In be'tween days

Lloyd brings his Southside topside on streetwise R&B debut

The plaza at Lithonia's vast Mall at Stonecrest is a sweltering assembly of teen hysteria, and R&B sensation Lloyd — who debuted just outside Billboard's Top 10 at the end of July — is happily at the center of it all. At V-103's Back to School Bash, more than 1,000 squirmy adolescents have turned out in near 100-degree heat for a free outdoor concert featuring the crunk duo Ying Yang Twins, So So Def singer/Jermaine Dupri protege Jarvis, and braided boy wonder Lloyd, whose acoustic guitar-laden "Southside" (featuring Ashanti) has been a summer favorite among the 'tween set. Now, after two hours of signing autographs and mingling backstage with friends and family, it's time for the 18-year-old Decatur native to close the show.

"Yo Gotti, you don't give nobody the car!" Lloyd yells into the mic offstage, prefacing his appearance with a line from the "Southside" video. With backup dancers in tow, the excited singer rushes the platform amid peals of earsplitting screams. For the next half-hour, Lloyd slides, croons and partially disrobes his way through several suave numbers, including "I'm a G," "Southside" (with Ashanti's part sung by newcomer Taniya Walter) and "Hey Young Girl," the second single from his hip-hop-infused debut Southside (The Inc./Def Jam).

At one point, standing shirtless at the edge of the stage, Lloyd leans into the crowd to shake hands. Seizing the opportunity, a female fan grabs his arm and yanks him into the throng. Naturally, security guards are close by and swiftly pull the fallen performer up by his boxers. Though stunts like this are par for the course when you're a teen heartthrob, Lloyd admits he's still adjusting to the frenzy.

"Sometimes, I'm overwhelmed by all the love," says Lloyd, moments after exiting the stage. "But at the same token, I feel like it's been a long time coming."

Eight years, to be exact. Born in New Orleans on Jan. 3, 1986, Lloyd Polite (pronounced "po-LEET") moved to Atlanta when he was 2, shortly after the tragic death of his father, a Louisiana musician and singer. Lloyd's own vocal abilities surfaced at a young age, and it wasn't long before he began putting his chops to the test.

"When I was about 7 or 8, I was doing talent shows around [Atlanta]," says Lloyd. "I remember I did this talent show at Teddy's Live. Teddy's Live used to be in the Underground [Mall] and they'd have these talent shows every week. I went up there and did one, and after the show the host asked me to come back and host it with him every week. Then from Teddy's Live, I went to a talent show at the Fox Theatre, but I didn't win. That was devastating for me because I really believed I could go up there and shut it down like no other."

Yet, Lloyd scored his big break in the last place he often wanted to be: school. The restless youngster was a 10-year-old at Avondale Elementary in 1996 when Joyce Irby, a former member of '80s all-female band Klymaxx, was putting together a boy group. "Joyce called the school and talked to one of the music teachers," says Lloyd. "I guess through a couple of events where I sung for the school, the teachers kind of knew about me."

The two met and Lloyd was added to the pre-teen ensemble N-Toon. Although the group was signed to Dreamworks and released an album, Toon Time, in 2000, the project never really took flight. Lloyd, however, rebounded from the failed endeavor by networking and performing at record label showcases. Then, in fall 2003, he landed two key auditions: with then-Arista President Antonio "L.A." Reid and The Inc. CEO/ producer Irv Gotti.

"When I met I.G., I played him this joint I got called 'Hey Young Girl' that we jacked from Slick Rick's 'Hey Young World,'" says Lloyd of his initial encounter with the notoriously critical honcho. "And when he listened to it, I don't think he was expecting it. He started moving his head and started the song over like four or five times."

Still not quite sold, Gotti made Lloyd sing the song on the spot, after which he offered the R&B aspirant a contract. Lloyd chose The Inc. over Arista, but was happy to later discover that Reid had moved over to the top post at Def Jam, where The Inc. has a distribution deal.

With growing pains gladly behind him, Lloyd is now ready to come into his own. Southside, with its sensual musings, shiny production and street attitude, is indeed a bit edgier than its teen R&B contemporaries — Mario, B2K, ATL, etc. Tracks like "Hustler" and "ATL Tales/Ride Wit Me" contain marijuana and dope-dealing references that clearly outline Lloyd's desire to be the "thug" in every female listener's life. But his high-pitched voice and limited life experience thwart such gangster posturing.

Nevertheless, Lloyd is hoping the album will revive the troubled Inc. camp (which over the last two years has been plagued by drug allegations, a federal probe and fallout from the 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule debacle) and establish the singer as a serious artist — mall gigs notwithstanding.

"I could've done better," says Lloyd post-mall performance, reflecting while making a quick wardrobe change before launching into another round of autograph signings. "We had a lot of fun and people in the crowd might not have noticed it, but I know when I mess up and when I don't. You know, I'm my biggest critic."

On a more positive note, there is one thing the performer will certainly not forget. "The energy," says Lloyd, beaming. "Being in my hometown and getting a lot of love from my own hometown. That means a lot to me."