Heather Keets
May 17, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Hey, girl, whatchu doin’ home?” a passing neighbor shouts to Tonya Pointer, who is kickin’ back on the front porch of her family’s suburban D.C. digs. ”I’m so glad to be here, you just don’t know,” says Pointer, 23, in a drawl too thick to be so close to the Mason-Dixon line. ”I just got home and now I gotta go to Nashville tomorrow. Oooh, God, help me.”

That’s how it shakes out when your debut single lingers in the top 10 on the rap charts for three months — life becomes one big promotional tour. Back in the neighborhood where she grew up, the youngest of nine children, Pointer — known professionally as Nonchalant — remembers the inspiration for the lyrics to ”5 O’Clock,” her scathing, bass-pounding indictment of a generation of young black males wasting away (and wasting each other) on the streets of America: ”I delivered mail for five years, so I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning to get to work by 6. On my way, I’d see these kids standing outside on the corner in front of the liquor stores, just up to no good.”

”5 O’Clock,” with its passionate point of view and unflinching wordplay (”A shootin’ here, a stabbin’ there… It’s not a white man’s finger on the trigger/Car-jacks, drive-bys, callin’ each other nigger/I’m not here to scold but rather shape and mold/A young black mind that won’t live to grow old”), has suddenly earned Nonchalant comparisons to the pioneering, socially conscious distaff rappers Queen Latifah and MC Lyte. It has also boosted her just-released debut CD, Until the Day, onto Billboard‘s R&B and pop charts.

Despite it all, Nonchalant remains, well, nonchalant. The tag was given to her when she first started out by a former producer who was less than productive. ”The more he lied to me, the more laid-back I got,” she says. ”He started joking, saying I didn’t get excited about anything, that I was too nonchalant. The name stuck.”

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