The younger members of our audience may not believe this, but once upon a time, Lisa Lisa — or, more accurately, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force — was all over pop and R& radio. For a couple of years (a brief period, but longer than, say, Al B. Sure!’s peak), Lisa and her men were unstoppable, scoring no fewer than six Top 40 hit singles, including the breakdancing classic “I Wonder if I Take You Home,” “Little Jackie Wants to Be a Star,” and “All Cried Out,” which was, I swear, credited to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force featuring Paul Anthony and Bow-Legged Lou. And that’s leaving out their pair of Number One hits, “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion”:
You remember Lisa Lisa now, don’t you? Que sera que sera, fuckers!
As you’ve no doubt already deduced, commercial relevancy was short-lived for Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam — but not Full Force; those dudes went right on making hits — their Top 40 streak ending, as the band did, with 1991’s Straight Outta Hell’s Kitchen. It was a shockingly quick fall from grace for an act that, as of 1989, was big enough to turn a deep cut from the Caddyshack II soundtrack into a Top 20 R&B hit — but dance music trends are brutally fickle, and although Lisa Lisa squeaked into the R&B Top 40 with 1994’s solo single “Skip to My Lu,” she’s kept a pretty low profile during the years since the group’s breakup. In fact, near as I can tell, her most high-profile gig came as part of the supporting cast of Taina, a series that, according to its Wikipedia entry, has the distinction of being “the shortest-lived Nickelodeon show.” Now 42, and more than two decades removed from her commercial peak, Lisa (Lisa) would seem to be a better candidate for a reality series judging gig or a free concert at your local boardwalk than a new album — and yet here she is.
Life ‘n Love, her second solo album, arrives via Mass Appeal Entertainment, a Boston-based indie run by Marcus Siskind, a producer whose biggest credits have come courtesy of a posthumous Left Eye album and the Save the Last Dance 2 soundtrack. On paper, it looks like the perfect set of ingredients for a horrifying, low-budget trainwreck — but the reality (which is a little disappointing, as far as I’m concerned) is much more mundane. This is really just 46 minutes of unspectacular, middle-aged R&B, a set of songs whose cringeworthy moments (the fourth track is a dance number titled “Booyah”; the fifth is a saccharine ballad sung in Spanish) are offset by some mildly diverting surprises, like the pleasantly Mariah-ish “Feels Like Love” (download) and the slinky, low-key “Refund” (download).
None of it is really befitting the supposed “Queen of Latin Hip-Hop,” and neither is it enough to justify Life ‘n Love‘s existence. But I still can’t help but appreciate Lisa Lisa’s perseverance — and be glad for the democratization of digital distribution, which puts these songs a click away instead of dumping them into the dusty truck stop carousels where past-their-prime artists used to spend their not-so-golden years. There is a place in this world for aging Latin Freestyle singers, as well as ’80s pop starlets who frankly would have looked a little dude-ish in their videos if not for all the tight spandex wrapped around their Lisa Lisas, and I am not being snarky when I tell you I believe we’re all better for that place. So good for you, Lisa Lisa, with or without Cult Jam and Full Force, whether or not they’re featuring Paul Anthony and Bow-Legged Lou. I’m still totally deleting this album from my hard drive as soon as I’m finished with this column — and I don’t for one second believe you’ve sold more than 20 million albums — but I’m proud of you for sticking around, and I’m sort of looking forward to your third solo album, due for release in 2024.