Cheri Dennis Biography
Last updated: 04/15/2008
No matter what the neighborhood, the cultural relevance of the eighties could not be denied. Whether it was B-Boys and B-Girls pop-locking and break-dancing on cardboard dance floors in the Boogie Down Bronx, or teens preoccupied with mastering the puzzling Rubik’s Cube, adopting Cabbage Patch Kids or simply morphing into mo-hawked punk rockers, the ‘80s were a decade of awakening and innovation. It was also the era that birthed Cheri Dennis, Bad Boy’s princess of hip-hop soul.
Blessed with a vocal inheritance from her singer-dad, a six-year-old Dennis demonstrated harmonic promise at an early age, singing in her church choir. However, the Cleveland, Ohio native’s training didn’t end in the pews delivering Sunday morning hymns. Her bedroom became her recording sanctuary as she belted her favorite tune “The Greatest Love of All” into a hairbrush and every mall mirror became her stage as she rehearsed acceptance speeches for future accolades. “For as long as I can remember it was always about music and being in front of that mirror,” she recalls. “Plus, I was an only child so I always [had to] entertain myself.”
What some might have deemed standard childhood fantasies, the sultry songbird recognized as necessary groundwork for her musical future. Her trial run in the industry would come sooner than expected. During an outing with her dad to a recording studio for her twelfth birthday, the budding chanteuse met Spoiled, a local female group. Shortly after bonding with the ladies, Dennis joined the group and together they performed on BET’s now-defunct talk show, Teen Summit. Although the group released a video LP, a full album was never released and Dennis continued honing her craft and pursuing her dream of a singing career once the group disbanded.
Take a quantum leap less than a decade later and all of Dennis's dreams had seemed to come true. Signing with Cozi Music, a production company headed by recording artist and entrepreneur, Jimmy Cozier, brought Cheri to the city of dreams, New York City. Less than a month later, she lived every aspiring artist's fantasy, running into music mogul, P. Diddy, at a club and with one impromptu performance, impressing him into offering her a deal with his legendary label, Bad Boy Records in 2001. "It is a moment that I will never forget," says Cheri. But getting the record deal would soon prove to be the easy part. While she was beginning to make a name for herself with guest appearances on albums with artist from Mase to Faith to Diddy himself, her own debut seemed a non-starter. In 2005, it seemed her time had finally come when she released her first solo single, "I Love You", produced by Ryan Leslie. But despite the success of the first single, and media coverage in publications from Vibe to King, still a full album never hit retail stores. And as her own project stalled yet again, she had a front-row seat as other female artists of her genre launched their own careers ahead of hers. Now with her debut album finally on the release schedule, six years after being a signed artist, one would expect Dennis to convey frustration, or at least disillusionment with her label. So when asked why she chose to stay with Bad Boy all these years, you almost expect her answer, "I had no choice." However, Cheri, quick to clarify says, "Bad Boy was the only label I wanted to be with. I refused to get discouraged or give up; I decided to make it work. I knew I would get my chance to shine." And that she has. The delays now seem more blessing than curse as she has delivered a tour-de-force debut, under the helm of executive producer, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, that she and her label are extremely proud of.
Dennis’s brand of pop/street/soul is reminiscent of genre-busting hip hop vocalists like Mary J. Blige, Faith and Brandy, skillfully delivering gritty soul with feathery vocals. Dennis’s debut offering, In and Out of Love, is her personal opus on the intimate affairs of the heart. As she delivers a melodic testimonial about the joys and pains of love, her lyrics are brought to life by the musical tapestry of superstar producers like Timbaland, Ryan Leslie, Harve Pierre, Rodney Jerkins, Amadeus, Soul Diggaz and Mario Winans. Track like the 2006 chart-topper “I Love You” featuring Jim Jones; “Portrait of Love” featuring Yung Joc & Gorilla Zoe and “All I Wanna Do” inject romantic odes with mid-tempo beats while seductive singles like “Showdown” show a more bold side of the singer, speaking candidly about her sexual needs and desires. Standout ballad, “Ooh Ooh,” expresses a forlorn lover’s vulnerability and the incredibility of good love. Still, Dennis remains sassy and independent on tracks like “Remind You,” cautioning a selfish beau to never to forget the love she showed him before he gained notoriety and material things. “Girl power” is also definitely in effect on spirit-boosting songs such as the empowering “Alright,” a post-breakup anthem that encourages one to move on without regret and “Dropping Out of Love,” which asserts a refusal to accept less than one deserves. But it’s on the most sonically distinctive song, “Spaced Out,” where the listener best sees Cheri’s true nature, as she exalts, and exults in, her defiance of any and all social conventions. Though scheduled for physical release on February 26th, In and Out of Love has already received acclaim from the retail world. Album track, “Remind You,” was selected for the iTunes Single of the Week (amassing 250K downloads in a week) and her debut became the first-ever major label R&B album to receive a three-month digital exclusive release via iTunes. The collection, whose co-executive producer is Bad Boy Records President, Harve Pierre, instantly hit the top 10 on the iTunes “Top R&B/Soul Albums” sales chart in its first week of release.
Although Dennis assures that her music is far from preachy or all-knowing, she does have some sage advice when it comes to this thing called love. “Treat your significant other like you want to be treated,” she says. “And don’t carry any baggage from your past relationships into your new ones.”
While Dennis is happy to share universal truths about love colored by her own experiences, she is most focused on what she hopes will be her musical legacy “I want to be remembered for always making great music and not (just) music that’s ‘hot’.”