How many children from as early as they can remember pick out an idealistic job they’d like for the future and not only stick with that dream through the years, but actually ever get to live it out? Lil’ Mo, who might be little in stature bet never in personality or vocals, is one who succeeded in achieving her dream she reached for since she was little (no pun intended). After bursting on the scene under with tutelage of Missy Elliott with a slew of major features in the late 90’s, Mo is still in the game and now working on her fourth album and currently hosting a very successful radio show in Baltimore. In this interview for YouKnowIGotSoul, we talk to Mo about her relationship with Missy, the industry politics that may have affected her success, her Twitter family, her strong religious beliefs, what to expect on the new album and much more.
YKIGS: I wanted to talk to you first about your music. At the beginning of your music career, I remember having your first album and on the intro you were talking about when you were five and you were singing and everyone was telling you that you were going to be a star. So when did you first realize you wanted a career in music?
Lil’ Mo: I would say when I led my first song in church. It was an overwhelming feeling as far as I can remember since I was young, and I cried the whole song actually. Just the applause that I got for just initially trying, I thought yea I could do this. As time goes on and you grow up you think you wanna be a fireman, or a policeman, or jump out of airplanes. But I believe I was in a talent show or something one time and I would up singing a gospel song, but every time I would sing just the overwhelming round of applause I would get, I was like yea I could do this! I’m going to show off anyway, so I thought might as well be a superstar, it pays the best and you don’t have to go to college! *Laughs*
YKIGS: You were eventually discovered by Missy and signed to her label. How did she discover you and how did you guys first meet?
Lil’ Mo: Well before her there was my uncle who’s a gospel artist, that’s who I initially went on the road with, it would be about 17 years ago to this date. That’s who actually took me under their wing first and then I signed to Elektra, so I was never signed to Missy, she took me on tour first. She actually took me on tour right before I was signed, so she took me under her wing and after that we remained cool. I actually spoke to her this morning and I was just like “Yo, can you believe we are still in the music business and can you believe we are still doing this? And I have three kids now?” Being under her tutelage was a great thing because that doesn’t naturally happen in the industry, people don’t take you under their wing anymore unless you are signed to them. They don’t even want to deal with you because it’s a loyalty thing, they don’t want to spend money, time or energy, or all of the above, and then the person winds up going and trying another situation after you’ve invested so much interest in them; nobody wants to let go of their product. But she’s just always been like my big sister from day one that’s, what I’ve considered her to be, family. Just being around when I first got the call I was like “Man, Missy didn’t tell me to call her!” That’s when beepers were out believe it or not, I was told to call this phone with your cell phone, and I didn’t even one, I had a beeper and I called her from a pay phone. So just to see the evolution of technology, this is like history! *Laughs*
YKIGS: Even before you did your debut album, you were featured on a lot of songs, did a lot of collaborations and you continued to do so all through your career. I was wondering if you had a favorite collaboration that stood out or one that immediately comes to mind that you remember the most?
Lil’ Mo: One that I would say that really comes to mind that stood out as my favorite probably would be “Hot Boyz” because that’s when I really got to reflect my personality, and then “Put It On Me” because I realized I really got to do me on those songs. Those are outside collaborations that they chose me; I didn’t have to choose them. So anytime I got featured on anything that I got the call for, there’s no particular order of which one was the greatest because everything I was featured on wound up doing exceptionally well. Then that’s when I ventured off and started doing my own stuff and I thought wow, this life is really cool. So between anything I’ve been on, I actually love them all because I’ve never repeated myself, I’ve always thought I ascended with everything I did like “Hot Boyz” then “Put It On Me” then “Superwoman” then “4Ever,” everything just kept on climbing and climbing and also the things that were in between. There were things I did with Missy, and people were like “Oh my God you killed it.” The end of “Wifey” by Next, *sings* “Will you be my wifey, yes I’ll be your wifey,” when I did that people thought it was so crazy and it literally took me 15 seconds. I did it because R.L. was like “Yo come here and just do this part, if the label doesn’t clear it, we’ll go ahead and take it off.” So things I did as a joke wind up changing people’s lives so I guess I’m a comedian and a singer all in one!
YKIGS: What do you remember most about recording your debut album “Based on a True Story”?
Lil’ Mo: Wow, what do I remember most…I remember just going in the studio and I just wanted everyone to know that purchased the album by the sound of my voice know that I could really sing. I’m not cocky, I’m not staunch, I’m not stuck up, but I know when I do stuff I do it well. At first I had planned on being a rapper, but then I decided I didn’t want to be a rapper because I just always felt that once your time is up with rapping, rapping doesn’t repeat itself, it kinda goes in cycles. Once a sound is old, people are tired of it. Remember when everybody was rapping mad fast and they were breaking it up, now everybody does the onomotopea style of rapping. So I realized I didn’t feel like keeping up with everybody, and once you pass a certain age, nobody cares. But with singing, that’s timeless, especially growing up in the church as well as doing r&b, and I could do country and western, anything I set my mind to I can do, and with singing I just felt that the first album was the best place to make a standard and platform to show people I could really sing. My main goal was to set out there that I’m a girl from the church, but trust I could rock with the streets, and I think I’ve set that standard. I think that’s why there are so many people that try to make this sound, or even came out and sold more records, but I don’t care because at the end of the day I’ll play them all! And I put that on my mamma! *Laughs*
YKIGS: Someone you’ve collaborated with many times, he was on all of your albums and you were on a bunch of his albums as well is Fabolous. What is your guys working relationship like and how do you guys work so well together?
Lil’ Mo: Well in the past we’ve worked together because I always thought it was a Scorpio thing and the fact that we’ve just been like brother and sister, his birthday is November 18th, mine’s November 19th, so I just felt like it was destiny! I used to be so hyped about chemistry. Over time people change, season’s change, things change, and I’ve enjoyed his collaborations in the past. As for the new album, only those who remain in my circle and who I really genuinely feel can go with me to this next mental, physical, emotional, social and singing level, and the musical level, are going, so there’s some that won’t be around, sorry!
YKIGS: As someone who has an amazing voice and is a very talented singer, through all of your years in the industry, can you touch on the politics and things that have prevented you from the success you felt maybe you deserved?
Lil’ Mo: Well there’s a such thing as when you reach your goals, then you reach higher. You ever heard of the study they did where they put a grasshopper in a box and they put a lid on it and the grasshopper can only jump as high as what they set the limit? So even when they removed the lid, it wouldn’t jump out of the box. See I’ve always been out of the box so there weren’t any limits for me and every time I put out an album I would say I did better and better and better. What I would say is there’s still room for me to sell 10 million records so I don’t want to beat myself at my own game. If you ever noticed, I consider a lot of artists backwards. From the outside looking in if an artist sold 10 million records that might seem like they did great, but I say that means they recouped and now there’s so much more to do. One of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with would be…I call him Hootie of Hootie and the Blowfish, but I did a record with him and we sat down and talked and I said “Yo, you guys sold 33 million records over your careers, that must be really amazing.” He said yea, but the label considered them a flop. So I wondered how he could say that. He told me because when they first came out they sold 10 million, second album sold eight million, then after that five million and two million. So once you’ve reached the top of the height of what they consider your success, and you don’t do it again, that’s when they consider that you lost it, even if you really didn’t. As an artist, going from selling 600,000 singles, to selling 400,000 albums, leading to another 300,000 albums, I felt like I was on a roll. So I have no choice but to reach for that one million, for that mark in a whole, not all collectively. A lot of people add of their numbers together, and would say they sold 10 million, but I’d say “Stop lying, you’re adding your single sales, downloads, mom & pops, and the ones you strictly put on a different barcode.” See I know the secrets of the system I just don’t fall for them because I know a lot comes with that so the success that I’ve actually set out for is just for everybody to know I could sing, so I’ve already reached that. So there isn’t anything else to do except try to please people which I’m not in the business of, I’m in the business of healing people through my lyrics. So I’ve accomplished that.
YKIGS: Now I want to talk to you about your radio show. I was reading that you actually had a radio show back in 2000 and that’s where you got your start in radio. How did that opportunity originally come about?
Lil’ Mo: Well in 2000 up until 2002 I was filling in for Angie Martinez, Funkmaster Flex, I filled in for Steve Harvey at times, a lot of people, and I had filled in one day just as a radio interview. When people went on vacation people didn’t want to leave their show in the hands of just anybody, so I guess they felt I sounded good on radio, so I said I’ll try it. I used to watch “Martin” a lot so I felt if he could do it, and I laughed and everybody else laughed, so I thought why not try it. So I just learned to pull off my comedic side, that’s really my talkative and interpersonal side, how I communicate with others. Then when I was pregnant with my first child, that’s when I had the opportunity to take a break from touring and stuff like that, and there was a new station that was forming in Baltimore, because I had moved from New York and came out here, so I said hey I’ll try it, they didn’t know if I was serious, but I was serious. They gave me a shot, I had a number one show and then after that I had to take a break and then that’s when I did second album “Meet the Girl Next Door” and I had to go and promote. So I had to take a break from radio, but since then people had been asking me “Hey do you want to get back in radio? I got a job for you!” I always knew that once you open that side of the business which a lot of people can’t get into, once I tapped into that I knew I had struck gold because the endorsements and things that come along with it, the people you reach; I’m reaching millions and millions. And now that you can listen on internet, you can’t even keep count of the people that you can reach. So just think those are the people that didn’t know that I sang or were coming back out with an album, now they have no choice but to know me, I’m going to be in your ear some type of way, singing, talking, Twittering, some type of way! So I came back with The Lil’ Mo Show, I thought what better way to reintroduce myself then by spoon feeding people, get used to me again. So sometimes on my show I might sing or you might hear some songs that I’m on or we may throw it back in the day, and now we’re moving up to the part where I’m getting into new music. So I’m really resurfacing, but I’m not taking baby steps, I’m actually…I don’t like pushing myself or forcing myself on people that might not remember, and also the new recycled people that will be like “Who? I thought she was done!” And I say “No baby I’m here and I’m actually in the best shape, the greatest look, and the swaggest of ever!” So this is basically the best of me that you’re getting in 2011.
YKIGS: So now with your radio show, having a family and having kids, how do you remain motivated and have the time to keep doing music as well?
Lil’ Mo: My family keeps me going because the stuff that they ask me just cracks me up, like “Mommy, are you really famous? Can I be famous like you?” Or I’ll go and pick up my kids from school, and when the principal comes out and people just say “Oh we heard you’re famous” and I just sit there looking crazy, dressed down like “Well you know…” because I’m really shy and introverted in person but you would never know that through the radio, through the phone or when I’m on stage, I actually have to turn into a character. So the way I balance it all is I realize that there is a big difference between mommy and Lil’ Mo, but at the same time, my kids think it’s so cool that their mom is Lil’ Mo, it’s the greatest. Anybody that can do it, I put my hat off to you, but you do have to know when to turn that light off and when to be the parent as well as when to be the personality.
YKIGS: The other family I want to ask you about is your Twitter family because I know you’re very active on there and keep a family on there, you’re very interactive with your fans and it’s pretty cool to see. How has that whole experience been and how do you enjoy that part of things?
Lil’ Mo: I really like it, I remember a couple of years back Elektra, when I was signed to them, now they’re closed, but they had us doing interactive stuff when the internet was really poppin. So ten years ago, it just seems like time has really flown. When we were just doing ringtones, we considered that interactivity but now people that grew up or are on or around your music, you could run into people who remember you from elementary school, and I’m thinking “Good Lord I’m not that old! Or at least I don’t look like it!” I’ve always been one to know how to deal with people because I would consider myself a chameleon. With my dad being ex-military, I’ve lived in Texas, I’ve lived in Atlanta, Georgia, North Carolina, I’ve been all around the world and I’ve done all of that at a young age and I’ve learned how to deal with different people. So that’s the reason why I’m interactive so much with Twitter. A lot of people applaud me or commend me for interacting with my fans. But then there are times people say “If you’re supposed to be famous, why do you talk to your fans so much?” And to those people I just say “Oh shut up, you just want somebody to talk to!” So I give everybody a fair chance to say what they’ve got to say. I’m really to the point now, because I used to give people so much time, I’m a professional speed typer so a lot of people think I Tweet all day and really I’m not Tweeting all day, I just type fast so it seems like I’m on here all day. Then there are just some times that I’m just chillin, or I’ll be in the booth Tweeting and singing and nobody will realize, and my husband will be like “Can you please put your phone down, I can hear you texting while you’re singing!” I can multi-task, so why not take all that energy whether good or bad and translate it into passion through a song? Sometimes while I’m at the grocery store paying for something I’m here Tweeting, and they’ll be like “Oh that’ll be $99.99.” A lot of people don’t know half the time when I’m doing stuff, you can put like a Big Brother satellite over my life and you’ll see I’m not just sitting there in bed eating Bon Bons Tweeting! I’m really actually doing things or being interactive, but I think that’s what keeps me young, that’s what keeps me focused and that’s what keeps me in the know of the new lingo that’s out that’s going on. Because one thing you don’t want to be is behind the times, a lot of these artists are afraid of people finding out who they really are, but I’m an open book. That’s the real reason why nobody wants to mess with me because here I am, hear me roar! I love it, it’s fun to me.
YKIGS: Yea, it’s real cool that you take the time like that to interact.
YKIGS: The next question is from one of the readers of my site, she’s a big fan of yours. She wants to know in this crazy industry with so much stuff that could get you off course, how do you keep your life dedicated to religion like you do?
Lil’ Mo: Well both of my parents are preachers; my Dad’s a Bishop believe it or not. We’re kind of like the radicals, I’m a hip hop and r&b fan, it’s like wow I really broke the mold. But when you realize that your relationship with God is the only one that you need to be concerned about, nobody else has anything to do with that, you just kinda get over everything. My mom is an Evangelist and she’s a school teacher so with that our interactivity in dealing with people and things that she’s taught me along the way, just the way they deal with their saints in the church, the way she deals with the people at school and the parents, that’s what keeps me grounded and keeps be humble. If I really wanted to I could really shut my life out from everybody but that’s boring. When you become a product of that environment, that’s the reason why a lot of people are doing really bad drugs or really losing their mind or are really suicidal. Just look at half of the celebrities that really don’t interact, you will lose your mind, they are lonely! That’s why keeps me grounded in my religion because I just feel like who wants to live holed up in their house, who wants it to get to that point, I would never want it to be that way. These couples that are here now, I would say Jay-Z and Beyonce, President Obama and his wife, they aren’t even stuck in the house, who does that? They are behind their security and stuff, but they just live life and you have to live life and that’s what really keeps me in touch with my religion because God doesn’t want me stuck in the house, I’ve got to get this word out!
YKIGS: Now tell me about your upcoming album “Tattoos and Roses.” When can we expect the album and what can we expect to hear on this album.
Lil’ Mo: Well you’re the first one that’s finding this out but we actually changed the title just for a couple of reasons. We’re going to keep “Tattoos and Roses” for the next album, but for this album we’re tossing up between two titles but I think I’m going to change the title to “My Pain vs. Your Entertainment.” Still with the “Tattoos and Roses” theme, but I think yea we’re going to stick with that one With my “Pain & Paper” mix cd that I did that came out on Koch. we pressed about 50,000 copies and sold every copy, they are still available for download I believe, and I don’t even have a copy which makes me feel some type of way because this is my own album! But with that being said, a lot of people that do have it felt it was a great album and wonder what happened. When you do an independent album and you don’t have a major team behind you, you’re just doing everything yourself and you can only expect to sell what you put out. So we just decided to take it back to the grassroots, I really have to be on the scene, I have to be able to reach my fans, they have to be able to feel me, but the best way you feel me is through my pain. So I’ve decided to go with “My Pain vs. Your Entertainment” and it’s almost like how much more hurt can I get, are you not entertained? So we’re just going to go ahead with that and “Tattoos and Roses” will just be the theme but not the title.
YKIGS: Do you have any plans at any point to release a gospel album?
Lil’ Mo: I believe I will, but what’s crazy is a lot of my gospel friends tell me not to do it. It’s not so much to say don’t do it in reverence to my relationship with God, but just the gospel music industry as a whole is basically to a point where even gospel artists don’t want to be gospel artists. The industry is so political and so cutthroat and so shady and so much going on, there’s so many people I know that I won’t name, but they don’t even want to be an artist anymore. I tell them “You’re scaring me now, you’re supposed to be coming out with an album, if you don’t want to do this, then why should I want to do this?” But I think I may do a contemporary album so I won’t totally abandon my hip hop audience, which would be my secular audience, just so I can keep it safe and so I don’t abandon one trying to move over to another. So basically I’ll do a contemporary album, not a traditional album, just good singing all over the place with some good gospel artists and some secular artists because there’s some secular artists that will tear the house down!
YKIGS: That’s all of the questions I had for you, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Lil’ Mo: Just to all of my fans, thank you for waiting so long, I promise you that it is worth the wait. I’m in the best place in my life, which will be a better way for people to actually be able to deal with me because I know I’m a bit much, I personally know that, I know a lot of people can’t handle me, you have to be able to handle me to understand me. So with that being said, just get ready, this last train is getting ready to pull out from Paris, hello!