Rap musician, songwriter
The R&B songstress Lil’ Mo stands only four feet, eleven inches tall, but her voice and talent loom large. The singer cut her teeth in the music business as a backup singer for Queen Latifah and other 1990s stars; she later used her rhyming skills to pen songs performed by Blackstreet, Next, 3LW, and others. Collaborations with artists like Ja Rule, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliott introduced the hip-hop world to a street-smart yet mellifluous vocalist. Releasing her solo debut, Based on a True Story, in 2001, she flaunted multicolored cornrows on the cover and made waves with the popular single “Superwoman Part 2.” Wanting to become a role model for her teen fans, Lil’ Mo forswore profanity in her songs. She returned in 2003 with her sophomore album Meet the Girl Next Door, which featured a duet with rapper Fabolous, the springtime hit “4 Ever.”
Born Cynthia Loving, Lil’ Mo was raised on Long Island, New York, though her family moved often as a result of her father’s career as an army photographer. Moving almost every year until she attended high school, Lil’ Mo lived in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Maryland. She later said these experiences helped her cultivate creativity and a certain resourcefulness. “I can go to Atlanta and sound like I’m from Atlanta,” she told the Springfield, Illinois, State Journal-Register. “I can go to L.A. and sound like I’m from L.A. I’m a chameleon. I can fit in anywhere.”
Wherever she lived, Lil’ Mo always attended church, where she started singing. A self-professed tomboy, she knew at an early age that she wanted to move to Manhattan and pursue a career in music. Her early ambitions led her to enter every talent contest she could find. “I was thinking I was a rapper,” she told Shaheem Reid of MTV. “I used to be freestyling around the school. I was trying to find myself. The way I’m animated, I was like, ‘Singers can’t do that.’Then I was like, ‘Forget that. I could do whatever I want.’”
With a strong drive and a lot of hard work, Lil’ Mo made a name for herself in her early twenties, when she started singing backup vocals with some of hip-hop’s hottest acts. She lent her voice to Queen Latifah’s 1998 Order in the Court, as well as hits for Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott (“Hot Boyz”), Ja Rule (“Put it on Me” and “I Cry”), and Jay-Z, with a cameo on “Parkin’ Lot Pimpin’.” In the late 1990s she was offered a contract to record her own material.
After she signed with Elektra Records, Lil’ Mo resisted record company executives’ demands to look a certain way. Rather, she insisted on her own personal style, sporting rainbow-colored cornrows that became her signature look. Yet the beleaguered singer had to wait over a year for the release of her debut album Based on a True Story, which Elektra shelved after its completion. Frustrated, she threatened to throw in the towel and focus solely on songwriting. “I was gonna quit [in 2000],” Lil’ Mo told Reid. “I was like, ‘Y’all pushing my album back too much, it’s pretty much over with.’” But fellow hip-hop stars Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z counseled patience. Meanwhile, she continued to write songs for and collaborate with the likes of Blackstreet, Next, Lil’ Bow Wow, Keith Sweat, and 3LW.
True Story showcased Lil’ Mo’s talents as a songwriter; she penned every song on the album except one, a remake of Cyndi Lauper’s 1984 hit “Time after Time.” A few months before the album’s release, the upbeat single “Superwoman Part 2” emerged as a hit. To create the song, Lil’ Mo had called upon her freestyling skills, making up lyrics in the recording studio. “When I freestyle, when I do it quick, that’s when the best stuff comes out,” she told Reid.
On June 22, 2001, only four days before her album’s release, Lil’ Mo was attacked by a stranger, who hit her over the head with a champagne bottle outside San Francisco’s Warfield Theater, where she had just finished a performance. She sustained a head wound that required 22 stitches and briefly halted her schedule of public appearances, which was designed to coincide with the release of True Story. “With the bad comes the good things,” she told the State Journal-Register after a summer of convalescing. “As a matter of fact, [the incident] made people notice me more.”
Indeed, the album attracted attention among hip-hop and rap fans. Critics noted the way in which Lil’ Mo’s lyrics took hip-hop and popular culture to task on various issues. With “Superwoman Part 2,” she chides some female hip-hop singers who resort to malebashing
Born Cynthia Loving on November 19, 1977, in Bay Shore, NY; married, 2001; children: Heaven.
Started singing in church choirs; sang backup for Queen Latifah, collaborated with Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, and others, signed with Elektra Records, late 1990s; released debut album, Based on a True Story, 2001; released second album, Meet the Girl Next Door, 2003.
Addresses: Record company—Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website— til’ Mo Official Website: http://www.lilmo.net.
in their songs; she also rebukes female stars who wear provocative clothing to win over audiences. In “Supa Star” she decries the misconception that flashy jewelry and material things can make someone a star. Throughout the album, Lil’ Mo refrains from using profanity out of respect for her church-going roots.
After recovering from her injury, Lil’ Mo took a break from singing, got married, and had a baby girl named Heaven. She also hosted a popular radio show on Baltimore station WXYV, where she worked from fall 2001 to early summer 2002. She left the show to concentrate on her career and record her second solo album.
Meet the Girl Next Door, released in April of 2003, reflected a more grown-up Lil’ Mo, with many songs inspired by her new life as a wife and mother. In typical fashion, she wrote every song on the album except one, “Doin’ Me Wrong,” which was written by fellow hip-hop singer Missy Elliot. The duet “4 Ever,” sung with Fabolous, emerged as an early hit, as did “The Ten Commandments,” a rap duet with Lil’ Kim about how to have a successful relationship. “I think the audience I had before was 15 and under; now it’s 15 and over,” Lil’ Mo told Jeff Lorez of Billboard magazine. “Because of my age , I think I need to be a spokesperson for women. People are always trying to make you dance. They’re not trying to make you listen and think. I want to keep people, [especially] women, on the positive tip.”
Based on a True Story, Elektra, 2001.
Meet the Girl Next Door, Elektra, 2003.
Billboard, April 5, 2003, p. 17.
Newsday (New York), May 2, 2003, p. B35.
State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), August 5, 2001, p. 48.
“Lil’ Mo,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (May 23, 2003).
“Lil’ Mo,” Elektra Records, http://www.elektra.com/elektra/lilmo/artistbio.jhtml (May 23, 2003).
“Lil’ Mo Interview,” React Mag, http://www.reactmag.com/features/lilmo.php (June 12, 2003).
“Lil’ Mo Ready to Tell Her Story,” MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1443132/20010425/story.jhtml (May 26, 2003).
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