Jodeci’s Diary Of A Mad Band LP revisited with Prince Charles Alexander

Diary Of A Mad Band was released on December 21, 1993 by Uptown/MCA Records. After achieving triple platinum status with their first release, Forever My Lady, Jodeci announced their return in resounding fashion with their sophomore album. Continuing their trademark sound centered on soulful balladry, Jodeci landed legions of adoring fans from both sexes alike for their real life lyrics and incredible musicianship contained inside of each song.

This album would see the group expanding their sound on the second half of the album by experimenting more with Hip Hop music infused with traditional R&B. The writing and production talents of Devante Swing were on full display once again with contributions from Mr. Dalvin, Timbaland and Missy Elliot. K-Ci’s vocal prowess was reminiscent of early 1970s soul singers such as Bobby Womack and his brother Jojo’s upper register delivered indelible notes that gave a distinguishable feel to each song, which set them aside from their contemporaries.

Jodeci consisted of the perfect amalgamation between the production and songwriting talents of the DeGrate brothers, Donald “Devante Swing” DeGrate and Dalvin “Mr. Dalvin” DeGrate and the incomparable vocals of the Hailey Brothers, Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey and Joel “JoJo” Hailey. This album would propel the brothers into a new realm of superstardom and cement their legacy as one of the best R&B groups of not only the 1990s, but in the history of the genre.

The DeGrate and Hailey brothers came from families steeped in the gospel music tradition for years. Both sets of brothers traveled extensively on the gospel music circuit and were well accomplished performers and musicians.

The DeGrate brothers served as pianist and drummer for their father, Rev. Donald Degrate’s gospel group, The DeGrate Delegation. The Hailey Brothers were performers in their father’s gospel group, Little Cedric and The Hailey Singers. The pair of brothers met in the late 1980s and formed the group Jodeci in 1990. They eventually received their big break in the fall of the same year. Their debut album Forever My Lady only foreshadowed what was to come from the group.

Between January 1993- August 1993 Diary Of A Mad Band was recorded in the Hit Factory Studios in Manhattan, New York.

SoulCulture recently sat down with Prince Charles Alexander, the audio engineer, mixer and studio musician for the album to give some insight on how the album became a success.

Alexander tells the story of how he became a part of the project.

“There was a company in New York called Uptown Records that I wanted to be a part of,” says Alexander. “I said to myself everyone over there was black and I was black so I thought it would be a good fit. So I sent my resume over there and nothing happened. I tried repeatedly to get in, but I never heard anything back. Well, in life you get lucky sometimes. There was this guy who was trying to manage me because he knew me from being an artist and he knew I made the switch to being an engineer. He thought it was a genius move and he wanted to be my manager, but I had a rough interaction with my previous manager so I didn’t want another manager.

“Months pass by and one day he calls me up. He said, ‘Guess where I’m at?’ I said, ‘I don’t know where you’re at’ and he said, ‘I’m at Uptown Records’ and I was like, ‘That’s wonderful. What are you doing over there?’ He tells me, ‘I’m the production coordinator.’ I said, ‘Aren’t those the people that hire engineers?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I asked him, ‘Are you going to hire me?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’

“I immediately began working with Father MC and Heavy D. And two weeks after I got into the company the guy who hired me got fired. To the best of my knowledge, he never did anything else in the music industry. It shows you how fickle fate is. It was my destiny to be at that company.

“So I’m at the company working with Father MC and Heavy D and one of the marquee groups called Jodeci wanted to camp out and do their whole album at the Hit Factory in Manhattan. Jodeci at this point had a rough and tough image. The company wanted someone who could handle all of the different temperaments and wild activities going on around them at that point. I think I’m about 11 or 12 years older than them and I guess it seemed like to Andre that if they had a brother in there engineering their album that it would be a good way for things to move forward.

“There were so many other good engineers around like Tony Maserati and Paul Logus back then. There were so many different projects going on that they couldn’t afford to have Tony or I held down for too long on a project. They were trying to figure how they wanted to do it. Once I hooked up with Jodeci and saw who they were and what they were about, I said to myself I’m doing this gig. I wanted to work with them because they had something different going on.”

Alexander gives a glimpse into the process of recording the album in the studio.

“It took us about 6-8 months to record that album,” says Alexander. “We were coming in every day to the studio. I would come in at 10am and do the things that engineers do. Devante would start to roll in around 3 or 4pm and K-Ci and Jojo would come in at 6 or 7pm. I was literally gone from about 10 am to 2 am and waking up and doing it all over again. We had every keyboard known to man in Studio A at the Hit Factory. Not only did we have every analog keyboard known to man in there, but we had two and three of those keyboards. We had at least 30 keyboards all around that room. It was deep.

“We had two digital Sony PCM 48 machines and each one of those machines were capable of recording 48 tracks of audio so we had 96 tracks running simultaneously. Of those 96 tracks, a good 20 of them were keyboards and another 20 of them were background vocals so that was really most of Jodeci’s sound, keyboards, background vocals and really loud drums. Trying to make sense out of all of those tracks was my job. My job was basically to sit there and get the new sounds that Devante was trying to record to the track and to make sure K-Ci and Jojo were recorded well. Dalvin was working on beats with Timbaland and Missy Elliott. Timbaland and Missy were part of the entourage at that time.”

“Devante and I were in there every day. It was really funny because you had to be at the sessions to see the unique thing that used occur when we were there. I would be in the room by myself working on the audio then Devante would drift in and then someone else would drift in and someone else.

“Literally, every time Devante entered the room it took 10 minutes for 25 people to be in the room. When Devante walked out of the room, it took about 10 minutes and the room was empty again.

“He was a people magnet. Everyone was going to Devante because he was the Messiah. Everyone would ask, ‘Where’s Devante?’

“I saw the same thing happen to Puffy and he became the Messiah for a whole generation of people, but the first person I saw this happen to in this crew was Devante. It was really an interesting phenomenon. The assistant engineer and I would sit there and time it and it would be 10 minutes every time.”

Alexander delves more into how each song was created by each member of the group.

“Devante would start out with the idea then K-Ci would sing it the way it sounds when someone who can sing their ass off sings it,” says Alexander. “Then when you hear that you get another idea and you would throw that idea at K-Ci and he sings the hell out of that and then you go on and on from there. Jojo would put the harmony to the song as well. The really funny thing about K-Ci and Jojo is we didn’t have Autotone or Vocaline back then. K-Ci would go in and sing a note and our specialty was doing stacks. We wouldn’t do two or three note stacks, we would do four note stacks.

“I had been doing this for years with other people and when you go in and do a double, it had to be tight. His double would be raggedy as hell and the timing would be off and the pitch would be all over the place. I would say, ‘Don’t we want to tighten that up a little bit?’ to D because we would be in the control room and K-Ci would be in the booth and D would say, ‘Naaa, that’s cool.’

“We would do the third and fourth notes and they would sound just as raggedy, but when you would hear them altogether they would sound crazy and it sounded beautiful. It was the first time I had experienced something like that. For the average person it doesn’t work and it sounds like crap.

“There had to be something magical going on in the way K-Ci was singing it and the way Devante was hearing it. I guess Devante had been recording K-Ci long enough to know that K-Ci could do that. It would sound like it was off, but then sound like it was really on. He would do another note and then Jojo would go in and do his four notes. We would find a missing note and he would sing another note. It would end up being that trademark Jodeci sound.

Normally, when people sing as hard as K-Ci they don’t sing that hard in the background. They sing that hard in the lead, but not in the background. This is first group I worked with where singing that hard in the background made sense. The background is normally eerie, light and fluffy. K-Ci is wailing in the background and doing four tracks of it and the same was true for Jojo. The creative process on the songs was definitely a collaborative effort between everybody.

“It was almost like an unspoken language that existed between Devante as one type of creator within the group and K-Ci and Jojo bringing out the vocal end of the creation. Dalvin was kind of the youthful energy in the group. He would be looking at the Hip Hop concepts, hanging out with Missy and Timbaland drawing on where the music could possibly go moving forward. That’s why his input shows up on the ladder stages of the album. They were working on not just being a ballad group, but finding other places to go with the group’s sound.”

The first single to be released off of the album was “Cry For You.” It peaked to #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart, #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #20 on the UK Singles Chart.

Alexander recalls how the song was constructed.

“On ‘Cry For You’ I mixed the song and I sent it to Andre for him to listen to it,” says Alexander. “He came back with a note and said the background vocals were too loud. And I was like ‘What?’ because that was Jodeci’s sound and they weren’t your average R&B group. We actually went back and forth on that for a couple of days. The version that ended up on the album the background vocals were lower. The way ‘Cry For You’ sounded when I first mixed it sounded more like ‘Forever My Lady.’ ‘Cry For You’ has a more mature sound, a more smoothed out sound. It sounded rawer to me when the background vocals were higher.”

The next single released was the popular song entitled “Feenin’.” It peaked to #2 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart, #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #18 on the UK Singles Chart.

Alexander remembers the original concept behind the making of the song.

“’Feenin’ was a song where Devante wanted to do a song where he played the Talk box like Roger Troutman,” says Alexander. “The Talk box is a tube that you stick in your mouth and you play the keyboard. The keyboard goes into an amp and then amp blows the sound through the tube into your mouth. Then you’re able to make syllables and words with it. He really wanted to do that so he took ‘Feenin’’ to do it and it was like his version of “Computer Love.” We used a sample of “Computer Love” for the song ‘What About Us’ later on in the album.”

The final song to be released from the album was “What About Us.” It peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart. Alexander recollects on his involvement and how Devante completed the song.

“On ‘What About Us’ it was me playing the flute and tenor sax to open the song and throughout it as well,” says Alexander. “I overdubbed the flute playing over the tenor sax. I actually played both of those instruments live in the studio. Devante was playing around with samples. He sampled my sax and the flute then Darryl Pearson played the guitar and Devante sampled the live guitar that Darryl played. He put the song together with the live instruments we played and he added it to the groove he was already playing.”

Jodeci – “What About Us”:

Alexander also mentions how a few of the remaining songs on the album came together.

“’My Heart Belongs to You’ was all Devante,” says Alexander. “The solo to open that record was nasty. It was a continuation of “Forever My Lady” like a part two. We were just trying to get some hard knocking drums on the track and Devante was just going buckwild with the keyboards. You throw K-Ci and Jojo on the track and it was just magic on that song.”

Jodeci – “My Heart Belongs To You”:

“On ‘Alone’ Darryl Pearson was playing guitar on this track,” says Alexander. “Devante sampled his guitar again. This song with the rest of the songs was being sequenced by the MPC 60 II. We were experimenting with sampling using this device on all these songs. There were many keyboards playing on this track and it may not seem like it, but there definitely was multiple keyboards playing.”

Jodeci – “Alone”:

“Won’t Waste You” has that Wu-Tang vibe, but the drums were a little bit heavier,” says Alexander. “It was a straight up hip-hop track. Devante was trying to get that fusion of Hip Hop and R&B and looking for that unique sound with this song. It definitely started from the beat and Jojo just went in the booth and started singing notes. The way the song starts reminds me of Mary J. Blige‘s song “You Bring Me Joy.” Jojo is actually singing the background vocals in that song and no one knows it. Jojo started the melody for “Won’t Waste You.” It started with a sample from a Dobie Gray record and K-Ci starts singing then Jojo comes in on it to bring the heat.”

“Won’t Waste You”:

“For ‘In the Meanwhile’ I remember Timbaland had this nice little beat and we were trying to figure out what to do with it,” says Alexander. “We printed it to tape and it just sat around for a while. One day K-Ci came in and started singing In the Meanwhile over top of the track and that’s how the song got started.”

Jodeci – “In The Meanwhile”:

“In ‘Gimme All You Got’ there was a horn hit in the beginning and I played the horn live in the studio,” says Alexander. “Teddy Riley was the king at Uptown Records for a minute and some of this stuff was Devante making his own mark by blending hip-hop and R&B. And making sure he had samples and fat beats. We were trying to showcase Dalvin to show some of his rhyme skills. “Gimme All You Got” was a song where it could be a headbanger, but still have great singing on the record as well.”

Jodeci – “Gimme All You Got”:

“Sweaty” we were just trying to be funky with this track,” says Alexander. “Devante brought out all of the synths on this record. Devante was really trying to show how funky he could be with this record.”

Jodeci – “Sweaty”:

Alexander spoke on the importance of Devante Swing’s influence within the dynamic of the label and group.

“Everything had to be signed off or co-signed by Devante,” says Alexander. “Even Andre Harrell trying to come into the studio to listen the music had to be co-signed by Devante. Andre couldn’t just pop in and I thought it was amazing because he was the head of the record company. Devante really had it like that. He had it to the point where he could tell the head of the company that you can’t listen to any music until I give it to you because I created hits on the first album and I’m going to create hits on the second album. It was art to access and sometimes that’s the way it gets done.

“I gave Devante credit for being extremely musical and being a musical genius. There were two things that happened. He kind of shocked me one day when we were in the studio. Something he played on the keyboard reminded me of Charlie Parker and I told him so. He said, ‘Who’s Charlie Parker?’ I said, ‘Whoa, you’re a musician and you don’t know who Charlie Parker is?’ Devante really didn’t know about him because Devante is from the church. Charlie Parker was a secular musician so I guess if you’re really born and raised in the church and your father doesn’t tell you about Charlie Parker you probably wouldn’t know who he is. So I was surprised that this great musician didn’t know the historical connection of what he was doing, but it showed that the generations of musicians were in the midst of a change. Devante, the genius that he is, was a reflection of that change.

“If you listen to the first album, Devante is soloing through that album, which is what musicians do. Musicians like to give you beautiful notes while the singer is singing. On the second album, he stopped soloing and he pulled way back. I was in that studio telling him to do solos on the record because it was part of the Jodeci sound. But he heard the same thing I was hearing in the marketplace. No one was doing that any more. No one was doing keyboard solos anymore and the music was swinging so far to hip-hop and it was only about the rhymes and the beats. Nobody was paying any attention to anyone who was doing solos. Devante was paying attention to that and he decided to pull it back. I disagreed with him pulling it back because his solos were HOT! Like most of the musical geniuses I know, he was in tune with what was going on in the culture of the music.”

Alexander also provided insight into the group’s mindset before the release of the album.

“I think Devante was going through something in Diary of a Mad Band, says Alexander. “I think that whole album was a fight against that sophomore jinx and that it had success is a good thing. My thinking during the time was would the group be able to match and exceed what they did the first time because people were expecting Jodeci to come with it and with me being the engineer I couldn’t screw up because I had their sound in my hands.”

“Devante was trying to shape something. He told me one time that he wasn’t trying to sell six million records he wanted to sell 2 million. This statement made a whole lot of sense when he said it because every artist that sells six million can’t sell six million consistently. So every time they sell two million after the six million it looks like they’ve failed. He said he wanted to be more consistent than that and it made a great deal of sense.”

Diary Of A Mad Band went on to sell more than 2 million albums in US and worldwide. The album peaked to #1 on the Billboard R&B Albums Chart and #3 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. It more than lived up to the expectations set by their first offering. This album along with Jodeci as a group ushered in a new blueprint for how R&B groups would be marketed and packaged to public at large. This blueprint is still in existence for male R&B artists to this very day. Fans of Jodeci ranged from the hardest thug on the corner to your grandmother and they were one of the last true original R&B groups. This is indeed a classic album.

Jodeci – Diary Of A Mad Band
Released: December 21, 1993
Label: Uptown/MCA Records
Buy: iTunes US / iTunes UK / Amazon US / Amazon UK

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