When you turn on the radio to urban commercial stations nowadays, what is the majority of the lyrical content really about? Here’s a better question, if you turned on one of those same stations and listened for an hour, how many times would you hear a song that is delivering a positive message and leaving the listener motivated? I’m willing to bet you won’t need a calculator to add up the total. Well I’m glad to say that not only is one of our favorite voices of the 90’s back, but former Total lead singer Pamela Long is here to make a difference and she’s in a position to do so. Despite the fact she’s been largely out of the limelight since the group disbanded in the early 00’s, her return will prove to be worth the wait due the transformation into a better person she’s undergone. Now set to make her solo debut armed with a powerful message in her music, Pamela Long is ready to prove to her listeners she’s “Undeniable.” In this interview for YouKnowIGotSoul, we discuss the origins of the group Total, the sudden end of the group, her solo sound compared to that with Total, what she hopes to deliver to listeners on the new album “Undeniable,” the lessons she’s learned over the years, her growth as a person, and much more.
YKIGS: Take me back to the beginning. Where did the three of you guys from Total originally meet and how did you form the group?
Pamela Long: We’re actually are all Jersey Girls, Kima and Keisha are actually from Plainfield, New Jersey, and I’m from Edison, so what it is was that Kima and and Keisha were a group already, and they were actually looking for a third member. Now myself, I always grew up singing, I definitely grew up signing in the church, but I never had any studio time or anything like that. One of my homeys, that was real close to my brother, well I would say he’s like a big brother but he’s one of the homeys, he said he was going to take me to the studio. So he took me to the studio, and it was my first time being in the studio and I was 15 years old. He had met this producer by the name of Norman Bradley and he wrote this song that my brother thought I would sound good doing. So we did the song and it just so happened that the next day Kima and Keisha came up to the studio and they heard the song. You know I had kind of met them in passing, just kind of like a hello type of thing, but that was more or less what it was. So after that they heard the song and like I said they were looking for a third member for their group, and they guy Norman just pitched it to them like “Why don’t you just get this girl Pam to be in your group?” So they brought the situation to me and because I was young and kinda on my own little vibe, thinking I was all thugged out, I thought they were a little too prissy for me and I couldn’t do it. But needless to say, I thought ok whatever, I’ll give it a shot, and that’s how Total came about. At first we were called Total Opposites because if you look at myself, Kima and Keisha, and as far as our personalities and our sound, we have nothing in common, but when you put the three together, it was a hit, so we were called Total Opposites. Then from there we were working with Norman still and then we met these two guys that introduced us to a woman by the name of Kathy. Needless to say, her son was the God son of Puffy and we didn’t even know this at first, and she became our manager. She would just have us becoming stronger in our craft, she would have us jumping out of the car and having us go sing for a group of dudes who were standing on the corner. Especially me being the youngest, I’m nervous, but what it is was that during the time she was building up our confidence in just who we are and we can stand strong on our own with the voices that we have. So one day she took us up to the studio and she told us we were going to sing for Puff Daddy and told us to make something up. We made up this song called “Total Opposites” that just explained the thing about our name. So Puffy came down on the elevator, and as soon as the elevator doors closed and we got in with him, we just started singing, getting all up in his face, had him in the corner, and he just walked off. When he walked off, he walked out of the elevator, we were actually at the Hit Factory, he walked out of the elevator and he just went to the back of the studio and we were just singing in his face. His facial expressions didn’t change, he was looking at us like we were crazy, and then asked us a couple of questions and after that he just thanked us for coming out. So I felt like we did the worst, he didn’t even say anything, he just thanked us for coming. But 5 o’clock that morning, he called Kathy and was like “Don’t take those girls anywhere, I’m going to sign them.” It was really a good thing, it really was. There was a lot of things I left out but we had to grow together, we took that moment of growing together because I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me, and the more we gelled and the more Kathy worked us so hard in becoming great in who we were personally one on one, and then with our craft as well it was just like boom, the rest was history.
YKIGS: You mentioned Puff and I wanted to ask you about Total’s whole image and persona. You guys had that edge and that bad girl image. Was that natural for you guys or was that something that Puff tried to instill on you guys?
Pam: It was just natural. When you looked at the whole persona of who Total was, individually you could see. When you look at me, you could see I’m the one who’s real hardcore, I seem like the hardcore rugged one. *Laughs* If you looked at Keisha, she was more of the sassy around the way girl, the pretty girl that had a voice and everybody was kinda checking for her and digging on her because she had that sex appeal about herself. Then if you look at Kima, she was more sassy kinda, more laid back but could still give it to you type. But that’s just who we were personally, it was just like Puff saw that and capitalized on it. It was natural, it was like we were the around the way girls, it wasn’t too high saddidy to where anybody couldn’t relate. We were just those around the way girls that if you walk around nowadays from corner to corner, block to block, street to street, you will still see those girls around. So that’s exactly who we were, we were those around the way girls, and exactly like you said, those bad girls of Bad Boy. It was more or less that Puff saw it and he capitalized on it.
YKIGS: You were coming off of a debut album with Total that was platinum and then your second album went gold, at what point did you realize there was never going to be a third Total album?
Pam: You know what, honestly I could say none of us saw that coming, nobody really saw that it wasn’t going to be a third album coming. But sometimes things come up and sometimes it will look like it’s for the worst, but it is for the better. But I really thought Total was going to be together for the long haul. When we first got together we used to say we were going to be like the Supremes, like the Labelle’s, but we didn’t want to be like them, we wanted to stay together. But certain things come sometimes, you have glitches, and there are certain times that along the process of life, it’s just like some things happen for a reason, a season, and some things happen for a lifetime. Total had its moment of a season, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t mean anything, because it still did and it does today because I met some wonderful women that are still in my life today. At the end of the day it was just like I would have never thought Total would have cut off at their second album because we were at the top of our game at the second album, it wasn’t like we had fell off, it wasn’t like we were a hit one hit wonder. It was just like we were on our way to establishing who we were individually, and that’s when you know a group, if you can call a group out by name as opposed to just the group. We were on our way, we were at a height of our career and never saw it coming. But I have to say there are some great things that came from that, there are some great things that happened because everybody grew individually, everybody grew as a person, everybody was able to learn some things. So with that, I would say it’s a sour note but with the sour note some good came from it because I am who I am today because of that. It played a major part in my life and I can never take away what Total was to me, and still is to me.
YKIGS: Just one more last thing about Total. Out of all of the collaborations you guys had over the years is there one that is most memorable to you and why?
Pam: *Laughs* Yes, do you remember the joint we did with Lil’ Kim, Foxy and Da Brat? Oh my goodness the video was off the chain, the “No One Else” remix, it was crazy it was just a ball. We’re going in there and all females robbing a bank. If you look at it, you might wonder how you could get all hyped up off of robbing a bank, it was more or less the acting part of it and all of that, but it was really just the empowerment of all of these women coming together and just rocking off hard and couldn’t nobody deny it. It put me in the same mind frame of when Brandy did the “I Wanna Be Down” remix with Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and YoYo. It was just crazy, it was just a great atmosphere that day just being around all of those women just really going hard and showing the cats we don’t need any males on this track right now, it’s the ladies taking over and we’re doing it big right now.
YKIGS: So for your fans who haven’t been familiar with what you’ve been doing since the last Total album, just take us through the past decade or so up until now where you’re doing your solo thing.
Pam: You know what, I’ve just been I would say “Honeycomb Hideout.” *Laughs* The reason I would say that is because the honeycomb when you think of it is sweet, and nobody has really seen my face so it was like a hideout, so it’s been a sweet hideout for me. In the midst of all that I’ve been going through, it’s just like I’ve found me, I know who I am today, I know where I’m going, and I can say that I don’t need everybody that was with me from my past to go forward as myself. It’s not to exclude anybody from my past because had I not had a past I would not have had a future because you learn so much from your past that you’re able to move on with. So I say today that I’ve been away and I’ve found me and I know that regardless of who’s with me and who’s not with me, I can make it because of the fact that I have a gift and a God given talent that I can stand on my own two feet with. It’s not to exclude anybody but it’s just like even though with them not being here, I can stand because I have something and it’s worth hearing, I’m ready to share it, I’m ready to tell my story, I’m ready to tell people here I am, you might not have seen my face for awhile but I never really left. If nothing else, you’ve been hearing my voice still on the radio, the Total joints are still spinning. We did those joints in ’95 all the way going until 2001 is when things had stopped and it was just like from that point on you still have heard Total around, you still heard Pamela Long’s voice and it still has that relevancy today. So it’s just like here I am, all it is now is that you see me as opposed to just hearing my voice.
YKIGS: Did you always expect you were going to do music again or was there a point where you thought you might never do music again?
Pam: Woooo yea, honestly I did, honestly I really did. I didn’t think that I was going to do music again because honestly I could tell you I lost my momentum, I lost my desire to do it as far as confidence. I could speak for myself, by me being in a group I was comfortable and I was always looking to my right and my left and I always had my girls there and it’s a little different when you’re by yourself and you’re on that stage. Not to hype myself up or not to speak cocky or be conceited, but just to say I had the confidence that when I hit the stage, I had a ball on stage and it was almost as if I was born on the stage and I was able to move in such a way in to give the people what they came to see, a show. So the showmanship was something that I loved to be a part of, but at the same time too I was always used to looking to my right and my left and seeing Kima and Keisha, and to not be able to see them on the stage it depleted me in some areas, at least in some areas. I thought I couldn’t do this thing on my own, I thought I couldn’t rock the way that I used to because I didn’t have my girls, I don’t have Kima, I don’t have Keisha and I miss them. So it was a part of me that wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it. But when I started looking at God and just saying you know this is something that he gave me, this is the talent that he gave me. Not to say anything about my girls, but I didn’t get my talent from Keisha, I didn’t get my talent from Kima, I didn’t get it from Puffy. Before they came along, I still had it, I still was doing what I was doing, so when I took my focus off of them and put it on where it was supposed to be and who my true source was, which is God, I was able to get my confidence back. I was able to come back and know that I could do it, not because of who is with me, as far as what I can see, but who really is my source. I can honestly say your girl didn’t think she was going to do it; I didn’t have the confidence to do it, I didn’t.
YKIGS: But it is good to have you back though! *Laughs*
Pam: Thank you so much, I’m glad to be back! You know what, I really am excited to be back, I’m like a kid in a candy store! It’s almost as if somebody is saying “You want some chocolate? You want some Jolly Ranchers?” And I’m like yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! *Laughs*
YKIGS: Let’s talk about the new project now, I was checking out your website and it states “you can expect to hear inspirational music that is uplifting, soulful and message centered.” Talk to me about how this music compares to the music fans are used to hearing from Total.
Pam: Right, you know what, I can say that because of the place I’m at…as you grow as a person you start to leave some things behind and I’m learning that what’s real is real, and what’s not real is fake. *Laughs* I say that all to say that it’s some things in the past that I’ve sold out to, that I definitely wouldn’t do today because of the fact that I’m wiser, I’m smarter and because of the fact that I believe I have a responsibility. With that, my thing is that I’m not willing just to say anything anymore; I’m not willing to just put anything out there because of the fact of my listeners. How can I sit back and just talk about anything but at the same time, I’m not living that. I could talk about sexing all day and doing this and that all day, but I’m not living that. It’s almost as if it’s a double standard, how can you give somebody something that you yourself wouldn’t even look to live. So I guess growing as a person as far as with r&b music, I still kick it, I still go hard for the r&b music, but my thing is that it’s good music. I don’t have to go all out like I used to because Total didn’t have any limitations, it was just like whatever, we’re here, we’re going to say it and we don’t care who doesn’t like it. Now, I’ve got to watch what I say because I’ve got a niece, I’ve got a nephew and even if they are not related to me, there are little kids out there, there’s young adults and teenagers out here that are looking at me and saying “Yo well she’s doing it, why can’t I do it?” It’s like you have to set an example. You might not want to be a role model in this thing, but I’m learning to whom much is given, much is required. If you aren’t willing to look out for somebody else, then to me I think that is wrong, I think that you need to get off of what you’re doing, get off of your high horse and look at it a different way because you are responsible. You may not want to hold the responsibility, but on some real Total wasn’t responsible and I can honestly tell you that I jacked some people up along the way because I didn’t take my responsibility serious. So I’m definitely doing the inspiration thing because people need to be inspired nowadays, it’s hard out here. If I’m talking about ice all day, what as far as me talking about the ice and the money that I’ve got, what is that doing for the next man? They are still in a hurting place. How can I give them some substance, how can I give them something that’s going to last and help them get to the next place in life? Me talking about the sex is good all day and me talking about I’ve got money for days and I’ve got cars for days, the only way that the next man can go out and get that is if he go out and rob somebody. But I’m looking at him crazy because he went out and robbed somebody, I’m not saying that it’s right, but if that’s what I’m glorifying all day then the only thing that you’re giving the next man is something he doesn’t have, a pipe dream and it’s making people angry. So I look to give people substance and something that’s going to last, something that’s going to make somebody look at and be like “That’s what it is.” You want people to think that if nothing else, it’s something better, something different opposed to the same old, same old all day long. The next cat is wondering how he can get the ends, and if he can’t make it that way, then he’s looking to get you at the end of the day, truth be told. That’s the mentality of some people, they’ll get people and take what they’ve got. So I definitely see things a lot different because my eyes have been opened. I didn’t ever used to think about the things that I did as far as having repercussions, I never looked at it like that, I just thought it was a free for all where if it I did I did it, and if I didn’t I didn’t. That’s how I looked at life, but I don’t look at life like that anymore, I really don’t. I can truly say that the only reason that I don’t look at life like I used to is because of the fact that I met the Lord and I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart and into my life. I’ll tell any man that all you’ve got to do is give him a shot and he’ll change your entire view, and I’m one to know. But I’m still me, like I said I’m still doing r&b music, I’m still doing it big, I’m still doing it hard, but at the same time I’m not going to compromise. I’m not doing what I used to do because it didn’t do anything for anybody. So I joke that the only thing my music back in the day used to do was get a dude in the bed! *Laughs* You got your party on, you got your drink on, you got your smoke on and all of that. At the end of the day all of those things were just like smoke in the air. At the end of the day, where was the substance at?
YKIGS: I can definitely respect and appreciate this new approach you’re taking, I like that!
Pam: Well I’m grateful, thank you I appreciate it and I truly give God glory, I’m thankful, I really am thankful.
YKIGS: So the new album is called “Undeniable.” When can fans expect that in stores and how far along are you with the project?
Pam: Right now we are about to get into the mixing stage of the project. I’m excited about it. It’s called “Undeniable” because of the simple fact that the change that has happened in my life is undeniable and the sound is undeniable. I can honestly say that I’ve come to the grips with it’s an undeniable sound because for so many years I’ve had a lot of people say to me, and I say it out of confidence and not in any other kinda way, I don’t say it being conceited and nor do I say it being cocky, but for so many years a lot of people said I’ve got such a different sound and when someone hears me they know that it’s me. It was me kinda trying my best not to look at it that way or not wanting to be acknowledged for anything like that. But I say in confidence that it’s an undeniable sound and I believe that it’s going to help a lot of people because it’s helping me, and you’re going to have fun on this album, you’re going to have a ball. So I’m definitely excited about it and I’m looking forward to it. It will be out I would say towards the summer, we’re going to definitely drop two singles at least by summertime. I can’t say when the album is going to drop because I don’t want to give you anything false but I can by the summertime you’ll definitely have two singles.
YKIGS: I’m definitely looking forward to that and let me just tell you from the fans’ point of view, a lot of fans consider you to be the signature voice from Total, and yours is definitely one we missed and we’re just happy to have back.
Pam: Awww that’s what’s up Slam! I appreciate you! Aww Slam you’ve got me all smiling. *Laughs* You got me walking up my hallway like “Awww Yeeaa.” That’s what’s up Slam, I really do appreciate you even wanting to do the interview with me. I had a ball like foreal and I loved your questions, I really did. You’ve got me smiling!! *Laughs*