“Early on when I was 10-years-old, I used to call myself Scrappy GDA, which stood for Greatest Dancer Alive [laughs]. I always knew I could dance, and although I wasn’t the most acrobatic singer in the world, I knew I could sing. And I knew if you put the two together and do it greatly, you would have something entertaining. I was always doing talent shows and always going around to clubs just dancing and doing what I do as an entertainer. Then I heard Jodeci, MC Hammer and Boys II Men were coming down to Washington D.C. to do a show. I set out to meet Michael Bivins (founding member of New Edition and BBD) because I know he was with Boys II Men. So when I went to their hotel I was able to get in because I danced and sang for this girl name Big Angie. She gave me her room key and was like, ‘Yeah…you need to go ahead and go in there and meet somebody. You are very talented.’ I met [Jodeci’s] DeVante Swing and he told me he was looking for an artist. He just walked up to me and said, ‘Can you sing?…you look like you do something.’
So we went over to the piano and DeVante started playing Jodeci’s ‘Stay.’ When I sang the girls in the room started screaming! That’s when DeVante was like, ‘Oh…okay. You are going to be my artist. I’m starting a new label called Swing Mob, and I’m getting new artists from all across the country. You are going to be my first male solo artist.’ Of course, I had heard this kind of talk before. So I took it for what it was. But DeVante called me after he got off the road like, ‘You ready?’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve been ready.’ However, when he asked me to come up to New York, that was tough because he was asking me to leave my job, my kid, and my family. So I talked to my mom and told her I was going to do it. My son stayed with his mom. When I got to New York, that’s when I met Timbaland and Missy [Elliot].
We were in the studio 24/7, so if a person wanted to learn how to produce or learn how to write a song, they had the opportunity to do it because there were three or four recording studios. That’s how Playa and them all got better at what they were doing. Stevie J (longtime Bad Boy producer) was there as well. It was sort of like a cult because we really didn’t go anywhere. But looking back on it, I understand why DeVante did that. He was trying to shelter us. He wanted us to hone our craft and get better. As bad as people think it was, yeah it had its bad times. But I do still appreciate it.
Soon Tim and Missy called me when I was still with DeVante. Missy was like, ‘I’ll pay for your ticket…you need to leave because DeVante is not going to do anything for you.’ That’s when we met up and started working together as a unit. When we started recording my first album, The Bachelor, it was like a breath of fresh air. I was always writing, but the opportunity for me to really shine was when I was up there in Ithaca, New York with Timbaland. We were locked in the studio together. Instead of DeVante, it was under our power and control. We were just in there creating. Tim would hum a melody and I would put some lyrics to that melody. Or he would beat box the rhythm. That’s how we would come up with most of the songs on The Bachelor.
That period made me respect music in general and made me really understand how talented Timbaland was as a producer. And I think I did a fairly good job because I pretty much wrote everything on it. I knew ‘Pony’ was going to be a huge hit. Not to sound arrogant, but I knew that from the day I asked for it that if the proper lyrics were put to it, this was the song that would make me known. The funny thing is Tim was going to let Jodeci use that song as an interlude between tracks. But I begged Tim for what would later become ‘Pony.’ He looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘You like this???’ But he gave it to me and Static Major (the late member of Playa and influential songwriter), and we went downstairs in the studio and just started creating. Once we finished, we had Timbaland come down and listen to ‘Pony’ about 20 times because he couldn’t believe what we had did [laughs]. He was like, ‘Oh my God…that’s it!’ So we took it upstairs to DeVante, but I was scared he was going to take it from me and give it to Jodeci. I was trying to act like ‘Pony’ wasn’t all that. I even told Static and Tim, ‘Hey…act like the song is not a big deal…’ So we are playing it for DeVante and we were all sitting down [deliberately] not making any reaction, and DeVante stands up and says, ‘You got it, dog. That’s it…this song is a fucking smash!’ We were trying to play it off, but inside we were screaming. Once that happened, we started creating more songs. But nothing was like ‘Pony.’
I also got the chance to cover Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry.’ When the record came out I saw Prince in Minnesota because I was doing a show there. I heard Prince was also doing a show at some club and I wanted to meet him. So I went to the club and Prince came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t like people doing my music…but I must say you did a fairly decent job [laughs].’ I said, ‘Thank you…I really appreciate that. You’ve been a big inspiration for me along with Michael Jackson. I just wanted to pay my respects to you.’ After he tells me thank you, I turn my head, turn back around and Prince was gone! It was like he was some magician [laughs]. It was just crazy.”