NEW YORK — The line is so simple. All 18-year-old Lloyd has to do is sing with a little more passion.
The singer, whose duet with Ashanti, "Southside," has been rising up the charts and getting big spins on radio, is in the booth at Irv Gotti's Crackhouse Studio, working on yet another duet with the first lady of the Inc. Shany's part is a done deal, now it's up to Lloyd to bring the heat. But he seems to have misunderstood what kind of heat Irv was looking for.
"Is he in there smoking?" Gotti asks engineer Milwaukee Buck with a chuckle, after he sees what appears to be a loosey in the booth. "No wonder he's losing his breath, he's in there smoking."
During the session, Gotti employs the Zen-like patience Phil Jackson had as coach of the Lakers. He guides Lloyd through the track, advising him when to fall back and play it cool, or turn it up and amp his emotions. You can read the excitement on Gotti's face as he molds the first piece in the rebuilding of his label.
"I got another one," the producer/CEO says of Lloyd with one of his cheeky, child-like grins during a break.
Gotti has good reason to smile, because he knows Lloyd is no one-hit wonder. As much as listeners have been embracing "Southside," he thinks that Lloyd's next single, "Hey Young Girl," is going to explode with even more impact. It's the record that made him sign the youngster.
"It's a smash," Gotti boasts.
Lloyd got connected to Gotti by knowing the right people at the right time. Lloyd's manager is good friends with Irv's lawyer and was able to set up a meeting. All Lloyd had to do to get his deal was play one track for the Inc. boss in Atlanta.
"He listened to it one time, then bam! He ran it back," Lloyd says of his audition last year. "He runs it back and on the second go around, he's like, 'This is aiight! This ain't bad. What's your name again? Where you from?' The third time he played it — he didn't even get to track two yet — the n---a starts singing along with the hook and is like, 'Sh-- n---a, this sh--- is kinda catchy, man. Let me start it over again.' "
During the fourth playing, all of Gotti's boys came in the room and started rocking to the song. Still, Irv wasn't convinced. He suggested Lloyd wasn't really the voice on the CD. So the young singer showed and proved by singing to him, and it was a wrap.
"Once he saw that I wasn't a phony n---a, it was like, 'Let's get it done right now!' " Lloyd remembers. There was a little dilemma, though — Lloyd had already auditioned for L.A. Reid, who was heading up Arista at the time, and had another offer on the table.
"I felt like L.A. was riding with me but I didn't feel like he was that passionate about it," Lloyd says about choosing the Inc. over Arista. "L.A. told me he really loved the showcase and no matter where I went, he felt that I'd be successful. I respect him so much." Ironically, Reid is now heading up Def Jam, where the Inc. has a distribution deal.
Although the July 20 release Southside is officially Lloyd's first LP, he's already a veteran in the industry. Moving from New Orleans to Atlanta, he and his little brother were discovered by former Klymaxx member Joyce Irby when Lloyd was 10. Irby made them a part of the boy group N-Toon. Although they had a record deal with Warner Bros., they never dropped an album. Lloyd decided to go solo when the group disbanded.
His first time actually recording in the studio with the Inc. was as a guest vocalist on Ja Rule's "Caught Up," a track off of the upcoming album R.U.L.E.
"Every time we in the studio, the n---a's energy is crazy," Lloyd says about working with Ja. "He goes in there, spits the verse off the top of his head, he never writes down sh--. He's a gifted man. He been showin' me sh--."
Lloyd's first song of his own, "Southside," is a hit, but as he explains it, he's not talking about the place you think he is — the south side of Atlanta — in the title.
"I'm talkin' 'bout the south side of the country," Lloyd says in his thick N'awlins drawl. "I'm reppin' for the whole dirty [South], man. But on some real sh--, everywhere I go in every city I go, there's a south side. Every 'hood got a south side."
While "Southside," its remix featuring Scarface, and "Hey Young Girl" are the initial looks we'll get off of Lloyd's album, the content gets a lot deeper than that. He's definitely not your average teen popcorn act.
"I got my favorite record on the album, this record called 'My Life,' " he explains. "Basically, I talk about how a n---a come from New Orleans. I talk about how a n---a came from the projects and how we moved when my daddy got killed when I was a little boy, 2 to be exact. That made my momma wanna move. We move from there to Atlanta.
"In the projects man, n---as loved my daddy," he adds. "My daddy used to sing. When I go back home, my grandma always cries when she sees me 'cause she sees my daddy in me so much."