When word trickled down the rumor mill recently that Lelee of the famed mid-90s R&B trio SWV was without a home, she immediately became a huge topic for gossip mongers everywhere.
Connoisseurs of 90s music can attest to SWVs impact on the era. With monster hits like Im So Into You, Rain, Human Nature and Weak, the trio was a fresh, vocally empowered update on the girl group. They merged classic soul and synthetic pop, and paved the way for the urban pop sound that floods the market today.
When words like homeless follow a former R&B it girl, its pretty shocking. Memories of a bankrupt TLC and Toni Braxton during that time come to mind, and the phrase it can happen to you should stick in the mind of any artist pillowing their recording contract.
Thankfully, and contrary to popular belief, Lelee is no longer homeless and is doing quite well. In a recent conversation with us, she addressed controversies in her career and shared some of her experiences with positive flashbacks in working with Pharrell, Beyoncé and Missy Elliott before those names meant anything to you. Now, with her own entertainment company and teen pregnancy shelter in the works, Lelee is in fact still shining and remains a sister with a voice.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: How would you describe your life after SWV?
Lelee: Challenging, but beautiful. I personally wouldnt change a thing to be honest. SWV was a wonderful experience. I wouldnt be the woman I am today or know the things I know without those experiences.
AHHA: How much influence would you say SWV had on the current girl groups out today?
Lelee: You would have to ask them. [laughs] I wanna think we had alot of influence on the girl groups today. Signed and unsigned. Everywhere we go and when we’re apart, we always hear the talent show stories about how they sang “Weak” and how that was their favorite song. We do take notice to how the girl groups used to dress with the boots, jerseys and just that whole Bronx, Brooklyn type of swagga. [laughs] I think its really cute and we’re always honored.
AHHA: Previously, you sampled Michael Jackson in your music. What did you think when you heard Tyrese and Chingy sampling SWV for Pullin Me Back?
Lelee: I thought the song was really cute, but I couldnt get too happy because I will never see any of those checks. But I was really happy for the writer and producer. If Im not mistaken, our producer at the time [Brian Morgan] borrowed that sample from a very talented jazz artist, so hes the one gettin paid.
AHHA: SWV worked closely with Destinys Child. Did you see Beyoncé heading towards a solo career that early on?
Lelee: Hmm, Im gonna put it like this: when [Destinys Child] were younger, they were off the hook as a group. I couldnt believe these small ass kids were so talented. In any group theres always one that stands out more for whatever reason. Not taking anything from the other girls, but there was a drive in that damn Beyoncé that you wish your mama had. [laughs] She just had something special.
The Beyoncé you guys see today is no surprise to me at all. What she gives to the world cannot be bought, and it damn sure cant be taught. I truly believe that. It can be enhanced, because as a performer you miss little things and there are people you can hire that have this special kinda eye. We see just a stage; they see a performance. Thats why she hired Frank Gatson who is phenomenal at what he does.
AHHA: What was it like working with the Neptunes and Missy in the early stages of their careers? What is your opinion of their careers currently?
Lelee: Dang, people always ask me this question, so Im gonna answer the best way I can. It was great working with Pharrell back then because you could get a hold of him. [laughs] Nah, for real, people have no idea how talented Pharrell was back then as a shorty in the game. He produced a song we did called “Use Your Heart” and a lot of people didnt know that, because his sound is so different today. We had so much fun in the studio.
I really enjoyed working with the Missy camp [too]. We had so much damn fun. Missy is so talented and I wanna hear her sing more. Her voice is so beautiful and her backgrounds are crazy. I be hearing you, Missy.
AHHA: Was Cokos decision to move towards Gospel something that happened during the reign of SWV, or following the groups breakup? Was it a cause for the breakup?
Lelee: Not at all. Coko has always been spiritual. That part of her never left even when she was with the group. The only difference back then was she will cut your ass, but now she will ask me to do it. [laughs] Her mom is a minister and when we would go on the road, she would always listen to Gospel and put us on to certain Gospel groups. As far as her Gospel album, which is in stores now and hot to death, when God speaks you gotta go!
Shes renewed and a wonderful woman I might add. Shes doing what God called her to do and regardless of what anyone tries to make of it we will support her. I will support Taj as well who has a reality show coming April 21 called I Married a Baller, which I am on a few episodes acting a mess, so you guys might wanna tune in. Its on TV1.
AHHA: What would you say is one valuable lesson youve learned from the music industry?
Lelee: I learned that the music is really the least important part. Theres always some political B.S. goin on, but you have to catch it and understand it. No matter what industry it is, business is not fair. Period.
AHHA: In retrospect, do you notice a change in how labels treat their artists now versus how they treated your career?
Lelee: They are more afraid to sign artists these days because these A&R seats cant tell the difference between Minnie Mouse or Mickey. People are hiring their friends who just came out of prison and making them executives. Thats a growing process. Thats like taking someone who goes before the church and say they were called to preach, and just giving them a license and they havent proven anything. These people need to get their feet wet for real, because they dont have that ear yet.
Some of the most talented executives dont have that ear all the time to recognize a hit record, so you know the inexperienced wont have a clue. They would miss out. People at the labels have the same slave mentality; the artists are just a whole lot smarter thanks to shows on VH1 and MTV that kinda walk you through alot of the bull that really goes on.
AHHA: There have been several controversies surrounding you regarding one particular magazine article. It quotes you as being homeless, and in your blogs youve denied that. What is the real story with regard to that situation?
Lelee: There was a point where I chose to be that way because of pride. No one could help, because very few knew. I wouldnt dare tell someone my situation. What? Lelee from SWV? Homeless? I had family and a few friends I have stayed with but I had no place to call home. My home. I stayed in my truck a few times because I was afraid to say something. I had “Me” and I had to be my own woman and make them think that I had it all together. My family, on the real, was all I had.
My situation became too much for the little friends I had, but they helped when they could. My sisters were my backbone, and my one sister, Minister Jeanette Longman, would pray with me and for me, but it was up to me. I was ashamed of who I was, because I lived in this shadow for so long. But people have this misconception that Im homeless now. Im finally getting my life together and I am in control. Im in the driver seat now and people are starting to see who I am outside of SWV. Thats a blessing in disguise.
AHHA: Also in the article there was mention of you leaving gay clubs to stay with women for the night, which has in turn evolved into rumors of homosexuality. How would you comment on that?
Lelee: I have heard so many different stories about the article I did. The blogs are bananas. People really think they know me. I heard I was sleeping with women for money and all kinda crap. If thats the case, I know enough men with paper and it would have been really easy, but thats not me. I think its funny. I never mentioned I slept with them, and if I did thats no one elses business.
Its so weird how you can tell a story that was so sincere to you and everyone see the sh*t they wanna see. I have gay friends and will continue to have my friends no matter what, regardless of what people think. I just think its so unfair, but what the hell.
AHHA: Why do you feel the media was so quick to jump on stories about your life after spending so much time away from the spotlight?
Lelee: Because my truth is juicy. This is not a joke, and its so crazy how someone can take your story, twist it around, and make fun of it. Not even looking at the bigger picture, because there is a bigger picture. My situation was one thing, but if I dont have, my kids dont have. What the hell is funny about that? Even though my kids never wanted for anything in this entire world, but you betta believe if it was to the point where my kids were starving, girl I would sell my ass and your ass too, so Margaret and Khiry can eat. [laughs]
AHHA: I understand SWV has been doing spot live performances, but is there any chance of a reunion album?
Lelee: Yeah, we’ve been doing spot dates for the fans and its so much fun. As far as a reunion album, I dont believe it will happen any time soon because everyone is so busy doing their own thing. But you never say never.
AHHA: You also have an entertainment company in the works. Can you speak on that?
Lelee: Being in the industry has never been a thing where I just wanted to be famous and live my life in the spotlight. Its never been a spotlight thing for me I just love what I did. I have so many people that come to me for help and have questions about the business and they are extremely talented. I wanna give them an opportunity to show the world what they are made of.
Theres a rap group from Atlanta that Im gonna be working with they dont know it yet. Im not really on no country stuff because I dont understand it. My kids make me like it and I admit I got bit. [laughs] Im looking for that fire and Im gonna get it, so stay tuned. Im also trying to open a pregnancy teen shelter and it will happen as well as a column that Im working on. My pen is on fire right now.
AHHA: Having worked with some big names previously, will you be working with anyone in particular in the future?
Lelee: Well hopefully. I dont get caught up in the big names because those names were once small names, so I dont just jump on the bandwagon just because of who they are, but at the same time you have to respect what they do. I always say the biggest hit is in someones basement somewhere. I guess we will see.
AHHA: When SWV was out, it was during the era of real R&B so to speak. What is your opinion of the new school artists out?
Lelee: Alot of bubblegum music to me. But when I listen to our first album some of the music sounds so wack to me too. [laughs] At the end of the day, you have to respect artists for what they do. If you like it, buy it; if not, shut up. I love the neo-soul singers. Im a huge fan of PJ Morton, Kindred, Musiq and so many other underground artists.
AHHA: Rumor has it you have a solo album in the works. What can we expect from that and who is it geared towards?
Lelee: Theres a few things I have under my sleeve. I would love to do a neo-soul record because thats my style. Im a crooner singer. I go mostly for the feel not to jump around and do splits. [laughs]
AHHA: If there is one thing you could change in your music career, what would it be and why?
Lelee: I would have hired a stronger team. One that would have given me the guidance that I needed to give me a career and not a job. A team that would have realized that the more money I make, the more money they make. And the end of the day thats what really matters in business honey, but something good always comes from a not so good situation. The knowledge I have now I can pass on to others and not be selfish about it.
For the record I just wanna thank everyone for supporting me and the other Women of Strength. We have to tell our stories of survival to help other young women. Please email me teens and women of strength and tell me your stories or survival at http://www.myspace.com/leleeswv.