There is always one star who outshines their
counterparts. And they know this. Perhaps they
suppress the urge to split because the thought of
taking center stage as an individual made them
insecure. Maybe they stay out of loyalty to the
others. Lionel Richie experienced it with the
Commodores. Diana Ross with the Supremes. Pattie
LaBelle with the Blue Bells. To stay or not to
stay--that was their perplexed question. The public
always pushes for an immediate answer. They wait for
the opportunity, then put a bug in the star's ear to
consider going for dolo. The group members are not
unsuspecting. They see it coming and brace for the
inevitable. Eventually the equilibrium shifts, the
observers win and the star finally decides to fly the
History has repeated itself with trio SWV--the '90s
version of the Blue Bells. But instead of Pattie,
group siren Coko Gamble is the one jumping ship.
It comes as no surprise since, at 25, she's the
oldest and the boldest of the three. Her temerity had
always busted through with every pungent note she
Despite it all seeming rosy from the outside--the
glamour, the money and fame--things were not very
sisterly in the SWV family. Needless to say, Coko
isn't coy when telling the story. The Bronx, New York
native candidly states the sisters fought about
"anything. And it's not like we argued. I think if
we would have argued and talked, it would have been
better. But we just didn't say anything. The worst
thing to do is to hold things in and not talk about
it, and then it just builds up and builds up. Then
it's just like, 'Okay, I can't take this anymore.' So
we didn't argue, we didn't talk. The tension was
But SWV was more than a family, it was a business. A
multi-million dollar venture which had produced two
platinum and one gold album and received nominations
for Grammy, American Music and Source awards since
its establishment seven years ago. Although Coko and
group members LeLee and Taj didn't have much say in
the biz, hardly wrote their own songs, and no longer
got along, they did have an obligation to their label
and each other.
"It's kinda' hard for me 'cause I'm not a great
pretender." Trying to remain diplomatic, she
continues, "And it comes across on stage and in the
recordings and I don't feel like the fans should have
to suffer because things aren't going well. I had the
solo deal anyway, so I just pursued that."
Not to mention there were always the observers
standing by. They knew just how to stroke a star's
ego. Like a tiny devil on her left shoulder, they'd
remind her of her lead singing prowess. She made the
group. So why continue splitting the money three
ways? But Coko insists her decision was not out of
greed. "I make my own decisions, I do what I wanna
do. To me it wasn't about the money, 'cause we were
getting paid. It was deeper than that. Just like in a
relationship, if I'm not happy, I'm leaving and
that's that. And this is the happiest that I've been
in a while."
What's keeping the singer happy these days? The
completion of her new solo project, Hot Coko,
for one. Like SWV's albums, Hot Coko
maintains that same round-the-way girl feel,
sandwiching danceable R&B grooves with hip hop beats.
Some of the more generic crossover-wannabe tunes have
been replaced with ones more personal to Coko,
hitting topics specific to young, urban relationships
like her song "Trifling" featuring Eve of the Ruff
Ryders and "Try-Na Come Home."
With super-producer Rodney Jerkins blessing half the
album with his platinum tracks, it's a given Hot
Coko is banging.
Monica, Brandy, Jennifer Lopez and Whitney Houston
and is now working with mega-pop acts like the Spice
Girls, LeAnn Rimes and pop's king-Michael Jackson.
But once again, Coko contends that snagging Jerkins
wasn't another covert power move after America's
"I've known Rodney since he was like 15. When SWV was
working on our second album, we wanted him, but
people weren't giving him a chance 'cause he was so
young and they didn't really believe in him. But he
really did some nice stuff for SWV that didn't make
the album. So throughout the years, we kept in
contact and we would talk and I would say if I ever
do my own thing, I'd want you to work with me. When
he found out I was working on my solo album, he came
Coko's biggest joy, though, is her three-year-old son
Jazz--the product of her former relationship with
Ishmael a.k.a. Butterfly of the defunct group Digable
Planets. She dedicates her first single, "Sunshine,"
to Jazz--which is also one of the five songs she got
Her impenetrable demeanor melts away to expose her
vulnerable side when she speaks of her child.
Gratefully, she utters, "When I look at him, I'm
like, 'He's mine, really?' I just can't believe it.
Just little things he does, he just makes me so
happy." Her motherly grin stretches from ear to ear
when she brags about the trophy he just won in
karate. "He's a yellow belt," she grimaces. "He
wants to be a black belt really bad. I have to
explain to him, 'You have to go through the different
stages to get there.'"
Beyond sharpening her motherly expertise, Coko has
grown in other areas. Her relationship with the
Sisters has improved. While she no longer speaks to
LeLee she says there is no more tension or
bitterness. As for Taj, Coko maintains a friendship
for the sake of her son, who is Taj's godchild. "I
know for a fact that I've matured a lot. When people
see me they're like, 'There's something different
about you.' When I was in the group, I was dark. I
was angry all the time and I couldn't even tell you
what I was angry at."
Coko isn't unaware of the reputation that preceded
her, either. "Everybody's like, 'She's the bitch of
the group,' or 'She's real mean or nasty.' But you
know, they don't know me. You don't know what I'm
going through or what's going through my head. And,
like I said, the group was having problems."
As the singer ventures out on her own to prove
herself once again, there is only one thing she wants
the observers to make note of. "To know me is to
love me. That's all I have to say."