After a record deal gone bad, local rap sensation Lois Lane is ready to give it another shot.
By Susan Ellis
MAY 8, 2000: The other night I went to a show and I'm walking through the door and [the bouncer] says, 'That will be 10 dollars.' I just stood back and looked at him. A lady said, 'That's Lois Lane!' He said, 'Oh, I'm sorry,' and he held his hands up and started backing up. He said, 'I'm so sorry. I didn't know,' and then he asked me for my autograph."
At this moment, Lois Lane is what she calls her "calm" self, not that all-out booty-shaking Lois Lane, who hit the city hard back in '97 with the hit "Chinese Checkers." Her hair is done, but her makeup is low-key, and she is wearing a perfectly neat green track suit that is accessorized with pristine sneakers and a green plastic watch to match.
She is ready to talk about her rise to local celebrity and her taste of almost-stardom when she was signed by Sony in 1998. She was cut by the label several months later, in the early spring of 1999, and her anecdote about the bouncer reflects, unintentionally, the state she finds herself in: lovingly remembered but not always immediately recognizable.
The thing about Lane is that she's surprisingly reserved, given her onstage persona who wears the tightest clothes and does a blushingly authentic climb-on-top and rock-it dance move. Lane admits to being shy as a kid growing up in Memphis, the youngest child in a middle-class family of seven kids. A family friend pronounced her "Lois Lane" when she was five or six, and she won't divulge her real name except to say that Lois Lane is similar to the one her parents gave her.
Lane says she was always singing and knew she was talented. She went to a number of schools, graduating from Melrose in 1988, but she didn't participate in school talent shows or the like. When prompted -- which she says was often -- she would perform for family and friends and she sang in her church choir.
After graduation, she joined an R&B group, PM, as a backup singer. She and the other backups formed their own group, but they never got as far as choosing a name. Then, she wrote her first rap song, "Dissin' All Suckers." Her sister introduced her to a producer and she worked for five years "getting where I need to be."
That place turned out to be Bill's Twilight, a club on North Parkway. There, her friend Mixx Master Lee hooked her up with the song "Chinese Checkers," a dance song that samples from a Booker T & the MGs song. Lois wrote some lyrics, the song was reintroduced to the clubs, and James Alexander of the Bar-Kays and a promoter for local record distributor Select-o-Hits created his own imprint JEA Basix to release the song. The single eventually sold 40,000-plus, according to Alexander.
With "Chinese Checkers," Lane was a certified local phenomenon. People wanted to see Lois Lane, and Lane considered it -- and considers it -- a regular job in which she indulges her wilder side.
"I have outfits that definitely put me in the Lois Lane character. And I play her to the fullest. It's like you can turn it on and you can turn it off," she says. "There have been times when I've been places and I knew I didn't want to be there, but because of the business I'm in, I have to be there, and I am just smiling and I'm playing the character to the fullest. I could have gotten an award."
Lane, whatever she does onstage, is somewhat modest. She says she has a little bit of Lil Kim in her, though she characterizes herself as more "clothed." "Me myself, I try to be versatile. When I started out, I tried to be peaceful, but I also have a party side. I'll always keep my party side. That's a strong version of me," she says.
As Lane's reputation grew, some people in her life began to feel overshadowed. She broke up with her live-in boyfriend, and her relationship with Mixx Master Lee became strained when Lee felt gypped by all the attention Lane was receiving with "Chinese Checkers." To explain his feelings, Lee offers the metaphor of buying a car. He paid the notes, he says, but someone else got the car.
Says Lane, "Lee, I totally acknowledge him for his idea. As far as the big blow up or whatever it was, Lee and I never actually exchanged words about that."
Both Lane and Lee say they hold no animosity toward each other, and both say they want to work together again. Lee, in fact, is back in the local club limelight with his dance song "Stomp," recorded with Red Rum (see "Lee's Thing").
After the local explosion of "Chinese Checkers," the next obvious step was to record an album, which she did, The Adventures of Lois Lane. "I was overwhelmed by the things I had to do," says Lane. "I had to be here. I had to be there, and then all the sudden, it was, 'Hey, we're going to do an album."
Lane, who is 30 and the mother of three -- ages 11, 10, and five -- says she was performing four nights out of the week. She says she wrote songs for the album, with the help of Lee, local rapper Al Kapone, and others, within about a week and a half. "I thought it was okay," she says of Adventures, "but I knew I could do better."
The opportunity for better came when she had dinner at the T.G.I. Friday's downtown with James Alexander of JEA Basix and Michael Kaplan, the senior v.p. of a&r at Sony 550.
According to Lane, she was taken completely unaware by the record deal. "He didn't want to tell me and then it not happen," says Lane of Alexander's dealings with Sony. "He told me [about the contract], and I could have fell out of my seat. I was so excited and at the same time, I was scared because this was definitely new territory for me."
It was an exciting time for Lane. Sony flew her and her sister to New York City to talk specifics. She would do a video, and she would become "Miss Lane" to avoid any conflict with the D.C. comics character. She ate at Puff Daddy's restaurant, she shopped, and she saw Carnegie Hall.
Then they flew her to Los Angeles for a photo shoot. "I had a daytime look of Lois Lane and the evening look. I was like the caped crusader or something," she says, explaining that part of her act would be her transformation from the daytime to the nighttime Lane. They put wigs on her and covered her in baby powder so she could get into rubber outfits. They even convinced a non-short-skirt-wearing Lane that she could show the leg and wear six-inch spike-heeled, thigh-high boots."I'm going to stand up straight," she remembers thinking, "because if I bend over, I'll be mooning everybody."
Of course, she loved all the pampering. "I felt so good. I felt like a star, you know?"
Lane returned to Memphis, and Sony sent a choreographer to work with her. Try-outs were held for dancers, who were not only required to dance well but to be able to morph from daytime to nighttime as the new Miss Lane would.
And then nothing.
"They were so into Miss Lane," she says. "You know when somebody is into you and they're putting all their energy into you. All of the sudden it went from that to, 'We'll let you know.' I went to James [Alexander] and I said, 'I think they've dropped me.' I had a gut feeling."
The feeling turned out to be right. The fact that she never got to shoot her video, she says, makes her want to cry. She says she doesn't really know the reason Sony dropped her. Alexander says it's the same old story. Lane got lost in a big corporation and was the flavor of the day until they lost interest. "They just didn't want to do it," he says. (Michael Kaplan of Sony was unavailable for comment.)
While she still had her contract with Alexander's JEA, Lane was heartbroken about the busted deal and took a break, living off the advance from the Sony contract and money from gigs that Alexander had booked for her.
With a few pep talks and several months off, Lane started writing again. "I told James I cannot do this. He gave me his speech about how everybody has his ups and downs and everything. I'll admit that I'm still kind of down about it."
But Lane still has her confidence. She says she wants to show everybody exactly what she's made of. "This is more me," she says of the new album, which may be released as early as this fall. "I think with my first album, I wasn't as straightforward with it. This time, I'm giving punch to it. I'm making a big statement. I'm extremely secure in what I'm saying."
What she's saying, however, hasn't pleased all of those who know Lois Lane and care about her career -- particularly when it comes to a song titled "Chick on the Side."
You're coming in late/I'm about to seal your fate.
Lane says that Alexander is worried about her straying from the party songs that have served her so well in the past. Alexander affirms this, but still sees a big future for Lane. "I think she has a distinct voice. It's a matter of connecting her with the right song. She'll be bigger than before."
Lane is all for it. "That was just a taste of it," she says of the Sony deal. "I'm ready for the whole cake now."
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