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Lawanda McFarland grew up in the Bronx, New York. Her mother is Freda Payne, a jazz and pop singer who worked with Duke Ellington, Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones, while her aunt is Scherrie Payne of The Supremes. While still a teenager, she became the first female hip hop DJ as the protégée of hip hop DJ Kool Herc, who gave her the stage name "Wanda Dee". She was eventually introduced to Afrika Bambaataa, who inducted her into his Universal Zulu Nation. Alongside of her boyfriend/business partner, rapper Richard Sisco ("Sisco Kid"), she appeared in Beat Street, a 1984 film about the hip hop sub-culture produced by Harry Belafonte. Wanda and Sisco's relative success - she received many offers to go on tour while he did not - contributed to the pair breaking up. At the time, Wanda had already met Eric Floyd, her future husband and manager.
Floyd encouraged her to switch from the turntables to the microphone and in 1986, she released her first single, "Blue Eyes", produced by British hit factory Stock Aitken Waterman. In 1989, she achieved commercial success with "The Goddess"/"To the Bone". The publication of a full album was hampered by disagreements with Tuff City Records, Wanda's distributor at the time.
Dispute and association with the KLF
In 1990 and 1991, respectively, British music duo The KLF - Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - used unauthorized samples from "To the Bone" in the "stadium house version" of their tracks "What Time Is Love?" and "Last Train To Trancentral". When manager Eric Floyd by chance heard the former track at a disco, he sued Drummond and Cauty for copyright infringement. An 1993 article in Beat magazine quotes Floyd:
|“||I'd never heard of these people and they'd never asked Wanda's permission to use her voice. They'd taken off her biggest selling rap single 'To The Bone' - the record opens up with Wanda saying 'I wanna see you sweat' - and sampled it right off the record and put it on What Time is Love?. It wasn't until I went to sue Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty that I discovered they had also taken from the same record the line 'come on boy do you wanna ride?' and slapped that on Last Train to Trancentral. [...] they think it's OK to steal other people's material, by-passing other people's publishing companies and copyright, putting it into their own records, using their own studio wizardry, in releasing it to the masses. But they'd just gone too far this time."||”|
With their own history of controversial sampling, the KLF agreed to a settlement: Wanda received a payment, a share in royalties and co-writing credits on the U.S. release of the album The White Room. Under the agreement, Wanda also appeared in the "Stadium House" video to "Last Train To Trancentral". Drummond and Cauty also agreed to produce a track for Wanda's upcoming solo album, but this collaboration never materialised. Wanda described her involvement with the KLF, beginning with the latter's copyright infringement: "I wasn't INVITED into The KLF, I was IGNITED!"
Wanda's temporary involvement with the KLF - including the album deal - abruptly ended when Drummond and Cauty left the music business in early 1992. Even before that, the duo had vehemently refused to advertise their records by going on tour. After they had disbanded (and deleted their back catalogue), Wanda took off on a two-year concert tour that spanned 150 cities in 90 countries. The show, dubbed "The KLF Experience featuring Wanda Dee" or "The Voice of KLF, Wanda Dee", combined the KLF's pre-recorded music with her own live vocals and lavish costumes. Drummond and Cauty, who were angered by Wanda's use of the KLF moniker, pleaded with their U.S. distribution company, Arista Records, to issue a cease and desist order, but the company ignored these requests, estimating that an international tour would only boost their sale of KLF material. Wanda's repeated claim that she had been an integral or even the decisive part in the KLF's success raised controversy among observers.
Beyond the KLF
In the early 1990s, Wanda also signed a multi-album record deal with her previous producers Stock & Waterman. A debut album was produced but the release came to a halt when Stock & Waterman's partnership disbanded in 1993. In 1994, still riding on the KLF success, Wanda published the single "I Wanna See You Sweat" with German record company ZYX.
In 2003, Wanda formed her own record label, Goddess Empire, and finally published her debut album, The Goddess Is Here. The same year, she also participated in the Zulu Nation's 30 year anniversary performance.
- "Blue Eyes" (1986, Lisson Records/Critique)
- "The Goddess"/"To The Bone" (1989, Tuff City)
- "I Wanna See You Sweat" (1994, ZYX)
- "I Like It Hard" (1997, Festival Records, Pride Music)
- "Love Like Mine" (2003, Goddess Empire Record Label)
- The Goddess Is Here! (2003, Goddess Empire Record Label)