Lumidee has the dubious honor of being huge in Europe. Her 2003 single “Never Leave You (Uh-Oh)” was a massive hit in places like Germany and Bulgaria, and her debut album, “Almost Famous,” was a worldwide hit. It earned Lumidee a lot more Euros than dollars, however, and not just because of the exchange rate. Her 2007 follow-up, “Unexpected” has sold about half that, with most of the sales outside of the US. This mixtape, hosted by DJ Suave, is clearly Lumidee’s attempt to remind US audiences where she’s from. It’s also a blatant attempt to appear street, and “The Queen of Spanish Harlem” is littered with more gunshots than a 50 Cent record. The whole project is confusing, since it is being released nine months after “Unexpected,” and mostly contains tracks from that disc. Mixtapes are generally released before albums to generate hype for them, but maybe the strategy here is to make people realize that they’ve slept on “Unexpected.”
Lumidee isn’t a drop-dead sex goddess like Ciara or Beyonce, and her voice isn’t as stunning as theirs, either. In fact, part of the reason why “Never Leave You” was so successful was because Lumidee’s thin, slightly off-key singing didn’t get in the way of the stellar production. She makes up in charm what she lacks in raw talent, with her thick New York accent and girl-next-door quality. She also drops some rhymes, although as a rapper, Lumidee is a pretty good singer. Her flow isn’t embarrassing, but she isn’t about to out-Foxy Ms. Brown.
She wisely brings on a gaggle of guests. Snoop, Joel Ortiz, Wyclef, and Jim Jones are among the many guest rappers on this mixtape, and Gwen Stefani, Michael Jackson, and Fantasia contribute their voices. It’s a smart move that helps shore up some of Lumidee’s weaknesses as a singer/rapper. Tracks like “U Got Me” and “We Run New York” work because Lumidee surrenders center stage. She does manage to carry some tracks on her own, particularly the banging “Whistle Song,” where her sass is a perfect compliment to the Wyclef beat. Her voice can also ruin a perfectly good track, as on Mark Ronson’s soul reworking of the Smith’s “Stop Me.”
At its best, “Queen of Spanish Harlem” is slick fun. For the most part, it’s by-numbers R&B that may not be terrible, but isn’t terribly good either. Lumidee completists may want to give this a spin, but anyone else would be better off just downloading “Whistle Song” on iTunes.