happened. Motown began to really push me with things like DeBarge with El DeBarge. You could see it happening, you feel me? Then I started doing concerts without them and hiring other background singers. That was really scary because my brothers and sisters can really sing. They’re some harmonizing fools. I got to give it to them. When they’re on point, they’re on point! Not having them on stage was like “how are we going do this?” [sings] “I know just how you feel” all the harmonies that go with that [sings] “say you really love me baby” and then the intricate harmonies. I’m like, “Who’s gonna do this?”   Because it’s going to be hard to get people to sound and blend with me. So I had people that could really sing, backing me up on stage. But I would choose to be able to grab my brother, James’ hand and cut a dance step with him out of no where and then see him running back to his microphone doing his background vocals with everybody else. Then my brother, Mark doing his spins and stuff on stage. Then my brother, Randy – he would just always make up a new harmony part and surprise me when we were on stage and it was always great. Then my sister, Bunny – being able to feature her as the lady of the family, doing that sweet thing. Bunny can sing with her songs. I want that magic. AHHA: In today’s market, where does your music fit in? Could you compete with the likes of Ne-Yo, Mario and T-Pain?El DeBarge: Yes. Very much so. Yeah.AHHA: In the past, outlandish remarks were made about you and your family – in particular about drug addiction, child abuse and constant questioning of sexual orientation. How have you been able to remain sane during the media madness??El DeBarge: How have I managed to stay sane? [laughs] That’s all due to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He has strengthened me and has replenished me. And it’s just that simple. My spiritual background, my spiritual upbringing has a lot to do with that. The road that I took, I never forgot about God. Even when I was addicted to drugs, I would always talk to Him, and He was always there. He let me know, one day, “Just hold on, I understand.”AHHA: Recently, in the news, it was said that you were in jail for a domestic violence charges. Is that true?El DeBarge: Oh no, that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true. That’s the only part that wasn’t true. What else did they say?AHHA: Most of the reports were pretty vague with the details and just said that you were arrested on domestic violence charges at a home that was not your own.El DeBarge: Here’s what happened. I was arrested in my own home. I had already been on probation for drug abuse. Your probation officer knows where you live. [laughs] So what happened was I didn’t show up, I didn’t report. I just started doing concerts and things. My schedule just got crazy, and I didn’t report so he violated me. So if you don’t report, that’s just like having a dirty urine test, feel me? I am on testing. I am clean. Domestic violence? I don’t know where they got that from. That has nothing to do with it; they came into my home and arrested me early. It was 7 o’clock in the morning. They let me know what it was for and took me to jail. And I guess that’s part of being famous – you get rumors attached to that.AHHA: Well, I’m happy we cleared that up.El DeBarge: Yes. So my current situation with the law is that I’m on probation for drug abuse; I’m still doing concerts. But I have to report, and when I forget to report…the probation officer takes that very personal. So we are going to report now, aren’t we? [laughs]AHHA: Do you feel like cocaine use is more common today or during the ‘80s and ‘90s?El DeBarge: I think it was more common in the ‘80s because I wasn’t using in the ‘80s so I had an outside view looking in, so I could see a lot more, and it was definitely a lot more cocaine use. A lot of entertainers are clean and sober, more then you believe. A lot of entertainers are just tired and it doesn’t make sense anymore. They’re glad to be free. They’re glad to be sober. There’s more marijuana use today then there was in the ‘80s.AHHA: Your brother, Bobby passed away in the mid-‘90s from AIDS. AIDS was still fairly new to the world, and we didn’t have as much knowledge about the virus as we do today. Do you know if he contracted the virus from drug abuse or through unprotected sex?El DeBarge: Well, that right there – it wasn’t drug related or it wasn’t sexually related. We don’t know so we can’t say because I don’t know what it was, friend. Because when he died we didn’t have the knowledge or the know-how. We didn’t have the information about that virus as much as we do today. So I can’t really tell you which one it was from.AHHA: Do you feel like his unfortunate death acted as a wake up call for you and your family?El DeBarge: Very much so. And it’s been a long time coming for us to have awakened.AHHA: Are you still racking up royalties from Diddy for Biggie’s “One More Chance” record?El DeBarge: Yes. Tupac’s “I’m Not Mad at Ya,” Blackstreet’s “Don’t Leave” and so on and so forth. We’ve received awards for the most published songs and the most published music. That has been the reason why we are still surviving.AHHA: You worked with Quincy Jones in the ‘90s on the star-studded compilation song “Secret Garden.” What was it like recording that record with a bunch of music legends like Quincy, Al B Sure!, Barry White and James Ingram?El DeBarge: Are you kidding? It was awesome. Especially Barry White with that huge, resonant voice. Coming into the studio and watching him and that voice, “tell me a secret.” And working with Quincy – I worked with him two other times since then. And Quincy really is a phenomenal producer, no hype, he really is all that.AHHA: What is the DeBarge family doing now to survive in the game?El DeBarge: We still do concerts. We still have royalties. My records are being sold to this day and people are sampling music all the time. But the thing is, we just needed to all get off those Godforsaken drugs. Everybody’s clean now. My whole family is clean. My sister, Bunny is coming out with a book. She’s got a movie deal with HBO. She’s getting ready to do the DeBarge story, about all of us. We are all just clean right now and I know that we’ll stay clean cause we’re back! AHHA: The holidays are coming up – any chance for family reunion album?El DeBarge: Well, we are thinking about it. We don’t know if it will be finished in time. We’ll put it out this year but if it’s not finished in time, we’ll put it out next year.AHHA: Is there anything in particular you have to be thankful for?El DeBarge: I’m thankful for my sobriety. I’m thankful for God giving me another chance.