The CoKo Cure

Former SWV diva launches solo album
Nikole Killion, Editor

"God, I ask that you continue to bless me as I make this journey ... alone." - Intro, Hot Coko

You won't find any marshmallows in this cup of Hot Coko. Instead Cheryl "Coko" Gamble pours out nothing but upbeat, soulful grooves in her first solo album. That's good news for R&B fans that miss the popular, honey-like sounds of SWV, Sisters with Voices. It was Coko's smooth, high-pitched lead vocals that brought the trio to multi-platinum fame with hits like "Weak", "I'm So Into You", and "Right Here" when they debuted in 1992 with their first album, It's About Time.

Now it's about Coko. After SWV's quiet, yet rocky breakup last year, Coko is finally fulfilling a life-long dream.

"I'm so excited," says the 25-year-old songstress who released her album in August. "It's just me now and I did all the background and lead vocals. Plus I wrote some of the songs."

Coko penned five of the eleven songs featured on the album. These include "You and Me", "Don't Take Your Love Away", "I Ain't Feelin' You", "All My Lovin'" and her current hit single, "Sunshine".

"I am really happy about everything on the album, especially for "Sunshine" since it is for my son," Coko says of her special tribute to three-year-old son, Jazz. "He brings sunshine in my life."

Coko says that working on the album has been a bright spot in her career despite SWV's break-up. "There are no bad parts," Coko says of her transition from group to solo life. "I'm enjoying it and having a good time."

But an album for Coko had been in the works for some time. According to an MTV interview, Coko admitted that she was offered a solo deal while she was with SWV. But she says that had nothing to do with the group's split.

"It wasn't about me doing my own album," Coko says.

"We just weren't getting along." Coko explains that a lack of unity and friendship were to blame for the break between the girls who had known each other since childhood. As success grew for the group, tensions rose between them.

"No one can continue to work like that because it's very hard, especially when you're not speaking and things like that," she says. "We could never get it together, so we went our separate ways."

Breaking up may have been hard to do. But each member has managed to pick up the pieces. Tamara "Taj" Johnson has launched a modeling career while Leanne "Lelee" Lyons has started her own music management company.

Chances are the group won't get back together any time soon although a SWV Greatest Hits album was released in August after Coko dropped her album. Coko declined to comment about the SWV album saying that she had "nothing to do with it". But she says she would be open to working with the former members in the future.

But for now, Coko is joined up with some of the hottest artists and producers in the industry. Her next single, "Triflin'" features Ruff Ryders' First Lady, Eve. The ladies add to the repertoire of TLC ("Scrubs"), Destiny's Child ("Bills, Bills, Bills") and Missy Elliott ("All In My Grill") with their blazing track and anti-scrubs, pro-brotha-who-pays-the-bills message.

But Coko knows a good man when she sees one... or hears one for that matter. She didn't waste any time snagging up labelmate and R&B heartthrob, Tyrese, for a slow, sultry duet entitled, "If This World Were Mine", a remake of the original classic by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell. She also teamed up with brothers Babyface and Kevon Edmonds, who sang the background vocals for the ballad, "So Hard to Say Goodbye."

Hot Coko is a delicious blend of smooth, syrupy ballads and uptempo dance inspirations that showcase a richer and more mature-sounding Coko. Rodney Jerkins, the R&B hit-maker behind female sensations Brandy and Monica ("The Boy Is Mine" ), Whitney Houston ("It's Not Right, But It's Okay") and Jennifer Lopez ("If You Had My Love" ), adds spice to Hot Coko with "Sunshine"--already a Top 20 R&B hit-- and the uniquely synthesized "Don't Take Your Love Away". Former SWV producer Brian Alexander Morgan ("Weak", "Rain" ) churns out the same successful hit recipe on "Bigger Than We", "Triflin'" and "Everytime". Other newcomers to the album include Michael Powell and Damon Thomas who produced songs for the legendary Anita Baker.

"There is something for everyone on this album," says Coko, who adds that listeners will hear more of her gospel roots in this album.

And Coko says that there is even more to come for her fans.

"When I finish with this one, I'm going to start up on a second album," she says. "I'm just going to keep making music."

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