Best known for being one-third of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with such hits as “All Cried Out” and “Lost in Emotion,” the 47-year-old artist lives in Long Island, N.Y., with her family, which includes sons ages 6 and 8.
And though her life has taken her all over the world, she’s still quick to point out that she’s from Hell’s Kitchen.
“Hell’s Kitchen will forever be in me,” she said.
As a child, she was just Lisa Velez, one of 10 kids who grew up in the Manhattan neighborhood with a rough-and-tumble reputation.
“The Irish Mafia, the Westies, kind of ran it,” she said during a telephone interview from her home. “It was basically Irish and Puerto Ricans who lived in the area. But a lot of the stuff that happened with the Mafia, crazy gangsta stuff, originated there. I kind of lucked out.”
Although the neighborhood was tough, Lisa Lisa said it made her into the person she is today.
“What it instilled in me is family, loyalty and not to do anything stupid for absolutely no reason,” she said. “It’s funny, I still know a lot of these people. They tell me, ‘You did good, you got out of the streets, you moved on. You didn’t let anything let anything drag you down. Continue doing what you’re doing.’”
And just as Hell’s Kitchen itself has involved into a trendy hipster area, Lisa Lisa has matured into a woman who believes that music will forever be a part of who she is.
Friday night Lisa Lisa will perform at the H Lounge at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va. Her performance will be part of the Boogie Nights event, which starts at 9 p.m. She’s scheduled to go on after that.
Lisa Lisa was just 13 when she auditioned with R&B producers and performers Full Force, who were assembling a group.
“They already knew the direction they wanted to go into,” Lisa Lisa aid. “They actually wanted to do a three-girl group, but they couldn’t find two of the girls to blend with my voice so they just made it a band — two guys featuring a female singer. They knew the sound that they wanted was basically everything that was being played in the streets — a lot of freestyle dancing and hip-hop.”
Joining her as Cult Jam were guitarist/bassist Alex “Spanador” Moseley and drummer/keyboardist Mike Hughes.
But success wasn’t overnight for the group. She said it took awhile for any label to sign the group.
“I remember I had the track on a cassette when I was still in high school and I would play it in the school yard and say, ‘This is me,’ and people would say, ‘No, it’s not,’” she said with a laugh.
Their big break came with the 1985 song “I Wonder if I Take You Home,” which was released as on a compilation album in the European market.
Lisa Lisa said it took a full year before it crossed the Atlantic Ocean to make it on American radios.
She was working retail at United Colors of Benetton, when she heard her song on the radio.
“I was working the register that day,” she recalled. “My girlfriend called and said, ‘Turn the radio on.’ I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Turn it on!’ Then I turned it on and — boom! — there it was. I just started jumping up and down in the store. People must have thought I was nuts.”