DEL is moving from the sidelines to the spotlight

Urban / pop newcomer caught Gloria Estefan's eye

Music: in concert, CDs

July 01, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

He sounds excited, calling from inside the Museum of Sex in New York

"You ought to check this place out, man," says DEL, 27, a newcomer on the urban / pop scene. "It's pretty good, I hear. This is my first time here."

It's strangely fitting that he's conducting a phone interview from such a place. Throughout the singer's slick debut, Go All Night, and in promotional shots, it's obvious that he's selling what he seems to have naturally: sex appeal.

"I'm aware of how important image is in this business," says DEL, whose real name is Francisco Del. "But I gonna be myself. It's my style."

Which is not all that original visually or musically. He rocks a wild 'fro that, at a quick glance, reminds you of the one Maxwell sports. DEL's voice is thin, his range limited, and his vocal ticks and idiosyncrasies come off like a mild Michael Jackson impersonation at times. But the singer's charisma still bubbles through Go All Night, a decent if slightly predictable debut the Miami native co-wrote and co-produced with Dennis Dellinger. The first single is a bottom-heavy remake of George Michael's "Careless Whispers," one of the CD's highlights.

"I wasn't thinking about being a singer," he says. "I was working behind the scenes with other artists. At the beginning, I was interested in bringing the best out of other people as a producer. And I thought about being a model, but definitely not a singer."

DEL (he spells his name in all caps because it "stands out like a movement") decided to pursue music at 13, around the time he learned to play drums, keyboards and guitar. Back then, music was more of an escape for the budding artist of African American and Puerto Rican heritage. ("I was too black for whites, not black enough for blacks," he quips.) And home life was bleak. His mother was an addict, his biological father absent. And his stepfather was abusive.

"I've been on my own, really, since I was 11," DEL says. "I just learned to take care of myself for the most part."

After high school, he immersed himself in the pop music scene of Miami. For a brief time, he was a member of a boy band called Fourplay. Afterward, he started producing local R&B acts, eventually catching the attention of Gloria Estefan, who was instrumental in securing regular session work for the struggling artist. DEL developed his craft as a drum machine programmer while working with Celia Cruz and Thalia.

He also appeared in music videos during that time, including Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" and Celine Dion's "A New Day Has Come." In the studio, he found work as a production assistant for JC Chasez and Dallas Austin. DEL met Dellinger in 1999, and the producer encouraged him to step behind the mike and on to the stage.

"I was really tired of producing and wanted to try something new," he says. "I had grown up admiring James Brown and Prince and Michael Jackson. But, you know, it's a scary thing to be out front like that."

DEL says he's still working on his stage craft. The night before the interview, he played to what he calls an "excited crowd" at New York's S.O.B's, sharing the stage with soul singer Calvin Richardson.

"It felt good to have so many people feeling me," he says, sounding stunned. "I'm not a dancer like Usher. I'm a studio cat, so I'm used to playing rather than performing. And the whole time I'm thinking, 'Am I playing bad? Am I singing flat?' "

When reminded that he wanted the spotlight, he says, "You wanna make sure that everybody loves you. Once I do, like, 100 shows, I'll be on top of my game. It comes with growing."

And there's plenty of room for that.

Hear Rashod Ollison on the radio, Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on Live 105.7 and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on WTMD-FM 89.7

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