HIP-HOP HOMEGIRLS

A TRIO OF WOMEN PUTS THE VALLEY ON THE MUSIC MAP

Had the Overweight Pooch held on to Malaika's telephone number, Peniston's career and hers could easily have been flip-flopped. If her own A&M deal hadn't gone down, Malaika says, "I would've been, 'God, that could've been me, and I didn't even know it. How could this girl lose my number?' It would've been a definite loss to me had I not known Ce Ce."

When Peniston landed the A&M deal, she did more than think about her friend. The way Malaika tells it, Peniston must have regarded her vow as a blood oath. "I would be at work when the calls would come in, but I always had my machine on," Malaika says. "Her mother worked diligently trying to get in touch with me. They kept calling and calling."

Peniston kept her word, but Malaika's part wasn't meaty enough to attract A&M. During the session, though, Peniston and Malaika again fell into their unique brand of musical conversation, and her voice did make an impression on local producer R.K. Jackson, who was in on the recording. Jackson put together a Malaika demo and networked it to Lehman at A&M. The label apparently was more impressed with the voice than the song. "It was a jazzy type tune, and A&M said, 'Well, we like it, but could she do something fast?'" recalls the singer.

At that point, Jackson hauled Malaika back into the studio for a song called "So Much Love." This time A&M bit for a single deal with a possible album to follow.

A rough four-track preview, as heard on the singer's stereo, reveals it to be a knockoff of Peniston's dance hits. It's an insistent house track with a synth hook custom-built for heavy club rotation. Malaika's voice, a shade deeper and punchier than Peniston's, fairly roars over the beats.

The singer has reason to be hopeful about an album deal following up the single. Malaika reports that she's shipped some more demos to A&M and heard no complaints.

But can she build on what the Pooch and Peniston have done and become Phoenix's next big league R&B singer or rapper? Having won the record industry's lottery, Malaika seems to know she'll be meeting lots of friends she never knew she had.

"People hear about you doing an album, they just start coming outta the woodwork."
For the record, at least, the singer's in a generous mood, even if she won't reveal who Phoenix's next Pooch, Peniston or Malaika might be.

"I've been looking at some people," she says vaguely. "It wouldn't be fair to name em off and then not use em. Whoever's around at the time that can get the job done, then I'm gonna go with that person. If I can bring somebody along for the ride, I don't have any problem with that.

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