Of course, my grandmother didn’t believe me. And really, who could? There was just too much damn soul coming out of Teena pouty lips. And she wouldn’t let up.
There was her steamy 1981 duet with Rick James “Fire and Desire,” a quiet storm behemoth that virtually dominated R&B radio. That same year, Teena was so down with the ‘hood that she dropped “Square Biz,” an epic funk workout on which she took on the still relatively new street artform of hip-hop. Her cocky rap delivery was so authentic that you could imagine Blondie’s equally cool Debbie Harry wanting to re-record her own groundbreaking rhyme on 1980’s “Rapture” after hearing Teena Marie throwdown.
Throughout the rest of the decade and beyond, Teena Marie bolstered her ghetto pass as she became more of a staple on black radio and households, virtually ignored by the mainstream white press. She knocked out heart-melting slow jams ("Portuguese Love"); segued into jazz (“Casanova Brown”); enjoyed a cross-over pop hit that was anything but pop (“Lovergirl”); tapped into New Wave R&B (“Lips To Find You”); wrote an infectious sing-along (“Ooo La La La”); and sung a gorgeous ballad worthy of Patti LaBelle (“If I Were A Bell”).
Yes, the ‘90s would prove to be a lean period for Teena. But the new guard of R&B and hip-hop understood her stripped-down, authentic brilliance that propelled her two platinum and six gold albums. Mary J. Blige routinely named-dropped her as an irreplaceable influence. Both the Nas-led supergroup The Firm (“Firm Biz”) and the multi-platinum trio the Fugees (“Fu-Gee-La”) sampled and re-worked her music for their own hits.