"Diva's the name, or at least that's what they call me," purrs Ultra Nate on the title tune from her new album, "One Woman's Insanity." "Categorize, stereotype and symbolize me as -- Diva. Some call me Susie, others call me Vixen. I guess it really just depends on what time of day it is.
" 'Cause I can play the role, you know."
Can she ever. In the four years since "It's Over Now" lifted her out of Baltimore's dance music underground, Ultra Nate -- that's Nah-tay, by the way, with an accent on the "e" -- has become a major star on the club circuit.
"It's Over Now" was a Top-40 single in Britain, while her 1991 debut, "Blue Notes in the Basement," was called the dance album of the year by Billboard. And "One Woman's Insanity" promises to be equally well-received, particularly given the buzz on the newly remixed versions of the album's first single, "Show Me."
Yet as she sits in the living room of her Bolton Hill apartment, Ultra seems incredibly, well . . . normal. There's no Diva-like arrogance to her manner, no sycophantic entourage hanging on her every utterance. In fact, if it wasn't for her outfit and hair -- both of which are in place more for the photographer than anyone else -- it'd be hard to guess she was in show business at all.
"It's very easy to pull yourself together and be 100 percent at that moment in time, but that's not how it is 24/7 [that is, 24 hours a day, seven days a week]," she says. "That's not who you are or how you are [all the time] -- that's just one facet of your personality."
So does she like doing the Diva thang? "It's a Catch-22 situation," she says. "People don't seem to realize that the whole Diva syndrome is people wanting to stamp you right off the bat.
"My thing got started with the gay male population, which is primarily my fan base. Gay males love a woman who's a real woman, who can look you in the eye and say what's on her mind, who can give you attitude and not care. They eat it up. And if you've got a voice to go with it and if you've got your look together, they will hail you as a queen. And they will support you to the end -- they're fans like no others, which is wonderful.
"But on the flip side of it, the rest of the world sees [being a Diva] as being an obnoxious, arrogant type of person. Just a total bitch most of the time. People ask me all the time, 'Does it bother you, people considering you a diva?' And it's not even about that for the most part."
She knows that it's easy to "get caught up in the whole Diva syndrome" and start believing your own press, but Ultra seems to have her attitude firmly grounded in reality. "Someone told me years ago, 'Never believe your own press. You'll be all right as long as you don't believe your own press.' And I think that there's some truth in that," she says.
It probably helps, though, that she never really expected to be a Diva -- or any kind of recording artist -- in the first place.
"Actually, I was going to go to medical school," she says. "That was what my plans were after I graduated from Dunbar and majored in the medical program there. Singing is just something fun that I've done on the side. I sang in my church choir all my life, but as far as professional career, that was something that I really didn't entertain too much."
Back then Ultra Nate Wyche -- "That's my birth name," says the 25-year-old -- was just another club kid, a regular part of the scene at Odell's. "That's where I met the Basement Boys," she says, referring to the Baltimore-based production team responsible for the Crystal Waters smash, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)."
"They were DJs at that point in time, and they also had done a club record of their own, a remake of Rose Royce's 'Love Don't Live Here No More.' They didn't really want to be artists -- they were really pursuing the producer's role -- so they were enlisting singers from the area to just come down and audition, and work with them doing backgrounds and things like that. So I auditioned in the background capacity."
One night, the four of them were working in the Boys' basement studio, working with different beats and just generally brainstorming. Someone suggested that Ultra try writing a song, so, she says, "I just jumped in the booth and came up with a melody real quick to go with these lyrics that we came up with. And that turned out to be the first single."
It didn't happen right away, of course; Ultra needed a record deal before she could release a single. But after the Basement Boys played "It's Over Now" for Cynthia Cherry at Warner Bros., Ultra had a contract -- not to mention a new career.
And with "One Woman's Insanity," which finds her working with Soul II Soul's Nellee Hooper and the English soul band D-Influence as well as the Basement Boys, Ultra has clearly entered dance music's upper echelons. But even though her work has done well in the dance music market and even cracked the pop charts in Britain, she's had a hard time getting airplay here in America.
"The radio stations in America are so caught up in format," she says. "And, unfortunately, dance music is still considered an underground form of music here. I account for it as coming from the whole disco era, with dance being the daughter of disco. . . ."
Even so, Ultra's dance card remains quite full. She'll play the Paradox's second anniversary party on Saturday, and will be touring Japan at year's end. And after the video for "Show Me" makes the rounds, who knows what might happen?
But what Ultra would really like would be to have her success in music, and then head off to medical school as she originally planned. "People look at me like, 'Really? I can't imagine you a doctor, with all that big hair and lipstick.' "
She laughs. "Once I make a couple more albums, and have some time off, I might actually do this. But it is expensive, so I have to wait 'til I'm rolling in the dough.
"Hopefully that won't be too long."
When: Appearance at 10 p.m. Friday
Where: HeBeGeBeez, 2324 Boston St., Fells Point
When: Performance, 3 a.m. Saturday
Where: The Paradox, 1310 Russell St.
L Tickets: $8 for members and college students, $10 for others
Call: (410) 837-9110
LISTEN TO ULTRA
You can hear excerpts from Ultra Nate's "One Woman's Insanity" on Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service.
You will need a touch-tone phone. Call (410) 783-1800, or from Anne Arundel County, (410) 268-7736. After the greeting, punch in 6138 for Ulta Nate.