The CoKo Cure

"Koo-Koo For Coko Cuts"
Billy Johnson Jr

"I don't do what everybody do, I do what I do and that's that," former SWV lead singer Coko offers matter-of-factly. The tall, slim singing beauty refers to the absence of 20,000 guest appearances on her debut solo album, Hot Coko. "I don't feel like I need a whole bunch of people on my album to help me out," she continues. "That just takes away from what I'm trying to do."

The fact that all-star collaborations sell records today doesn't change her mind. Of Hot Coko's 11 songs, only two feature collaborations: female rapper Eve appears on "Trifling," and model/ MTV VJ/ singer Tyrese joins Coko on a remake of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's "If This World Were Mine," which has also been recorded by Luther Vandross & Cheryl Lynn. Coko handles the limelight well and has patiently pursued a solo career. Singing with her childhood friends Tamara "Taj" Johnson and Leanne "Lelee" Lyons as Sisters With Voices provided her a comfort zone for years, though it was her singular vocal gymnastics and range that drove SWV's singles "Right Here," "Weak," "You're The One," "Can We," and "Rain" to the top of the charts. When record labels offered Coko solo record deals following the success of SWV's debut It's About Time, the Bronx native declined. "I wasn't ready at the time," she explains. But after the run of Release Some Tension, SWV's third album, Coko chose to take up RCA's offer.

Brewing dissension in the group was causing problems, and the label's push for heavy hip-hop influences on Release Some Tension frustrated Coko, who's a fan of gospel acts like Twinkie Clark, Tramaine Hawkins, and Men Of Standard. The opportunity to record a solo record allowed her more creative freedom, as is evident on Hot Coko. Aside from Eve's raunchy, confrontational raps on "Trifling," which Coko hopes to release as a single, Hot Coko follows a subtler path. Some songs revisit the styles of SWV, while others tackle new terrain: "Try-Na Come Home" drips blues and soul, and "So Hard To Say Goodbye," another one of Coko's faves, easily passes for a straight-up gospel song.

"Well, I wasn't trying to sound any different," the singer born Cheryl Gamble explains via phone. "I just went in [the studio] and just sang from my heart and soul." Considering the lyrics to "Sunshine," a self-penned track about her son, emotions in the studio must have run uncontrollably. In the otherwise romantic-sounding song, produced by Rodney Jerkins, the proud mother sings, "The day you came my cloudy days were slept away/ Without you in my life it's filled with rain/ So stay right here with me." The soft-spoken, straight-to-the-point 25-year-old has managed to raise her son as a single parent, with the help of her mother. Coko takes him on the road when he's not in school, and when he is, her mother takes care of him. "If his father isn't doing anything, he'll come and he'll take him," she says of her former beau and current friend, Digable Planets frontman Butterfly.

Whether tending to her son or putting her all into recording, Coko insists on getting the job done. Even regarding several published exchanges between herself and her fellow Sisters With Voices, she denies that there's any lingering animosity. "I don't hate them," Coko clarifies. "I have a lot of love for them. But right now, I have to focus and concentrate on what Coko is doing."

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