Cherokee Shows Her 'Soul'

It seems fitting that Brooklyn, N.Y.-born, Los Angeles-based Cherokee would find her musical home in Philadelphia. Her debut album, 1999's "I Love You ... Me" on Trip/RCA, was an organically soulful a

It seems fitting that Brooklyn, N.Y.-born, Los Angeles-based Cherokee would find her musical home in Philadelphia. Her debut album, 1999's "I Love You ... Me" on Trip/RCA, was an organically soulful affair that won critics' praise but failed to ignite commercially.

In many ways it seemed like the natural precursor to later offerings from such Philadelphia-based artists as Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, and Bilal. So it's no surprise to hear the aforementioned artists on Cherokee's sophomore set, the aptly titled "Soul Parade," due March 19 on Arista Records.

"I wanted to go back to the East Coast and be a little more aggressive. Plus, I'm a lot happier than I was before," Cherokee says, referring to the abusive relationship she endured with ex-husband and former musical partner, Auto, which was detailed on her debut.

"This album was a lot of fun," says the singer/songwriter. "I wrote a song with Jill Scott called 'Where' on which we duet, while Bilal and I duet on another track called 'A Woman Knows.' These guys, including Musiq Soulchild, are all my friends. So when I went to Philly, they wanted to work with me."

"As soon as I started hearing tracks, I started writing to them," Cherokee continues. "I ended up staying a week, and in that time I wrote seven songs. All that started the direction of the album. I'd worked beforehand in New York with a few other producers, but the direction didn't really represent me. I didn't have as much control as I wanted. It was more the label going after big-name producers. And that eats your budget up."

First single "I Swear" was sent to U.S. radio outlets last December for airplay consideration, and its video was directed by Diane Martel. It's the tip of an eclectic 12-song collection of tunes that captures the currently en vogue neo-soul sound. Among the noteworthy tracks is "Crazy," an R&B ballad reminiscent of Prince.

Producers involved in the project include OutKast's Andre 3000, Jay Dee of Slum Village, and Keith Crouch (Brandy). Originally slated for a fall 2001 release on RCA, Arista picked the album up when RCA's urban division was shuttered.

"[The RCA situation] was quite unexpected," Cherokee recalls. "I didn't know what was going on until the last minute. I loved the RCA folks, but I look forward to building a relationship with Arista. It's just going to take a minute to really get to know each other. Fortunately, Arista loved the record I'd done for RCA, so I didn't have to change anything."

Arista is coordinating showcases and/or listening/meet-and-greet parties for the album's launch in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and possibly Atlanta. Cherokee has also joined the lineup of artists -- including Nikka Costa and India.Arie -- tapped to appear in Gap's ongoing TV ad campaign.

"There is no other artist in the market today who exudes such an eclectic bridge of artistry and energy on stage and off," Arista senior marketing director Camille Evans says.

That bridge Evans refers to "just might work this time," KPRS Kansas City, Mo., operations manager/PD Sam Weaver says. "A pretty girl, a pretty voice, and interesting lyrics are always a good combination."

Cherokee attributes her musical evolution from dark and somber to more upbeat and joyous to her new boyfriend of one year. But she does not regret or harbor any self-consciousness about having spoken so openly of her past. "I never bite my tongue and pull punches with what's going on. I think I helped a lot of people who have gone through similar things. I've had so many women open up and talk to me, and it's helped me grow, too. Talking about it helped me get over it."