He began a musical career of his own with Motown in the mid-1980s. His debut self-titled album featured the hit single "Talk To Me." He released a second album with Motown, Kiss Serious, but was imprisoned for drug charges not long after and served time in prison for drug trafficking. After his release in the mid-1990s, DeBarge returned to Motown to continue his musical career under the auspices of Kedar Massenberg and his neo-soul pioneering label imprint Kedar Entertainment.
He later moved to the independent record label, Koch Records, where he released 2003's Free. DeBarge also contributed a song to the Beauty Shop movie soundtrack courtesy of Alove Entertainment. His most recent album Addiction was released July 14, 2009 under Kedar Entertainment Group.
On October 2, 2010, DeBarge performed with Glenn Jones, Lenny Williams and Regina Belle at the Performing Arts Center in Tampa, Florida.
The DeBarges initially started out as a group composed of four of the ten Debarge siblings: Bunny--the eldest of them all (vocals, writer), Mark (trumpet, saxophone, vocals, writer), Randy (bass, vocals, writer), and Eldra (writer, producer, keyboards, vocals). While their brother Bobby was enjoying his success in the group Switch, his younger siblings flew out to California in hopes of starting their own careers in music. During a meeting Switch was having with Jermaine Jackson at Motown, El and Bunny were in another room playing the piano and singing. Jermaine heard them and immediately knew he had to share their talent with the world. With the help of their brother Bobby in the studio, The DeBarges began writing and producing songs. They released their first self titled album in 1981 featuring the single, "What's Your Name." Though the album had several well done tracks, neither the album nor the single charted.
After the first album didn't sell as expected, they shortened their stage name to Debarge and added younger brother James (keyboards, vocals) to the group's line up. The second album from DeBarge "All this Love" contained eight songs, all but one ("Can't Stop") were written and arranged by the siblings themselves.
Three songs were featured singles, the first "Stop! Don't Tease Me" showcases El on lead; the song peaked at Number 46 after a short eight weeks. The follow-up was "I Like It," a very danceable yet laid-back number in which Randy sings lead on the initial verse, and El brings up the rear. With impeccable penmanship and arrangement, it clocked in at Number Two on the R&B charts, and became the group's first pop Top 40 entry. The follow-up single was the title track, "All This Love." Solely led by El's convincing tenor, this composition, in its traditional arrangement, sails along like the winds of a cool summer night. The longevity of this number can be heard in every note, including a melodious acoustic guitar solo. The remaining songs fall closely behind the aforementioned numbers. (Craig Lytle, source)
The third album In A Special Way was, in short, a classic that was written and produced in total by Eldra (El) DeBarge, with Bobby DeBarge serving as associate producer.
The LP’s highlights were the two hit singles, as “Time Will Reveal” and “Love Me In a Special Way” (which featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica) seamlessly blend the high drama of the old school with the glam of nascent synth soul. As the group’s mastermind and lead vocalist, El was able to tease a dark underpinning out of his siblings’ blends in the same way Maurice White did with The Emotions, a tactic that makes their work much more intelligent than many realise. The harmonies and melodic climaxes of the two songs are so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget the group is singing about love that is in a sense imperfect. The other ballads are equally engaging, with “Queen of My Heart” (a selection co-produced by brother Bobby that first appeared on their debut), the dramatic “Stay With Me” and “A Dream” augmenting the album’s recurring theme of love and longing. The latter, which was penned and led by sister Bunny, has aged particularly well and was a perfect way to close the album.
The album earned them their second gold certification and scored a Grammy nomination for best R&B performance by a duo or group, an award they lost to Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.” It has been a constant source of inspiration to the black music community, as Tupac, Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G., Blackstreet, Tamia, Ashanti and Mariah Carey, among countless others, have all covered or sampled one of its nine cuts. It is easily one of the most sampled R&B albums of all time.