Patti LaBelle: The Most Sought-After Collaborator In Hip-Hop?

Nelly, Snoop, Wyclef, Missy Elliott all working with the singer.

"I'm like Patti LaBelle, homie, I'm on my own." You didn't think Patti LaBelle's ties to the hip-hop community stopped with 50 Cent's line from "What Up Gangsta," did you?

Or maybe you thought Ms. Patti's connection with rap just stretched back to Nelly's video for "Dilemma" or the "Lady Marmalade" remake a few years back?

Well, the fact is that many of your favorite MCs have been listening to LaBelle since they were kids and their parents used to play her records around the house. These days, such now-grown performers as DMX, Wyclef and Snoop Dogg are calling up the legend to work with her. And she loves it.

"My favorite song is 'In Da Club,' " LaBelle said recently from Philadelphia. "You put that on and I get buck wild. Before that it was 'Hot in Herre.' I'm just one of those girls, I love rap. I don't love all the time what [some rappers say]. A lot of it is downright nasty and wrong. I just don't like the fact that kids pick up everything. You know, like [Khia's] 'My neck, my back my crack.' I saw some little girl singing that one day and that really bothered me. I sing that song, but I'm 59.

"When I went in the hospital last week, the doctor said, 'Ms. LaBelle, what hurts you?' " she continued. "I said, 'My neck, my back, my crack and my knee.' I love that song. It's nasty, but I like it."

The love the hip-hop community has for Patti was recently matched with dollars when she signed on with new Def Jam imprint Def Jam Classics.

"Barry White and Patti LaBelle were supposed to be the first acts to be signed," she explained. "It was going to be people like Ray Charles, Ron Isley, Anita Baker. People who could always work with or without a hit record, legends. People who paid dues for themselves, people who could put on a show without a hit record and could go out there and not lip-sync."

LaBelle hasn't wasted any time with her LP and has knocked out 30 demos. She's been in the lab for the last three months, and among the collaborators she's already worked with or received songs from are Missy Elliott and Wyclef Jean. "After I finish the whole album, I'm going to go back to him and we're going to finish up and do something else," she said.

Snoop Dogg and Nelly reached out to her and said that they were down to make cameos, and LaBelle is trying to secure Bono, Dr. Dre, Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland for the LP as well.

"We're just feeling it and finding out who Patti LaBelle is," she said of the songs that are done. "I'm going to do 60 demos, and my problem is going to be picking out 12 songs to go on the album at the end of this venture. I don't know what I'm going to end up with, but I'm in a good place."

LaBelle was in a crowded place last month when she went to New York and recorded "Thank You" for the upcoming DMX album Grand Champ (see "DMX, Patti LaBelle Team Up For Spiritual 'Thank You' ").

"It was a circus," she laughed. "He had a hundred n---as in there. It was awesome! He had ministers in there, his boys, his wife, his kids. I was having him sing my part for me and all the people stayed in the studio. It was like a big old party. At first I was like, 'Lord, I ain't never seen this many people in the studio. If I make a mistake the whole world is going to see it.' But I'm that girl that doesn't mind making a mistake in front of people and then getting it right. I fumbled and got it right."

Only time will tell if LaBelle will make just as big a splash with some of the younger music fans as Ron Isley has the past few years with the help of R. Kelly. However, LaBelle and Mr. Biggs will be teaming up soon.

"I'm Mrs. Biggs," she said. "I saw him at the Essence Music Festival and I said, 'You know, Ronnie, I have this song that I'm writing and I want us to be Mr. and Mrs. Biggs.' I love his success."