Debbie Deb on Covers: "Janet Jackson Did 'Lookout Weekend,' She Botched It"

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And nobody knew any better...

People in Miami knew the story, nobody else. Eventually Bo Crane, the president of Pandisc Records, got hold of the situation and he found me [in the mid '90s]. I was a hairdresser in Aventura. He asked me if I'd like to get back into the industry. I spoke about it with my husband and said why the hell not. The songs were all over the radio still. It was horrible for me. And ever since then, every year I do more and more shows. [This summer] I have a show every weekend, and 13 shows in a row. When computers came in, that changed the whole industry for me. People were able to type "Debbie Deb" into Google and find me. I just got over my stage fright. I took a deep breath, and I got back into it.

Are most of your shows with other freestyle artists?

I do a lot of nightclubs with me alone on the bill and I do a tour with Lisa Lisa, Stevie B, and the whole freestyle gang. I think there are 30 of us who are real freestyle artists. It's not a lot of us. We got lost somewhere in the industry, not knowing what to even call it. We all get along very well. It's almost like brothers and sisters.

A lot of people would say freestyle comes from New York, but Pretty Tony was kind of the start of the freestyle sound...

No doubt. For all of the things that were done to me, I don't think he got the respect he deserved. That's a talented guy right there, and he put some good tunes out. I don't know what he's doing right now, all I know is every day my phone rings for bookings. It's funny how things change.

So how did you and him find each other?

I was in high school at North Miami Beach. I was a senior and not a good student. They put me in a work program, and said, "What interests you?" and I said, "Music." I was really into the whole rap scene, because I would go to New York every summer and stay with my grandma, and that's where all of the rap was coming from. So they put me in a record store, and I would get credits towards graduation for that. And Pretty Tony would come in there, and buy records. It was Peaches on 163rd Street in NMB. It was called work experience. I had to stay in school and do my math and English and go to work. I was able to graduate, with a regular high school diploma.

You never sang before then?

Never. I didn't sing in school. To me, it was just a fun thing to do. My own family never even knew that I liked to sing. I would sing to myself and record it with a little recorder. But I had no confidence because of my weight. So I didn't pursue it. I went to the studio just out of curiosity, and we ended up doing, "When I Hear Music." [Pretty Tony] put a tape together for me and said, "Here, take this home and see if you can put some words to it."

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Jesse Serwer