LOS ANGELES As bunnies of the animal and Playboy kind frolicked on the lush green lawns of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, celebrities danced in the mansion's outdoor party room Thursday night to the live music of former Jodeci member Dalvin DeGrate.
Playboy founder Hefner was hosting a listening party for the hip-hop/R&B performer and his famous friends including married R&B singers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown and actresses Carmen Electra and Vivica A. Fox to celebrate DeGrate's forthcoming debut, Met.A.Mor.Phic (April 18).
"I enjoy Dalvin very much," Houston said after the performance. "It's like watching a protégé of my husband."
The Tudor estate, which sits on 6 acres south of Sunset Boulevard, recalls a wondrous paradise complete with Hefner's castlelike home, guest cottages, a zoo, a game arcade and grottos scattered throughout the elaborately landscaped grounds. While exotic birds watched from their perches in the surrounding trees, monkeys ate from the hands of party-goers.
It may not have been an unusual night at the mansion in many respects, but the man of the hour couldn't quite believe his eyes.
"I've never seen so many Playmates," DeGrate said, after cuddling up with seven bunnies to pose for photographers. "Nobody has ever had [their CD party] here before, but I think everybody will try to follow my lead after seeing this."
As DeGrate performed songs from the Maverick Records LP, he was joined at times by a group of dancers; his brother, former Jodeci member Donald "DeVante" DeGrate; and producers Stevie J., Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson. The set culminated with a rendition of the album's first single, the high-energy "Why Can't We."
Brown said he saw DeGrate as welcome competition.
"I think he's one of the premier artists coming out this year, along with myself, who are going to change the history in this music business," said the former New Edition member, who hit it big as a solo artist in the '80s with such songs as "My Prerogative."
"There's a lot of stuff out there that is good, but I wanna see something that is great again," Brown continued. "Dalvin is going to be one of them. I'm just glad to have him in the camp. I'm glad to have somebody on the charts that I can fight with. He gives me a real big challenge to go back in and tighten my
Houston and Brown weren't the only ones DeGrate impressed. "It was a high-energy sexual performance which is what you need to sell records," said Fox, star of the television series "City of Angels." She said she has known DeGrate since his early days in Jodeci. "Look at this less than 10 years later, we're at the Playboy Mansion for his listening party how cool is this?"
Angela Little, Miss August 1998, said, "It's hard to keep my attention because I think I have A.D.D., like most of America, but I was so enthralled. I just came here to work, like I do a lot of parties for Playboy, and my girlfriend and I were like, 'Oh my God, he's the one who sings that song? We gotta get this album.'
"I was very impressed, not that I'm a critic or anything I just know what I like," the Playmate continued. "It made me move."
The 13-track Met.A.Mor.Phic ranges from danceable hip-hop numbers to straight-up R&B. DeGrate co-wrote seven of the songs, including "Why Can't We," which recently hit radio.
"I thought the beat was really kickin', and I wanted to release a slammin' uptempo song," DeGrate said of the single. "It's just talking about being happy, when there's so many bad things going on in the world and so many relationships going bad."
The number is one of several tracks DeGrate collaborated on with producer/artist Stevie J., known for his work with Puff Daddy and Mariah Carey.
"I wanted to create something different that had a live feel to it but still kept you on the dance floor," said Stevie J., who is working on his solo album, which he said will feature guest appearances by Carey, rapper Eve and gangsta-rap pioneer Dr. Dre.
The DeGrate brothers rose to fame in the early '90s in Jodeci, who featured another set of brothers K-Ci & JoJo who have since launched a career as a duo. Jodeci were among the first R&B groups to combine doo-wop harmonies with contemporary dance sounds.
Donald DeGrate, who performs the ballad "Dangerous" on Met.A.Mor.Phic, is working on his own solo album for Atlantic and on Michael Jackson's long-awaited next album. But other projects won't mean a Jodeci reunion is out of the question, he said. "If the world wants Jodeci, we'll bring it back."