Lisa Lisa – the internationally famous top female artist of the freestyle genre and front woman of the Cult Jam – will be appearing at Joe’s Pub on April 8 at 9:30 p.m. as part of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival.
Born Lisa Velez in New York City as the youngest of 10 children, Lisa Lisa began to sing in nightclubs at age 13, sneaking out to do so of course. With a voice like an angel, she rose to stardom with the rap group Full Force. She was the first Latin artist to make it big nationwide singing in the English language and is considered a pioneer in the music industry in both urban freestyle and R&B.
Lisa Lisa is also an accomplished songwriter and actress who has starred on and off Broadway in shows such as Westside Story. She has also made many television appearances, including a guest spot on “Law & Order.”
Lisa Lisa will be part of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, which covers theater, film, music and poetry, in New York City. The festival “embraces diversity, and LGBTQ artists represent about a third of the works they present each year.” The festival, which is now celebrating its 15 year, will be held from April 8 to May 20, and will open with Lisa Lisa at Joe’s Pub.
Lisa Lisa promises to bring it all back. Her best known songs include “All Cried Out,” “Lost in Emotion,” “Let the Beat Hit ‘Em,” “Head to Toe,” “I Wonder If I Take You Home” and “Little Jackie.”
You are about to perform at the world famous Joe’s Pub. Have you ever performed there before?
No, this will be my first time performing there, but I’ve seen all of my favorites perform there.
It’s a very cool, intimate venue.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything works out fine. I’m excited and nervous at the same time.
You will be amazing for sure! You’re doing this show for the Downtown Urban Arts Festival?
Yeah, we are. I was asked to do it, and of course I’m going to do it. I need to get in there again and feed into my people.
Well, you’re definitely a household name, still.
Let’s keep it that way.
For someone like you, who was and is so huge, do you think that if you started your career today, with all the free streaming and downloads and the way the music industry has changed, do you think you would have been as epic?
I don’t know. Probably not. I know it would be different, because visually we’d be able to get our stuff out there. But I think the fact that record labels back then were 100% into giving artist development—they were all about that. They paid for videos, they took care of everything. They got us out there. The publicist already came with the package. Everything was done. In one building, we got everything done. Today, that doesn’t even exist. You’ve got to come fully packaged or nothing at all.
And it’s usually nothing at all. There were so many new artists out there, and they can’t seem to stay relevant for 30 seconds. How is it that your music still stays relevant?
Aww, thank you. I appreciate that. There are so many newcomers, it’s unbelievable. Everybody sounds the same. I personally believe that it has to do with the fact that there is no originality really in music. What happened to the time of the live band, recreating it on stage? If you want to see something in our days… Going to a concert is not the same. You just watch a video, and there it is. At home you can see it; why would I go to a concert to see it? I think it was the style of music and the time. When we came out it was all about freestyle. Freestyle to me was the music that we played in clubs. People still go to clubs today! Whatever was playing in the clubs was what people depended on. Today clubs are so different. Everything has to do with a video.
And the DJ is the star.
Nothing is live. We played it with records. We played it with albums. Everything was plastic, vinyl, on the record player, with the DJ. Now, it’s done with a computer. They throw video screens up, and that’s how they do it. Everybody wants to be their own star. I’m gonna do what I do.
It’s sad that I never hear any more original freestyle.
No, there’s not. It’s either a remake or retake. They take a track, or they’ll do the same song over—oh my God, everything is so redundant. It’s not original. It was so different [then]. Everybody focused on the music back then. Nothing was visual. That didn’t start to happen until MTV came out. Once MTV started, everything had to be visual. You had to put a video up. They thought that’s where it was going to continue on. Anybody could be going up on the TV.
Everyone has a YouTube channel of their own. Historically, if you could look back and be remembered for just one thing, what would you want it to be?
My vocals. I would want to be known for my singing, because that’s what I do. Second, my music. That’s what I’m thinking about. That’s what I want to be on the stage for. I live to sing. I love it, and I thank God that I’m able to. Let me put it this way: I live to sing, and I sing to live. I’m able to pay my bills doing what I do best.
They have all of these freestyle revivals, and they are amazing; however, a lot of times they just pick up anyone without a name and put them on stage. Why is that?
Everybody thinks they can make a dollar, so they’ll just pick up anybody: Any Tom, Dick and Harry or Jane in the neighborhood, and they think that they could create an artist, a song, a classic. No, you’re not going to do that. You have to do what you say you do. You’ve got to get up, you’ve got to have a voice, you’ve got to know what you’re doing with the music. You’ve got to be able to recreate that shit live on stage. People want to hear you do it. Once you get up on the stage, number one, audiences do not like lip syncing. It’s obvious. The media tells you that every day. If you can’t do it, then don’t fake it. I put on a show that someone is going to remember. A show with substance. That has meaning. Catchy. Something that you can relate to. I think that’s why I’m able to continue doing what I do.
I would think that. I can name most of your songs, but I can’t name songs from many of the newer artists.
The songs are all the same out there today. Everything sounds the same. Let me tell you, I haven’t listened to radio—and forgive me, because I appreciate radio for still playing me—but I haven’t listened to radio continuously for so many years, because there’s nothing there that’s catching my ear. Thank God for satellite radio, because I’m able to hit all of the stations that are playing the classics, the oldies.
So what can your audience expect at Joe’s Pub?
You’re going to feel like you’re back there in the ‘80s. We’re going to take you back. It’s going to be nostalgic for you, and it’s gonna be live! So come out and have a damn good time!