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Having grown discouraged with the cutthroat practices of the record industry, Lisa M. decided it was time to investigate a career change. So in 2003 the Puerto Rico-born rapper decided to head for Miami, quickly securing a gig as host for the Telemundo show Jamz. But just as M. was beginning to get accustomed to her new life in Miami, one of her friends persuaded her to give the music business a second chance.
"Tego Calderón came one day to our TV studio to promote his record," M. says via cell phone from Puerto Rico. "As fate would have it, Tego and I ended up becoming very close friends. He was a fan of my old-school music and talked me into getting back into the game. He believed in my talent, and I'm extremely thankful for that."
With the support of reggaeton luminary Calderón, M. secured a record deal with the indie reggaeton label White Lion and promptly began writing songs for a comeback album. The result is Respect, M.'s opportunity to reclaim her legacy as one of the premier female voices in a genre traditionally dominated by men.
In the early Nineties, Lisa M. belonged to the first batch of artists who produced an early version of reggaeton known as el underground. Those performers exhibited a fascination with the beats and glossy lifestyles exemplified by the New York hip-hop community. But unlike hip-hop, el underground featured Spanish lyrics and incorporated Caribbean music elements such as salsa, clave, and dancehall reggae into its rhythms.
A self-described barrio homegirl, M. says her musical inspirations were dance-oriented hip-hop acts such as Salt-n-Pepa and salsa chanteuse La Lupe. "I got my start as a hip-hop dancer," she recalls. "My friends and I entered a talent show when I was fourteen. We really didn't know what we were doing, but we danced anyways, and I really enjoyed the experience. Then one thing led to another, and I became a back-up dancer for Vico C., [who] at that time was the top rapper in Puerto Rico."
It would not take long for C. to discover that his back-up dancer had a gift for singing, and M. soon joined him for the duet La Segunda Cita. The song's instant success gave M. the opportunity to record her first full-length album at a time when reggaeton music was mostly relegated to the production of single tracks. "Back then, we didn't used to get much respect; we were considered outsiders. People thought our music was just a passing fad," M. recalls. "Now things are starting to change. We even have our own category on the Billboard charts."
M.'s experiences with a record industry that simply did not know how to categorize and deal with the new breed of Latino music-makers prompted her crisis of career conscience. But as Don Omar and Wisin y Yandel began to push the record sales and respectability of the genre, a newfound respect for original old-school reggaetoneros began to take shape.
"I wrote all the songs and also coproduced part of the new CD," continues M. "I wanted the record to show people that I had evolved musically, so there's a lot of R&B, salsa, and hip-hop mixed in with the reggaeton beats." Calderón raps in the hip-hop-meets-salsa-club banger Quitat, while Daddy Yankee performs in the background chorus of the first single, Fuego.
"We have far too few females taking part in reggaeton, but those of us who are making this kind of music have a lot of strength and are very good at what we do. We are leaving our mark," says M.