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The Washington Post

Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh, Uh-Huh

Young Singer Lumidee Finds That Sometimes Hits Happen

By Alona Wartofsky

July 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved. 

NEW YORK -- Where 116th Street meets Second Avenue in Spanish Harlem, the street is named Luis Muñoz Marin Boulevard, after the beloved Puerto Rican poet and politician.

On a cloudy July afternoon, passersby are dazzled by a different kind of neighborhood hero: 19-year-old singer and rapper Lumidee, whose frothy single "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)" has become one of this summer's most likable hits.

Here she is, climbing out of a chauffeured van for some pork chops at Mi Mundo Restaurant + Bar #2. She hasn't taken two steps before someone calls out.

"Lumi! I caught you on BET just now," says a young man in a red Rocawear shirt. "I feel ya, mama."

Two little girls rush over for hugs and autographs. Lumidee's handwriting is bubbly, and the "L's" in "Love, Lumidee" look like scripted 2's.

A swarm of boys follows her into Mi Mundo. They are all 14 and 15, nervous as they hand her napkins to sign. The littlest one is the brashest: "Hey! I thought you was taller!"

Lumidee giggles.

A pretty, moon-faced girl with tiny, beige freckles, jet-black hair and sparkling eyes, she is wearing tight Levis jeans and a bright green mesh tank top over a ribbed white one. Her faded camouflage jacket complements the trucker chic of her Von Dutch baseball cap. The gold and white gold diamond medallion that hangs from her neck has the name and logo of her label -- Straight Face Records -- along with a "13," her lucky number. (Her birthday is Oct. 13, making her a Libra). Her huge heart-shaped hoop earrings, with a scripted "Lumidee" across each, were a gift from her hairdresser. They're not heavy, she says: "They hollow. They just for style."

She collects Chap Sticks and lip gloss. "I have every flavor you could think of. I have Hershey Chap Sticks. I have Jolly Rancher Chap Stick," she says. "Right now, I got to have over 500 Chap Sticks. Different flavors, different colors -- like if it's cherry, it's red. If it's grape, it's purple. And I have different ones -- the Avon lip glosses; they look like ice cream cones."

Lumidee Cedeño used to be just another girl in the neighborhood. Along with two of her brothers and two of her sisters, she was raised by her grandparents, who came to New York from Puerto Rico decades ago. For most of her childhood, she says, her parents weren't around. "They weren't together, and they were going through their own problems," she says. "My mother, she's been there for the past few years. But growing up, it was always my grandparents."

Her unusual name was a gift from her father. He named her after his kid sister Luminada, who died many years ago. When she was younger, Lumidee was teased by schoolmates. They called her "Loony," "Gloomy" and, after Bell Biv DeVoe's song "Do Me!" became a hit, they called her that.

Like most of the other teens in her neighborhood, Lumidee went to school and worked a variety of lousy jobs -- a few months here and there as a supermarket cashier and exactly one day as a salesgirl at Canal Jeans. But in her spare time, she sang and rapped. Four years ago, TedSmooth, a DJ from East Harlem who stayed on her block, told her that someday he would start a record label and that he wanted to sign her. Eventually he did, and they wrote and recorded dozens of songs.

One of them was "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)." They originally recorded it on a different track, but then TedSmooth had an idea: Why not create a hip-hop version of the "Diwali" rhythm, the reggae dancehall rhythm under Sean Paul's "Get Busy" and Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go," both big crossover hits? "I was just being really lazy that day, and I was like oh, I don't want to write anything. I was thinking what I had already recorded, that might go with it," says Lumidee. Then she remembered "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)."

In the song's original version, the uh ooohs were almost an afterthought. TedSmooth had worried the song was too short. "He was like, 'Something's missing, it's too short. You have to do a bridge or something . . . Just say uh-oh,' " recalls Lumidee. "I was like, 'No, I don't want to say uh-oh; that's so stupid.' "

Then she reconsidered. "I was like 'Oh, man. Let me just do it.' I don't want him to feel bad. I hated it. I didn't even listen to the song because of the uh ooohs in it -- but that was key, because that's what all the little kids sing. That's what's so catchy about it. First you hear the uh-oh, then you hear everything else."

TedSmooth played the new version at clubs, and then other deejays picked up the record. "I heard that song in the Bronx at a nightclub, and it got such a big response on the dance floor that I said, I gotta test this record out," says Camilo, the DJ at Hot 97 in New York who was the first to play "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)" on the radio. "When I took it on the radio and I actually gave it the spin, I got a lot of phone calls the next day from DJs from the station, DJs from other nightclubs . . . That's how a lot of the buzz started."

Camilo has found that the song particularly appeals to young women. "It's very catchy, especially for the ladies. It's a very simple hook. 'Uh Oooh' -- anybody can sing to that," he says. "On top of that, it was a very popular beat."

Now Lumidee and TedSmooth have a deal with Universal Records, which released Lumidee's debut album, "Almost Famous," late last month. "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)" is climbing the Billboard charts. It's at No. 10 on the Hot 100 chart and at No. 9 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart.

Everybody in her family is proud of her, especially her grandfather, she says. Sometimes she wishes that her father, who died of AIDS-related complications five years ago, could be here to see her dreams coming true.

But then, maybe he is. "I've been through a lot -- a lot, a lot -- in my life," she says. "I'm young, but I been through a lot of situations where I'm like, how am I gonna get up out of this? And it just happens. And I'm like, how am I gonna get to where I wanna be? And then it just happens. Somehow you feel like you have an angel watching over you, so that's how I feel about my father."

Next week she is flying to Germany and to London, and in August she's going on tour with Bow Wow.

Everything is changing and moving so fast now, and there's always so much to do -- phone interviews, video interviews, promotional appearances, studio time, performances. A few weeks ago, whenever "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)" came on the radio, she would record it, and she would call her friends and family to make sure they were listening, too. Now she's almost sick of it. "Since I'm performing that song a lot, it's like I hate it already, and if I switch the station, another station will be playing it," she says with a laugh.

"But I'm not mad. I'm happy every time I hear it. I'm glad they're still playing it. I don't want anyone but me to get tired of it."

(To hear a free Sound Bite from "Never Leave You [Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh]," call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8177.)

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