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El DeBarge talks love, life and redemption

David Goodson | 4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.

Brother Chico joined him for an impromptu sampling of Chico's breakout record "Iggin Me," and he stayed in tow to trade a few verses with big brother for "I Like It."

The show ended with an ode to the Boogie Down Bronx with a Nuyorican-flavored version of "Rhythm of the Night." Missing noticeably for the true El fan were songs from his catalog of four solo CDs, including the likes of "Love Always," "Love Me Tonight," "After the Dance" and "Starlight, Moonlight, Candlelight."

It's been widely reported that the life of El DeBarge has been tumultuous as of late, but it ran much deeper, even as he was in the process of establishing his mark as a soloist. "I was on a 22-year drug binge. In fact, if you listened to my album 'In the Storm,' you'll see that I was revealing something deep about myself and was reaching out for help. I reached deep inside of me and pulled out every influence that I ever had emotionally, spiritually and psychologically, and you can hear these changes musically, from the first song through the last.

"I was Sly Stone on one song, George Clinton on the next, Marvin Gaye, the Carpenters, the Isley Brothers, Andre Crouch--all these people who were an important part of who I am as a songwriter and my singing, but they should never take precedent and drown out who I am. I forgot who I was and was trying to find myself. The drugs had me 'In the Storm.'

"But now I'm in the driver's seat again, and these influences come up when I need them to in a way that's tasteful and won't overshadow me."

A key component to El finding himself was what may be considered by many to be hitting rock bottom: the stint in which he was imprisoned. It was during that time that he was forced to quit narcotics and the destructive behavior associated with it, and rediscover the power of his gift.

"I was in prison with a variety of cultures and lifestyles and people that performed all kinds of criminal activity," he said, "but I noticed that music was the common link to everybody. Music is the voice of god, and this second chance to use that gift is not just about me--it's about the world.

"There are so many people that are looking for and deserve a second chance, and when the album comes out, I want them to embrace it. It's joyful; you'll laugh with me, you'll cry with me. It's full of harmonies and it's soulful--it's the El DeBarge sound."

Speaking of the new CD, "Second Chance," El says, "It feels great to know that my music has had an influence on people who are also using music to reach others after all these years. So I'm proud to have a song with 50 Cent ['Switch Up the Format'], Fabolous ['5 Seconds'] and a song with Faith Evans called 'Lay With You.'"

Faith was honored to have been chosen to participate, saying, "I was heavily influenced by his writing and arrangements, and so to be asked to record with him was such an honor! I was so nervous in the recording booth because that's, like, El DeBarge!"