Who can forget Lisa Lisa, of Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam fame? The Hell's Kitchen-born 1980s pop superstar, whose real name is Lisa Velez, got famous for her freestyle sound, which mixes hip-hop, R&B and Latin music with dance beats. NYC’s City Parks Foundation recently brought the singer to Staten Island’s Tappan Park.
Before You Press Play
Hometown: New York, N.Y. (Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood)
The Facts: While folding primary-colored clothes at Benetton, a teenaged Lisa Velez would dream of some day becoming a pop star. The aspiring singer began frequenting the Funhouse, a non-alcoholic Manhattan disco where DJs, rappers and break-dancers hung-out. Madonna was discovered there, and Velez met and teamed-up with Mike Hughes of Full Force, a group of performers, songwriters, and producers from East Flatbush, Brooklyn. (Full Force has produced UTFO or Untouchable Force Organization, James Brown, Rihanna and Bob Dylan).
Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam may be best known for the band's 1980s fashion—their colored headbands, voluminous hair and keytars—but the group's chart topping singles "I Wonder If I Take You Home," “Head to Toe,” “Lost In Emotion” and “Can You Feel The Beat” are stone-cold pop classics. Lisa Lisa made her solo debut in 1994 with “LL77,” and in 2001, she was tapped to play the mother in Nickelodeon's series “Taina.” Lisa Lisa, with the Cult Jam and as a solo artist, has released seven albums and sold 20 million records worldwide.
The Sound: Lisa Lisa’s sound is called “freestyle music,” which combines hip-hop and R&B, Latin music and a variety of dance music— techno, electro and disco. Full Force’s signature beat is heavily influenced by legendary drummer Al Jackson, Jr. (a.k.a. Stax, Booker T. & the MG's, Al Green) and is often paired with the electronic sound of Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock."
It makes perfect sense that Lisa Lisa sang Sheena Easton's pop hit "For Your Eyes Only” from the 1981 James Bond movie at her Full Force tryout; both singers share a full-throated pop style. But don't take our word for it, listen for yourself, especially the highlights from Lisa Lisa’s Staten Island set including an a cappella finale to “All Cried Out” (16:35) and the undeniable jam “I Wonder If I Take You Home Tonight” (21:30).
Latest Release: Life N' Love (Mass Appeal), 2009
He Said, She Said: "My idols were also Patti Labelle, Teena Marie and Stevie Wonder. I still listen to them today. Whenever I need to relax or get inspiration, that's who I listen to.” -- Chicago Defender, July 14, 2009
"Having all the success so fast did take a toll on us," she says. "But what I never gave in to was putting out music I didn't believe in. There were times when record companies wanted a certain sound, and if it didn't feel right, I didn't record. I believe that's why my career has been able to sustain for so many years." -- Albuquerque Journal, November 6, 2009
1. "Head To Toe"
2. "Lost In Emotion"
3. "All Cried Out"
4. "Can’t Wait"
5. "I Wonder If I Take You Home"
6. "Can You Feel The Beat"
Here's Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam's "Head to Toe" video from 1987: