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SWV's Coko Returns A 'Winner'

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Cheryl "Coko" Clemons can sang, chile. She returns to the music scene with her second gospel album, "The Winner In Me," a project that reveals intimately her trials and tribulations and her true love for God. The album is heartfelt, and she cleverly combines Gospel with an R&B flavor. Through this album, she speaks hope and encouragement to anyone dealing with heavy issues. With her video for the single "The Winner in Me," recently debuting, Coko spoke to ESSENCE.com about being at her lowest, SWV, and finding peace and happiness with prayer. ESSENCE.com: Wow, Coko, it's been a while. Re-introduce us, who are you now as a woman and as a solo artist? COKO: I love music, and I'm grateful I am still able to do what I love. I'm more seasoned, and I have grown vocally. As a woman, I am more positive and on-point. ESSENCE.com: I hear that! In 2006, your first gospel album, "Grateful," received a Grammy nod. Is there now more pressure on the success of "The Winner In Me"? COKO: I just wanted to make another great record, I didn't get a Grammy nod on this last record, but I still feel like I accomplished what I set out to do. ESSENCE.com: It is a great album. The album strongly discusses self-esteem, what were you going through? COKO: Growing up in the Bronx as a dark-skin girl, I hated hearing, "You're cute to be dark skin." I would ask myself, why can't I just be cute? I didn't want to be dark skin. So, I tried to bleach my skin, I dressed extra jazzy just to get attention. When I finally got past all that, I realized, yes, I'm dark skin, but I'm beautiful. ESSENCE.com: That can mess you up mentally, what did it take for you to snap out of it? COKO: I think when I got married and had my own children. I have a chocolate son, and I have a yellow son. (Laughs) It doesn't matter what shade you are, we are all beautiful. Of course things didn't change overnight, but when I met my husband, he talked to me like a regular person, not Coko from SWV. He helped me to see I'm beautiful inside and out. My husband is a real good dude, and it takes a lot to deal with me. ESSENCE.com: Speaking of your husband, producer Mike Clemmons, how was it working with him on your album? COKO: Ha! I had to learn to work with him. At first I would get an attitude, like who you talking to? But now we know when we go into the studio, it's about business, he's my producer not my husband, and I have to listen. It's cool, we balance each other. ESSENCE.com: "The Winner In Me" speaks to those making a journey through darkness and difficulties. What was your darkest moment? COKO: When SWV was breaking up. We weren't talking, we just didn't know how to commuincate. We were really a good group, and we just messed it all up. It bothered me a lot. I stayed in bed. It took me getting out that room and going to church for me to begin to get myself together. ESSENCE.com: What did you learn? COKO: Prayer works. Instead of relying on others to pray for me, I started praying for myself. I talk about that in the song "Surrender." ESSENCE.com: SWV were guests of the Mo'Nique show not too long ago, and you spoke on why you broke up. Taj stated you let people infiltrate the bond you had. What happened, specifically? COKO: Different people in our ears got to each one of us, and it just broke the group up. A lot of people think I'm the one who left first, but actually LeLe left first.  ESSENCE.com: For you all to rise so triumphantly, how bad did it get? COKO: It was like five years when were together still doing shows, and we would go onstage and do what we had to do. But when we came off, went in the dressing room, we weren't talking to each other at all.   ESSENCE.com: Looking back, do you think everything happens for a reason? COKO: Absolutely. We had to go through that breakup to get our friendship back.  When we didn't speak, it was us not appreciating one another. Now we have a sisterhood, and we had to go through it all to get to where we are today. ESSENCE.com: How long was it before you all reconnected, and who said "Hey, you want to go to lunch?" COKO: (Laughs) It was like an eight-year period where we didn't deal with each other. One day Teddy Riley called trying to put together some stuff, and I told him I don't really talk to the other girls, so I'm not sure how you're going to pull this off. He asks, "Well, can't you just call them?" I'm like, no, you calling the wrong one for that. But it was a call from LeLe that made us eventually call Taj. We talked and let each other know what hurt, and it was like a big weight lifted off. ESSENCE.com: Nice. You grew up in the church, but you ended up in a group singing secular music, how did your family/church respond? COKO: They gave me a hard time. Growing up in Penacostal church, it was strict. We didn't wear pants, makeup, anything, so for me to come out of that and sing R&B, they were like, she's going to hell, for real. (Laughs) But my mother had my back, and that's all that mattered to me. ESSENCE.com: Why do you consider "The Winner In Me" your most cherished and personal recording? COKO: This record is something I can really relate to when I was at really a low time in my life. Their is a song on here for everybody--without me putting out every detail of my business. ESSENCE.com:  Congrats! So do you have anything else to add, any girl fight moments, any sob stories? COKO: I don't get caught up in that...the place I'm in now, I'm good. "The Winner In Me" is available in stores now. Read more:
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