The Comeback Kid: Sound-Savvy Faces 'Addiction' with Chico DeBarge

Posted by Mack of Sound-Savvy On 10:00 AM

Chico DeBarge knows a thing or two about making a comeback. Following a prison sentence for drug trafficking in the mid-90's, Chico re-emerged on to the music scene in 1997 with the classic soul album Long Time No See. His new album Addiction thrusts DeBarge back onto center stage after a 6-year hiatus that included battles with substance abuse, troubled relationships, and an incident that nearly claimed his life. The album is an open book of pain, victory and determination - a realization that you're never too fargone to make a comeback. I had the opportunity to speak with Chico DeBarge about the new album and the events that brought him to where he now stands, on the threshold of a comeback.

Download Audio: Sound-Savvy Interview With Chico DeBarge

Sound-Savvy: We’re talking today about your new album and your whole career. The 1st album I think I owned by you was Long Time No See from about 96-97…

Chico DeBarge: Yeah, that was around ‘97-‘98… early ‘98

SS: So between Long Time No See and now how is Chico DeBarge a different artist now between those albums back then and what you’re releasing now?

CD: Me as a person, I’m just a little more mature, more developed, I’ve experienced a lot more. And I think my music reflects that. So to answer your question I think Chico Debarge is just more mature.

SS: When you’re working on music for your albums, who are some of your influences and where do you draw your inspiration from?

CD: Lately, I haven’t really been able to do that musically; because I kinda shut the world off I haven’t really pulled from anybody. Initially, I pulled from my brothers a lot because it was so important to me to continue on what they had started so I would study them a lot, listen to them; and as far short as it might have fell, that was my interpretation of what I would have done had I been in the group or had I been a part of DeBarge and the legacy – I mean, I am a part of the legacy, the next generation musically. Long Time No See, believe it or not was my interpretation of Debarge (laughs). I figured it was a far shot away from it but that was my interpretation.

SS: Now we’re talking about inspirations, and as you know we just lost a musical legend and icon with the passing of Michael Jackson. Given your family’s relationship with the Jacksons, did you ever get to meet him and what type of influence did he have on your career, if any at all?

CD: Yeah, Michael… it was a strong relationship between my family and the Jackson family. First of all, they influenced us all their lives and then it was a blessing that God found it in His will to merge our families together. My brother Bobby, who was in Switch, dated Latoya and introduced James and Janet to each other. A lot of people don’t know that the Jacksons discovered my brothers. Jermaine discovered Switch, and had a pretty big influence. They showed us a lot about fame and about the music industry and how to live. Outside of the personal, they were just an influence on us musically from day one. As a family they were a tight family and still are and they were a class act. It goes more than just personal and musical influence. Just as a person as well as a people they are good people. Very God-fearing.

SS: Now between your last album, Free, there’s been about six years leading up to Addiction so what have you been up to in the meantime?

CD: Wow, well I’ve been through a lot of experiences in my life personally and then of course I stayed on it business-wise traveling to Europe as well as here. I stayed on the circuit and kept myself busy onstage. For the most part, I had a little trouble in my life that I dealt with. In 2003, I got stabbed in Philly it was a terrible stab that ended me up in the hospital with surgery, lost a lot of blood. But I came through, bounced back, and I was prescribed some prescription pills. Consequently because of that I developed an addiction towards them, and subsequent to that I was released from that addiction thank God. By the grace of God and his power I’m walking again in public and of course promoting my CD and still out on the road.

SS: And I’m assuming that’s why you titled the new CD Addiction?

CD: That’s correct.

SS: Yeah, so what was it like battling substance abuse and addiction, and what advice would you give someone dealing with that now?

CD: Wow. It was horrible, it was tormenting and torturing and I would say to someone going through that to just reach, reach for everything that you can that you know is good and don’t give up on what you believe is good. If you’ve already given up on what you believe is good – cause sometimes that’s part of the addiction and that’s why you’re addicted – then find somewhere inside yourself to find something good. If you’ve given up on everybody else, there is something good around you or within you. Find that, and have that. Reach for that and follow that. There’s a reason to live, if it’s nothing but to be a purpose for someone else to live. You can be hope, even if you don’t have hope you can be hope for somebody else. So you know, come out of the rain, don’t bow to the pain.

SS: Definitely. So let’s get into some talk about the album Addiction, it’s in stores now, available for purchase. A lot of fans are feeling Do My Bad Alone, and that’s one of my favorites too…

CD: *laughs*

SS: … So I gotta know, was that inspired by a true story?

CD: Oh boy… I think that and I’m Okay are probably the two truest stories that there is on my CD because Do My Bad Alone was about an incident I think that started my whole whirlwind of mess. Being in a relationship sometimes with an addict is worse than being an addict sometimes. I lived both sides. Doing my bad alone just basically means, believe it or not, making a determination. That’s the oldest song on the CD and that was one where I was just frustrated with love, with the relationship, with life. The girl that was just an alcoholic, she was very abusive and ya’ know I don’t just mean physically - I’m talking ‘bout mentally and verbally. I tried to love and stand still but ya know it got crazy and I decided to my bad alone cause I began to do bad and I didn’t wanna do bad with her cause then that’s double trouble. So that’s pretty much how that song came about. I think this whole CD is very honest, I tried to hide a whole lot of subliminal in it but I guess people are really gettin’ it and readin’ it. I guess the consumers and the listeners are a lot more in tuned than I thought they were.

SS: Yeah, I think a lot of people are drawing that to some of your past, more public relationships that were public knowledge like your relationship with Nona Gaye. So I’m not sure if the song was about that…

CD: I guess you can do your own work, huh?

SS: I guess so… well moving on. One of the few people you’ve collaborated with a lot over and over is Joe. You guys have a history together and you’ve recorded quite a bit together. How is it working with him and how was it recording Tell Ur Man?

CD: Tell Ur Man… it was great. Joe, he heard the song after I wrote it and he felt it was a good flashback to No Guarantee which we had done previously. And he wanted to jump on it and he was like “Listen man, this is something that I think they expect from me and you, just for us to be me and you and come together as brothers. I think that’s what’s missing in R&B.” And ya know, I think they respect our brotherhood, so let’s do it on this song. I had wanted Joe to do it on anything that he felt comfortable. I didn’t wanna push him but I definitely wanted him to be a part of my CD and this is one that he chose to be apart of, Tell Ur Man.

SS: So out of the songs on the album, do you have a favorite? I know that’s probably unfair because I’m sure you like all of them.

CD: Yeah, I’m Okay.

SS: Okay. So Oh No was your first single, is there a video coming for that?

CD: Yeah, actually we’re doing the video in two weeks. We have a different marketing plan than what people would usually do and that’s because for the most part, I’m an underground artist, so to speak, in the sense that I’ve always been underground, I’ve never really had a strong radio hit, but for some reason God blessed me enough, the people embrace me enough to keep me afloat and for the most part, that’s how we market everything – with an underground marketing plan. I kinda let it get a buzz and we let the music speak for itself. We try not to overpromote it or give it too much of a sales pitch because the sales pitch doesn’t really work. It can be overkill; we try to let the music sell itself. If the music is good then it should be able to sell itself.

SS: With you going the underground route, do you feel you have more creative control over what kind of music you put out as opposed to an artist that’s more controlled by their label and has the bigger radio hits?

CD: Well I am with Kedar Entertainment so it is a big label, He’s responsible for D’Angelo, he discovered Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, Kem, India Arie, he actually signed Amy Winehouse as well as myself. So I am with what they call a “mini-major” but at the same time he is considered someone as underground because he broke all of those artists from the underground first. He was kinda the mogul of neo-soul Kedar Massenburg, Kedar Entertainment. I respect his vision and I just follow that. That’s what he chose to do and so I’m rollin with it.

SS: Okay, so you come from a very musical family, the Debarge family name is synonymous with music and making hits. Do you ever feel any pressure to live up to people’s expectations of your family name when you’re producing your music?

CD: Yes, yes I do. Sometimes I get certain people that try to compare me or say, why don’t I sound like this… so yeah, I do.

SS: Do you ever miss performing with your family or hitting the stage with your brothers?

CD: Well I have done it, but I was never in the group so I never really got to do it on a level of where it was when I grew up watching it. I was just a spectator at that time. But I definitely want to do that with my family. Yeah, I wanna perform with them at some point.

SS: Now when it comes to performing, and this question actually came from one of your Twitter followers. I think it’s pretty safe to say that women view Chico DeBarge as a sex symbol, but at the same time you put a lot into your music. Do you ever find that some of your female fans are just more into your looks than your music and is that ever a point of frustration for you?

CD: Umm, I don’t know, yeah I guess. I guess they might cast me as that but I don’t wanna be typecast as that. Its okay for them to think I’m attractive but I wanna be taken for serious as a musician and an artist. I don’t wanna just be known as a sex symbol. For her to say that, that’s cool and that’s a compliment. I don’t view myself as that; I view myself as a serious musician.

SS: That actually came from @thicksational, she’s a good friend of mine we met at a concert last year. And while we’re speaking of Twitter, how do you feel about twitter? With you being gone and just really stepping back into the limelight, how has Twitter helped you reconnect with your fanbase?

CD: Believe it or not, as shy as I am I’m also a people person once I’m warm to somebody and I feel they come from a good place. I’m a very personable person. So being on Twitter, Myspace, Facebook all those things are good. I definitely am an advocate of it and I think that it’s something that people should do. It’s your way of communicating with your fans when you can’t. Traditionally when we communicated we couldn’t get away from them, because if you sat out and did the meet-and-greet and they would want too much and you were tired from getting offstage or whatever. Well, with Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, you can get offstage, get right on there, say what you wanna say and keep it moving. I think that’s a good vehicle to do that with. It’s a sort of meet-and-greet.

SS: So what’s up next for Chico DeBarge? What’s the next single? Plans for a tour?

CD: Yes, I am, I’ve been touring. I’ve been on the House of Blues Tour with Joe. Me and him did that together, now I’m doing my own thing. I’m gonna single out and do some things in DC as well as Baltimore. Cincinatti this weekend, it’s a bunch of dates lined up, I’m just squeezin’ them in. But me, Joe, Ginuwine and Keith Sweat are gonna do a run as well, I think this fall. I look forward to just touring a little bit and goin back into the lab again like I did before and taking my time and doing a nice CD. I wanna just do nice music.

Addiction, the new album from Chico DeBarge is in stores now, and features the lead single Oh No, and the hits Math (featuring Talib Kweli), Tell Ur Man, Do My Bad Alone, and I'm Okay.

2 comments and counting...

  1. MrsGrapevine Said,

    I didn't know he was stabbed. I really like Chico back in the da. You should have asked about Janet's secret child with James. At one point her was willing to talk about it, but now the whole DeBarge family seems quiet about it.

    I will take a listen at this new project, because the music hitting the airwaves now, it's not good. Something underground will be refreshing...

    Posted on August 24, 2009 at 11:29 AM

  2. Fantasyeyes Said,

    I love you Chico! I am going to get your new album ASAP! I'm sorry you had to go through a storm to get to your sunshine. I wish you the best of luck in everything you do! Great interview!!!!!

    Posted on August 24, 2009 at 11:52 AM


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