LOS ANGELES — There are five barbershops on this particular block of Crenshaw Boulevard.
One of them, Hip-Hop Haircuts, neighbors a "CDs and Tapes" store that's blaring reggaetón so loudly, it's no wonder it stays empty for an entire afternoon. Outside, as an endless parade of lowriders cruise by, two kids hawking a homemade rap CD follow closely behind a muscular man in fatigues collecting donations for the Black Panthers.
This isn't where you'd expect to see an "American Idol" winner on a Friday afternoon — especially one with her own Lifetime movie. But this is not the Fantasia who wowed Simon Cowell with a "Porgy and Bess" standard. This is 'Tasia, as she's calling herself. And this is her Breakaway (for the "Idol" uneducated, that's the Kelly Clarkson album that made her a superstar in her own right).
"If you want to find a 'hood boy, you got to go to the 'hood to find one," Fantasia explained, snacking on soul food in her trailer. "And no better place to do it than Crenshaw."
The third-season "Idol" champ is in L.A.'s notoriously rough South Central neighborhood shooting the video for her new single, "Hood Boy," featuring Big Boi from Outkast. "It's just a hip song," Fantasia said. "It talks about different types of 'hood boys. I'm 22 and I'm just having fun, looking for a 'hood boy right now."
The song is the first single from the North Carolina native's sophomore effort, Fantasia, due December 12. Usually, when an artist self-titles his or her second album, it's a way of disowning the first. And, well, that's kind of the case here.
"It's totally different from my last album," Fantasia declared. "I had a lot of slow ballads, a lot of songs that talked about [a] lot of things that I went through, and I'm not talking about that stuff on this album."
With 2004's Free Yourself, "I didn't have time to put my own input on things that I wanted to do," she continued. "We went straight from the tour to just doing songs, going into the studio. Producers brought me some good music and they would listen to some of the things I would talk about, but this time it's my own vision."
And that vision is what Fantasia's calling "urban rock" to match the words "rock star" tattooed on her right wrist. "I just love rock music 'cause I feel like they just get up there and let it loose," she explained. "I'm a soulful singer, so I said, 'Why don't I make it seem like Aretha Franklin meets Tina Turner?' It's good music and it's what I wanted to do. Like with Kelly Clarkson [on Breakaway], it's what she wanted. She went to Clive [Davis, their Sony BMG boss] and said, 'I know what I want to do.' And sometimes Clive is like, 'Hmm ... I don't know.' But an artist knows what his or her fans want to hear, so that's why I think it's better that we get to put in our input."
Initially, producers had a hard time understanding Fantasia's vision, but she persisted. "I stayed in the studio till 4 or 5 in the morning, just letting the producers know what I wanted," she recalled. "I was like, 'I want it live. I want live drums!' I feel like this album is my baby."
Aretha Franklin herself contributed to the real-life mother's LP (see "Fantasia Collaborates With Her American Idol, Aretha Franklin"), as well as Missy Elliott, Swizz Beatz, Babyface, Sean Garrett and Dre & Vidal, who produced a track called "Baby-Makin' Hips." "I like it because it's different," Fantasia said of that track. "And it's just talking about women and our shapes."
Another standout, "When I See You," "talks about when you have a crush on somebody and you get nervous, and they don't know you have a crush on them," she explained. "It's one of those songs that people come up to me and are like, 'Girl, I can relate to that.'
"It's one of my favorite [songs]," she added, "because I'm kind of going through something like that right now."
With a 'hood boy perhaps?