Born in 1968 in Baltimore, MD. Addresses: Record company--Strictly Rhythm, 920 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10010, website: http://www.strictly.com. Website--Ultra Naté Official Website: http://www.ultranate.com.
What started as a single dance floor hit turned into a full-fledged career for dance music diva Ultra Naté. The breakthrough success of her first single, "It's Over Now," led to her first album, Blue Notes in the Basement. She moved into the international spotlight with her second album, One Woman's Insanity, and remained there, bolstered by her second international smash hit, the club anthem "Free," and a subsequent full-length release, Situation: Critical. Limited somewhat by the dance music genre, which does not expect full-length albums from its stars, Naté created latitude by producing pop, disco, and jazz-influenced house music. She was able to break out in Europe where she regularly made the international charts. American audiences have been less receptive, though Naté has had top 40 success in the United States.
Ultra Naté--her real name--was born in 1968 in Baltimore, Maryland. She grew up in Boston and Baltimore listening to music by Culture Club, Dead or Alive, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, the O'Jays, Diana Ross, and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. She was studying medicine in college, training to be a psychotherapist, when she discovered Baltimore's nightclub scene. She then met the production group the Basement Boys, producers for Sade and Crystal Waters, who used her to sing backing vocals in their basement studio. Before she met them, Naté had done most of her singing in church, but she went on to sing backing vocals on Monie Love's debut album.
The Basement Boys encouraged Naté to try singing solo. She occasionally recorded her own material in their studio, but it was with the Basement Boys that she wrote the song "It's Over Now" after clubbing one night. They recorded it as a single and it became a smash hit, an international underground club anthem. Naté's demo ended up in the hands of a former Warner Bros. employee who in turn passed it on to the label. Naté signed with Warner Bros. in 1989. "I really thought 'It's Over Now' was going to be it," she said in her record company biography. "I never thought that one song would evolve into an album. But it did." The album that resulted from "It's Over Now" was Naté's debut solo release, Blue Notes in the Basement, which was issued on the Warner Bros. label in 1991. Three tracks from the album, "Scandal," "Is It Love," and "Deeper Love," became hits.
Naté entered the international spotlight with 1993's One Woman's Insanity, her second release for Warner Bros. On the album, she sang a duet with 1980s British pop star Boy George, who wrote the song "I Specialize in Loneliness" for her. Dance music fans went wild over the singles "How Long," with Nellee Hooper and the Basement Boys, "Incredibly You," produced by D-Influence, as well as the Soulshock, Cutfather, and Karlin track, "Show Me." Entertainment Weekly critic Tracey Pepper noted that the R&B, disco, and jazz influences on Naté's work gave the album the scope to make its house music rhythms "cool enough for underground clubs yet radio-friendly." Warner Bros. heard this crossover potential, too, and tried to market Naté as a soul singer in the United States. Though American audiences failed to make the connection, "Show Me" did become a number one dance hit in the United States.
Naté considers her title as a "dance music artist" a mixed blessing. While she is known for her danceable, up-tempo songs, "anybody who's listened to my albums has a better perspective on what I do," she told LA Weekly writer Ernest Hardy. The downside of the title is that most dance music artists are packaged as one-hit wonders. They release a single or two that is a smash club hit and rarely ever produce an album. The upside to this, Naté told Hardy, is that it gives her "the freedom to experiment with different styles under the dance umbrella." Dance music is also where her fans are, as Warner Bros. discovered. She also has a huge fan contingent in the gay community. "A lot of people I've worked with over the years are from the gay community," she told Hardy, "so they had a big influence on my sensibilities. I love that they're not afraid to be themselves."
If for no other reason, Naté stood out from other dance music artists because she did not simply release the here today, gone tomorrow singles and remixes clubland is used to. She proved capable of producing albums with the success of multiple singles from each of her releases. As she is one of the few dance music artists who can make albums, Naté often has to fight while putting an album together to ensure that it is treated as a whole by the marketing minds at a record company. "It's hard to have your vision understood or respected," she told Hardy.
In 1997, Naté moved to the independent dance music label Strictly Rhythm to release "Free." The million-selling single became an international hit and club anthem, becoming a top ten single throughout much of Europe and reaching number one on Spain and Italy's national charts. In the United States, "Free" rose to the top of the Billboard Club Play and Maxi-Singles sales charts and found top 40 radio play. The success of "Free" was a validation for Naté: "Who knew that 'Free' would explode in such a major way," she said in an interview with UBL ArtistDirect Network online. "I certainly didn't. But it definitely made me feel like all my hard work was not for nothing."
Naté's third album evolved from the success of "Free." Situation: Critical, released in 1998, was Naté's first album for Strictly Rhythm and her first without the Basement Boys. The split was amicable, she told UBL ArtistDirect, and was brought about by Naté's need to "spread my wings and fly." That she did, writing all of the lyrics on the album. Naté moved away from songs about love and the pain of it to light social commentary. "Found a Cure," "Release the Pressure," and the title track epitomize the album's focus, according to the artist, and were the result of Naté asking herself some challenging questions about life. "Merging euphoric pop melodies and innovative hooks with genre-stretching, beat-intense rhythms," the UBL critic wrote, "Situation: Critical finds Naté entering a new phase of musical development, in terms of artistic control, songwriting style, and vocal verve."
Naté learned the meaning of creative flexibility while making her 2001 release, Stranger Than Fiction. The credits on the album include collaborations with more than one dozen artists, including rocker Lenny Kravitz, N'Dea Davenport from the Brand New Heavies, and the legendary Nona Hendryx. The group formula served to further break Naté out of the dance music mold. Hardy said that Stranger Than Fiction "transcends genre without completely abandoning it.... [I]t's an album as suited for the dance floor as it is for late-night, top-down cruising."
Naté continues to look forward to her next musical ventures. "There is so much ground for me to cover as an artist," she said in the UBL ArtistDirect interview. "Everyday, there's a new idea or a new sound to try out. I feel like my best music is still ahead of me, and that's an exciting feeling."
by Brenna Sanchez
Ultra Naté's Career
Discovered by the Basement Boys, released breakout single, "It's Over Now," signed to Warner Bros. record label, 1989; released debut album, Blue Notes in the Basement, 1991; released One Woman's Insanity, 1993; released Situation: Critical on Strictly Rhythm record label, 1998; released Stranger Than Fiction, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Blue Notes in the Basement , Warner Bros., 1991.
- One Woman's Insanity , Warner Bros., 1993.
- Situation: Critical , Strictly Rhythm, 1998.
- Stranger Than Fiction , Strictly Rhythm, 2001.
- Larkin, Colin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK Ltd., 1998.
- DMA (Dance Music Authority), May 2001, p. 24.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 29, 1993, p. 64.
- Interview, October 1991, p. 30.
- LA Weekly, June 1-7, 2001, p. 49.
- "Ultra Naté," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 31, 2001).
- "Ultra Naté," UBL ArtistDirect Network, http://ubl.artistdirect.com (May 31, 2001).
- Additional information was provided by Strictly Rhythm publicity materials, 2001.