Training Day

Since entering the music business at age fifteen, singer-songwriter-rapper Laura Diamante has certainly encountered her share of heartbreak. There was the time she was hired as a back-up singer for Guru on his Jazzmatazz: Streetsoul European tour, only to suffer from stage fright during the first performance. (She says she got over it.) There was the time, she says, that her then-management company Jam Entertainment allegedly kept multiplatinum producer Swizz Beatz from working with her by telling him that they had a label deal with her. (They didn't, she says.) There were many other would-be, self-appointed "mentors" who tried to control her career and her music, trying to take advantage of her because she's a woman. In her life, she says, there has been "a lot of crying, a lot of struggles, a lot of hardships, and a lot of experiences that have brought me to where I'm at now."

Today those memories are just funny and outrageous stories to tell a nosy journalist. The sun is peeking out from the rain clouds and shining into her Kendall home, illuminating the 25-year-old Diamante's white GraffGear T-shirt, which is smartly complemented by a brown skirt and heels. Her home is immaculate; its only drawback is a mosquito flitting around the living room, making mincemeat of its prey. Otherwise life is good for Diamante. When she talks about her past troubles, she can't help but share her gregarious personality by cracking jokes or making faces in a robust, charismatic way that's endemic among long-time b-boys, b-girls, and other avatars of hip-hop culture. At one point Loren Medina, one of her managers at Too Savvy Entertainment, calls from New York to announce that she's already held exploratory meetings with J Records, Universal, Motown, and Columbia.

"I'm currently unsigned," Diamante says. "I'm looking for a major-label deal or some kind of distribution deal with a label that's going to give me that creative control and help me to bring forth my true self, not some fake bimbo that's going to do the macarena," she laughs.

All of the disrespect, mistreatment, and slights she suffered earlier in her career haven't stopped this Dominican from doing her thing. Instead she has used it as fodder for an imagistic song, "Live My Life," one of ten tracks on Diamante's self-titled CD: "Dance in my own rain, celebrated mistakes/Who should I blame anyway." The disc isn't commercially available, though there is talk of releasing "Spanish Fly," a sensuous homage to her lover, as a promo single for DJs. (Snippets from the CD can be heard on Too Savvy's Website at www.toosavvy.com).

Too Savvy pressed up 1000 copies of the CD several months ago to create a buzz, a demo showcase for her talents. Several local musicians worked on it, including Nick "Fury" Lewis, Metatronix (who did the mastering), and Too Savvy's production team: Gato, Profile, and Blackout. Diamante, however, did co-produce three tracks, including the CD's best song, "My DJ." "I tell [the producer] the bass line I want, the melody, the drum pattern, any cuts or samples," she says.

Diamante admires many artists, but can legitimately claim that she's an imitator of no one. When she sings, she sounds like a mature young woman, not a high-strung, half-naked teenager trying to become a one-hit wonder. Although her voice is as full and textured as Jill Scott's, she doesn't indulge in operatic effects, choosing instead to enunciate her words clearly and passionately. The best comparison would be to Monica, except that Diamante is not just another R&B chick.

Diamante is talented, but she knows that securing a spot on a major-label roster has more to do with luck and connections than musical ability. She says she's grateful with the progress Too Savvy has made in the past several months. "These girls at Too Savvy have gotten me further than anybody [in the past year than] in the whole ten years. It's funny," she says.

A few days earlier during a lunch interview at Mike's, an Irish pub and eatery nestled inside the Venetia Center in downtown Miami, Loren Medina talks enthusiastically about her first client. "We just recorded a promo spot for McDonald's," she reveals, adding that she hopes the restaurant chain will broadcast it on local radio stations. In a few days, she'll be flying up to New York for meetings with powerful industry executives while Too Savvy CEO Lourdes Abalia takes care of business here with the help of marketing director Rebecca Beltran.

Medina and Abalia founded Too Savvy Entertainment in September of 2001. The two Cuban Americans have been friends since childhood. It was originally Abalia, a magna cum laude graduate in psychology from Loyola College, who thought of starting a management company. "I was going to get my master's in business from Florida International University," says Medina, who received a bachelor's in psychology from Boston University. But her curiosity about the entertainment industry won out. She admits that she got involved without knowing anything, and credits Abalia with educating her about "all the logistics, starting a record label, pressing up vinyl, doing promotion."

After forming Too Savvy the two began throwing hip-hop parties in South Beach clubs like Opium Garden and Billboardlive. They discovered Diamante through "Play With It," a Swizz Beatz production that she recorded with former group the Deadbeatz. "I heard the record and I can't express to you how I felt when I heard her," Medina remembers. "I was, like, where is this girl?" Too Savvy invited Diamante to perform at one of their parties at Goddess in December of 2001. "She performed, the crowd loved her. She's great with the crowd. She has so much stage presence." A month later, Too Savvy presented Diamante with a ten-page marketing plan and an invitation to sign on as one of their first clients; she took them up.

Medina, for her part, wants to posit Diamante as a multitalented artist who can sing and rap. She's understandably wary of how hip-hop veterans like Angie Martinez are dismissed as Latin pop acts instead of widely respected. Instead she looks to the success of Lauryn Hill, who crossed over to hip-hop, R&B, and pop audiences while selling millions of records. "I think Lauryn Hill is one of the few female MCs to come out as a singer and a rapper that writes about stuff that Laura writes about," Medina says admiringly.

To her, Diamante is someone who also has cross-cultural potential. "I think she has the ability to tap into any market. But I think that when she comes out, she wants the world to see her as a hip-hop and R&B artist, regardless of the fact that she's Hispanic," explains Medina. "We want her to be respected as a hip-hop artist."

Medina's enthusiasm is so infectious -- indeed, she literally beams when she talks about her plans for Diamante and Too Savvy Entertainment -- one can't help but be swept up by it. But what if Diamante doesn't get signed? Are there any career options for her besides being a solo recording artist? Is there space for an anti-bling female MC/singer on the pop charts? But at times like this, hard, pessimistic questions tend to go unanswered. There's only the here and now, and the boundless optimism for a future where, for now at least, the sky's the limit.

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Mosi Reeves
Contact: Mosi Reeves