Welcome to the third installment of Fuse's newest column, Then & Now! Throughout this interview series, we chat with some of your favorite artists from the '90s and early aughts about their careers' biggest highlights and what they're up to today. This week, we spoke to Lumidee.
Lumidee first bubbled on the scene in the summer of 2003 with the release of her first single "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)," from her debut album Almost Famous. The tune, featured on Jamaican producer Steven "Lenky" Marsden's Diwali riddim, dominated New York radio, backyard cookouts and basement parties for months. Thirteen years and a sophomore album later (2007's Unexpected), the 32-year-old Harlemite continues to embrace her passion for music.
The artist never expected "Never Leave You" to become as successful as it did when she was just a teenager. "It definitely stood the test of time for me. It had to be like three days a week where people would hit me like, 'Oh I heard your song in the club,' or, 'I heard your song while shopping,'" Lumidee tells Fuse. "The record follows friends of mine as well! It’s crazy, it’s like I’m haunting them. I hated it before, but I learned to love it."
It wasn't her debut that Lumidee didn't like, but the weight that came along with its success. She explains she felt like she was living in the shadow of "Never Leave You." "They wouldn’t want to hear or accept anything else. That’s what I kind of battled with for a while," the singer tells us. "But it did stand the test of time, it’s a classic. So I gotta love it and respect it. It’s the reason that I’m still working today."
At the time, Lumidee was the only non-Jamaican artist who had a song featured on the Diwali riddim. Dancehall was a dominant genre in America in the early '00s, and it's seen a mainstream resurgence with artists like Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and the derivative tropical house movement. "I’m Puerto Rican, and we definitely have those Caribbean roots. But when people see me they say “I thought you were Jamaican,” just because it was on the Diwali riddim," Lumidee says. She continues:
"So music is music, it’s all on how you feel it. It doesn’t bother me who does it, just as long as they’re really feeling it. Some people just love dancehall music. White, Black, Chinese—it doesn’t matter. And I like some of the stuff going on right now too. It’s like a whole new wave just came in."
We were introduced to Lumidee as a singer, but she actually started out as a rapper. She's well aware of the struggles women face in the hip-hop world. "There are girls trying to break through in rap right now, but it’s kind of hard. It’s like there can only be one or two," she states. "It’s not like with males where they have all these rappers out at the same time. I think it’s wack we can’t have that with females. People who have followed my mixtapes and things like that know that I rap."
Like many artists, Lumidee's outlook on music shifted as she got older. "I don’t want to say that I got soft, but I had a daughter. So I’m more conscious of everything that I say now. And where rap is going now, it’s very sexualized and that’s not my thing to talk like that or put that in music."
The industry has changed significantly since her big break, which makes it hard to maintain relevancy, and she's definitely aware. "Now that everything is online, people are more popular for things that are not about talent. It’s a different time right now," Lumidee says. "But at the end of the day, if the last thing I dropped didn’t blow up as big as in the past but it’s something I can stand by, then I’m good with that. It’s not always about the popularity contest. Because in order to be that right now, you gotta go out there doing some crazy shit!"
As the faces of hip-hop and R&B continue to furiously rotate like clockwork, Lumidee makes sure that she stays true to herself and her roots. The artist is always representing the city in her music, including “Be Good” featuring Dave East. "I felt like I was tapping into the music that I grew up listening to. That hip-hop and R&B that just feels good," she says about the single. "It’s cool and something that came naturally. Like it’s okay to talk about love and being a ride or die without being super raunchy. It’s important for me to rep where I’m from, but do it my way."
“They’re not going to sit and listen to your album unless you’re being drilled on them from the radio.”
Lumidee and East are both native New Yorkers. "I’m from 119th Street and he’s from like 10 blocks away! We have friends in common and people thought it would be dope if we did something together," she says. "One thing that is important to me was to work with the people who also rep where I’m from. We’re both from Spanish Harlem, so why wouldn’t we do something?"
Yet with all the collaborations and mixtapes throughout the years, there is still no answer to when the next Lumidee album will arrive after almost a decade of waiting. Explaining that she's in a "moment of transition," she admits that she's been overthinking the idea of an LP:
"I feel nowadays albums get looked over unless you have a big machine behind you. People have this short attention span. They’re not going to sit and listen to your album unless you’re being drilled on them from the radio. I don’t want to waste the music, but at the same time I want to give people who have been checking for me a project. I want to do something different the next time around, not just drop an album. You have to keep people interested and show that you’re growing. But I have been recording a lot of stuff and focusing more on a global sound."
She tells us she'd like to expand her musical horizons for the next go-round, and work with some unexpected producers, maybe someone like a Nile Rodgers, saying, "I’m not trying to do a trap song right now." No matter what route she takes, Lumidee makes it clear that she won't repeat past mistakes.
"Sometimes we slow down because of things people are saying about us. So that’s the only thing I regret doing, just listening to some shit I shouldn’t have," she says. "But I feel like I’m in a good space right now, and everything just gets you to the next step."