The CoKo Cure
"It's Coko's World"
Black Beat Magazine, February 2000
The Sista With The Voice Gets Her Own Groove On
Interview by Rudi M.

It's been a minute, but time doesn't effect true talent when it's genuine and well-preserved. Both are factors where New York City-bred Coko Gamble is concerned. You know her when you hear her. Almost as soon as we started thinking, "Where's Coko?," her hazy and lush single, "Sunshine," hit the airwaves. After confirming well-circulated rumors, it came as no surprise that it was a solo single, making way for her current debut LP, Hot Coko. With six gold and platinum singles, multiple awards and nine Top 10 singles behind her, sweet-voiced Coko commenced to working on her exciting LP, with the likes of hit-making producer Rodney Jerkins, labelmate Tyrese, long-time collaborator Brian Morgan and red-hot raptress Eve contributing to Hot Coko, it was clear to all involved that she was well on her way to the next level of her career.

Without making a splashy or over-documented departure from the hit-making trio, Coko went low-profile and commenced to working on the project she'd waited years to embark on. But we wanted to backtrack, and hear how everything, from the silent break-up to the new music, went down. Coko proved to be quite forthcoming.

BLACK BEAT: So, tell me what the best part of embarking on solo project was. Then I wanna hear what the unnerving part was too, the part that didn't come easy.
COKO:
The best part was freedom. I had a lot of freedom on this album; I was able to just do what I wanted to. That's the best part, just being able to do whatever it is that you want to do without hearing who doesn't want to do this or that. But I was nervous because I didn't know how everybody was going to receive it. And then I was hearing, "She went solo? She can't do it all by herself." I heard little stuff like that. That made me very nervous, so I went into the studio like, "Okay, I gotta do this."

So you just went in there and knocked it out.
Right (she chuckles).

Most singers who leave a group and go solo usually make a clean break from the sound, management, producers, and everythig having to do with the group. What made you bring Brain Morgan (producer of a handful of SWV hits) along for your solo project?
Brian and I just have that special chemistry. And, I don't care, he always seems to come through with those ballads. Nobody else can give me ballads like him. He was going to be down anyway. He did "Rain" for us. So he's always going to be there.

What was the deciding factor in dissolving SWV?
I just couldn't take it anymore. We weren't getting along, and it was just really crazy. The situation was an unhappy situation that I didn't want to be in anymore. RCA had already given me a solo deal. So, originally, I was going to do the solo project, and then come back to SWV and do my thing, But things blew up. So I left, and that was it for me.

Groups do break up, so I guess we all get used to it.
Yeah, it's not something new to everybody.

In my opinion, Hot Coko is definitely different, but not a drastic break from the SWV sound. had you planned things that way?
Well, I mean, you have to understand that I was the lead vocalist, which I performned a lot of the backgrounds. So the sound can't be that much different, you know. My voice is still the same. That's why the core of the sound is still there.

How long had you been working on Hot Coko?
It took me six months to record this project. That's not bad, considering the fact that we stopped recording for a little while, and then started again. So it wasn't like six months straight.

Did you have to wait for Rodney Jerkins' availability? I know he's the most in-demand producer right now.
At first we did. But once we got him, it was cool. We just went straight into getting these songs done.

Did you do it all here, at home, on the east coast?
No, actually I did some here, and then I was in Los Angeles for like a month. Rodney had me come out there, even though he originally wanted me to go out to Florida. But then the location switched to L.A.

Was there anything different, as far as inspiration, about recording out there for you?
I think he was working with Michael Jackson, so he needed both of us out there, so he could go from one studio to the next. If I really wanted to go do it in New York, things would have been to hard for him. But it was cool; I wasn't complaining (she laughs).

Did you take your son with you?
No, because they told me I was only going to be out there for like two weeks, and it ended up being a month. I was like, "I gotta go home." We were supposed to do one more song with Rodney, but I was like, "I gotta go."

Tell me about the songwriting process for Hot Coko. Were you ever preoccupied with not letting too much of yourself into a song, or was it steady flowing?
Well, with me, Rodney just has those tracks that make you feel a certain way. Like with "Sunshine," when he played te track for me, sunshine is what popped into my head. I just started singing the hook. So we wrote the chorus down, and we sat down with his brother Fred and partner LaShawn, and just started vibing. All of the songs he produced, we wrote pretty quickly because, to me, when I listened to the track that he gave me, I just felt them. "All My Lovin'" made me feel like "ahhh" when I first heard the music. It was cool, even though sometimes it can be hard, and you're like, "What am I going to write about?" But that doesn't happen with Rodney. When he was like 15 or 16, he did some stuff for the second SWV album that wasn't included on the album. It was a thing about "nobody knows who he is," and I kept telling them that he was going to be hot. And he has just blown up. Now everybody's trying to get him.

What was it like recording "If This World Were Mine" with Tyrese?
That was really cool. I've done duets with Aaron hall, Johnny Gill, Jon B, Tyrese, and Tevin Campbell. The one with Johnny Gill was recorded without us being in the studio together. Same thing with the Aaron Hall duet. That way makes things kinda hard. So with Tyrese, I was like, "He just has to be there." I wanted us in the booth together, with his mic over there, and my mic over here. The vibe was awesome, with us feeling it and bouncing off of each other. A lot of stuff didn't even make the final cut. We were just jammin' (she laughs). He was nervous at first, but I said, "C'mon, let's do this." Working with Tevin was a nice experience, becuase I've been watching him ever since he was a kid. He was funny, and still has an amazing voice. He just stands there and sings.

So what's the plan as far as establishing Coko, the solo artist?
Right now, we're just promoting the album. I want to do a nice tour; I want to go all over. I'd eventually like to get into some acting. It' not really important to me yet, but I wouldn't mind trying. My thing is starting my gospel label. That's what I really want to do, because I sing with these two girls. But we do gospel, though. And they only sing gospel. So that's what I'm trying to get into. So I don't know is I'm going to keep singing R&B, or if I'm going to go straight into gospel.

So wait a minute. You left a group, and joined another group?
Well, the thing with a group is that we all have to be on one accord. Nobody can think they're better than the other, or get attitudes because this or that one is singing leads. In the end, we all have to step up and play our part. I feel like as long as we can understand that, and the unity is there, we can succeed and do it. The girls that I sing with, I've been firends with them for years. They sing just as well as I do, so it's not like I'll be the only lead singer. They all sing.

What brings you to the point of R&B, though?
'Cause I miss singing gospel. I grew up in church, and lately, I've been back in the church. I try to go on Sundays, and sometimes on Tuesday nights. I wanna be saved.

Well, the gospel industry is steadily growing. It's not like the old days, when R&B listeners never really had exposure to R&B acts.
That's right. You can just make that transition and maintain, while reaching the people with more positive songs.

Ever since the last SWV project died down, you got yourself involved in a couple of projects, guest appearances and the play, Mr. Do Right.
Oh yeah. That was just a guest appearance.

I certainly didn't see you around a lot while you were working on this album. You keep a pretty low profile when you're not working. Are you able to blend in and walk the streets without being followed and such?
I don't go out that much. I stayed in the house. When I was working on the album in the studio, I'd finish my work and go home. I didn't do any of the parties.

Do you have that regular life thing going on? Would I ring your door bell and catch Coko with her cleaning gloves on?
Nah, I just stayed in Jersey, and didn't come across the bridge unless I had to. My label would call me, telling me that such and sich is going on, and I just wouldn't go out.

Well, it's a good thing that you're no hooked on all of this. Some people get carried away with it all.
That's right. I still don't go out, even though I finished the album. People here at my record company know that Coko likes to go to bed early. Most times I have to see how I feel before I even think about going out to parties.

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