In the greater R&B consciousness, the only connection Joe Thomas and Chico Debarge have is the much adored, yet now 12-year old "No Guarantee" video. Unbeknownst to the general populous, the two have a far closer relationship than the nightclub face-off depicted in the video. Both have been signed to R&B powerhouse Kedar Entertainment, along with the above pictured Ginuwine, just about as long as they've been making noise, but also have a longstanding musical relationship fortified by each other's creativity. Touring heavily since releasing albums earlier this summer, we were elated to get them both into the same room to talk about R&B as they know it. —Felipe Delerme
SUITE903: Is it weird that it’s so monumental when you guys drop just cause of how fast the internet moves music in and out of people’s consciousness?
CHICO: Well of course me personally, I took a hiatus, but I was recording all the time. A lot of this music is from that time. I just never stopped, I never went nowhere musically within myself, I was still writing, still recording, still doing whatever. I had took off for a while and I took my time too, because I had been recording all the way from 2005, 2004, but I didn’t want to release nothing that was premature so I think I let the music show up when it was time for it to, let it happen instead of writing it.
JOE: I think it’s a good time now, Maxwell is out now, bringing that rebirth to R&B back again, opening up the ears and eyes to consumers who weren’t really checking for it at a time. It’s been hard with hip hop out there, you got Kanye West out there doing Autotune, all these other cats kinda taking R&B and making their rap more R&B as opposed to just hip hop. It’s not any emcees left in the game, it’s all rappers. With that being said, we still here, we always have been here but the focus hasn’t really been put on us as much as everyone else.
Well, Autotune was kind of made so people could cheat. Can you blame them?
JOE: You look at Autotune, the whole purpose of Autotune is to make you sound good, you know, if you can’t do it on your own, you got that help. For R&B, we never relied on that, and the fans who buy R&B never expected to get that.
CHICO: They’re pigeonholing themselves. If you listen to Joe, he has a personality he brings to his music. Autotune is one personality so everybody is the same personality so its almost like when you’re listening to a new song that’s on Autotune, you really don’t know who it is, you can’t tell, but when you listen to Joe’s record, you can tell that’s him right away. His tone, his personality, his character, all of that is what we embody our personality into that. When Autotune becomes your personality, it becomes your soul. All you’re listening to is lyrics in the same personality on every song.
Download: Chico Debarge, "Oh No"
Let’s talk about your images. Joe, you’ve always been ‘the ladies man, that’s better than your lady’s man…’
JOE: …being the guy that writes songs always trying to take somebody else’s girl. Unfortunately yeah, my songs do come out that way. I’m just trying to find the best thing and usually that’s already taken. All the good girls, Why all the good girls taken every time? It started there. Then it went to “All the things your man won’t do,” “I Wanna Know,” and it just didn’t stop. But I like writing songs like that, and women like it so I stay with it.
Chico, you were kind of a loner type, but someone who could still express himself…
CHICO: I think I don’t really know what to say about that other than my thing was, I have to be honest about what it was I went through, Long Time No See, I think that set a standard for honesty, my personality and who I am as a person I think comes through in the music.
Well what about the album titles? Addiction? And Joe, Signature?
CHICO: Outside of the fact that the total embodiment of it says addiction, it’s a very addictive selection of songs. From front to back you can play it, as well as [my own] personal issue, metaphorically as well as figuratively, addiction is something I’ve dealt with in my life, all my life actually. But in 2003 I got stabbed and I got an addiction to the painkillers I was subscribed. So from 2004 actually up to 2007 I dealt with that. And in the music I open up and I say my name is Chico, I’m a recovering addict, going into a song called “Slick,” and “Slick” was actually the addiction itself so when I’m speaking of a girl, I’m actually speaking metaphorically as well as figuratively about the addiction. I deal with it on the album, doing bad by myself, doing bad alone is about me dealing with a woman and being in a relationship. I [don’t] just talk about the personal addiction but about being around someone or with someone or a family member who has one. And in that particular song it’s a girl who has an addiction to alcohol and how it’s tearing our relationship apart. So it’s kind of inside and out addiction, but it doesn’t beat on the topic nor does it preach to anyone, There’s very much romance in it, my fears, my sorrows, my tears, my joy, my happiness, my wishes and hopes.
JOE: Signature is just basically, I wrote the whole album, wrote and produced the whole album. My fans were begging me to do my own stuff, they appreciate the songs I do and write for myself better than some of the other producers and writers I work with.
Download: Joe, "Magic"
Something that your music has always had compared to a lot of modern singers was metaphor, do you think newer music is missing that poetry?
JOE: It has been. When you look at what influence hip hop put on R&B, our rhythm became… people started putting too many words on the song. Songs back in the day had space, you would sing a line or two and then have a breather. It was something you could digest without thinking about it too hard. That’s what it has to be. We aint rappers, R&B cats need to stop trying to be rappers. For once, be you. Don’t be like Jay-Z, don’t be like Kanye West, don’t be like Nas, none of these cats. Let’s find out who the hell you are. And don’t take on their swag, try to dress and look like these cats, because that’s what they do and you’re going to fall into the same pigeonhole and it’s gonna be hard to get out of, to try and excel to the next level and grow.
Alright, this is kind of left field, but it’s kind of amazing how little you guys have changed physically over the years.
JOE: I have no idea what it is. They say black don’t crack. I guess its something the Lord made, it’s a blessing to still have the same upkeep and the same energy as when you first came out. We approach it like hey man we’re still excited about this thing.
CHICO: There’s something Michael Jackson said, ‘If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?’ I don’t think we even pay attention to that because we’re just so driven by the fact that we are who we are, not what we’ve been through, not what we are but who we are. And I think we bring who we are to the music, and that could be a man, that could be a child, could be vulnerable, not so vulnerable, could be predator, could be prey. Music keeps you young because music is young and old, it has no age, it has no boundaries.
JOE: So basically, we are music.