Motown wasted no time getting Teena Marie back in the studio on the heels of her 1979 Rick James-produced debut, Wild & Peaceful. Her sophomore project had to dispel the notion that she was a singer in need of a svengali – she was, in fact, a prolific writer with her own ideas about how she wanted to sound. While Berry Gordy was afraid R&B listeners would assume she was a pop singer and thus keenly withheld her image from American pressings of her debut, it was time to show the world who she was; literally.
James encouraged Marie to take the reins of her own production, but she asked Richard Rudolph, producer and husband of Minnie Riperton, to co-produce the next album with her. Together, Rudolph and Marie combined seasoned studio musicians, like Paulinho Da Costa and Randy Waldman, with a new group of players from Nashville named Ozone, who arrived at Motown by way of Billy Preston and Syreeta, creating a sophisticated and buoyant profusion of soul, funk, jazz and pop sounds. On background vocals, Teena was joined by her sister-friend/collaborator, Jill Jones (later a protégé of Prince), Andraé Crouch & the Disciples’ Bili Thedford, Brenda Lee Eager, and others. Teena wrote all but one of the album’s nine tunes, the outlier being “Now That I Have You,” an octave-stretching ballad intended for Minnie Riperton, who died just before production on Lady T began in the late summer of 1979.
“Aladdin’s Lamp” and the album’s first single, “Can It Be Love” were ballads that exhibited the unabashed emotional transparency that Teena would become synonymous with, singing of both the joys of newfound love and fresh heartache without inhibition. Uptempo cuts like “You’re All The Boogie I Need” and “Young Girl In Love,” meanwhile, were youthful and sassy, expressing the playful side of the poet.
From the swaggerific, bass-heavy opener “Behind the Groove,” which hit #4 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco chart, to the closer, the Marvin Gaye-esque “Too Many Colors,” Lady T introduced concepts that would develop in her work over the next 32 years: intergalactic travel, the vitality of a groove, emerald city love songs, and the quandaries of race and racism.
Lady T was a statement of self-possession. With its shoulders up, head-held-high cover portrait, soul-exposing back cover poem, and nine versatile compositions, the album solidified Teena’s relationship with a growing listener base, assuring them that she had only scratched the surface of her own creativity.