After inking a deal with Bad Boy Records nearly a decade ago, making cameo appearances on her label mates’ records and releasing single “I Love You” back in 2005, it’s like Diddy has been waving a Cheri Dennis carrot in front of our faces for years. It’s no wonder why she doesn’t mind being “the most known unknown.” In spite of spotlight shining on her minor Miami arrest and countless seasons of Making the Band, through her debut album In and Out of Love, Dennis shows us why she’s Bad Boys best kept secret.
Q: You’ve been buzzing and buzzing for quite a while now. So we’re all really excited about your debut album In and Out of Love.
Yes, I’m very excited. What’s more exciting for me is that people finally get to hear the music that I can do. I don’t think that they get a full reflection of who I am as an artist and definitely not as a person. It’s just cool that they finally get a body of work and they can hear songs and kind of come to a conclusion about whether they like me as an artist or if they don’t like me as an artist. It’s like breathing a sigh of relief now that this is over and we’re moving on to the next obstacle.
Q: You just said that people will get to know you more as an artist from the album. So, what is Cheri Dennis the person like as opposed to Cheri Dennis the artist?
I’m pretty much Cheri Dennis the person all the time I just happen to be really good at singing and really good at creating. You know what though? Cheri Dennis the artist is always on point. Cheri Dennis the person can sometimes be a little short, but Cheri Dennis the artist is always mindful of things that come out of her mouth and mindful of the way she treats people. Cheri Dennis the person is a little bit more human than Cheri Dennis the artist.
Q: Why did you choose the title In and Out of Love for your debut album?
When you listen to the album I think that it’s definitely about emotions and relationships—either you’re in love or out of love. We didn’t come up with that concept and say we’re gonna write songs based around this in and out of love theme. Once we listened to all of the songs, that’s pretty much what the music was about and I think it’s very appropriate for the music that’s on the album.
Q: What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from love?
Oh gosh . . . karma is definitely a mug. If you mistreat somebody, there’s gonna be that one person that comes around and plays you. That’s for certain and you probably won’t be able to handle it the way you gave it out. I learn something new every day. I’m in a relationship right now and I’m still learning lessons in love.
Q: What is it about you that’s different from other R&B female artists out right now?
I don’t know. People ask me that. I think it’s pretty arrogant of me to be like ‘this is what sets me apart from this artist or that artist.’ I don’t know what sets me apart; I’ve never tried to fit in. I’ve never, ever went into the [studio] saying ‘I’m going to make my Beyonce record now or I’m going to make my radio-friendly record or this is my record for the club.’ I just create and hope for the best. I would like to let people determine what they like about me that makes me different than another artist. But I will tell you this—the main thing that people tell me when they see my performance is that they’re happy that I sound like the record or that I sound better than the record. They’re so used to going out and getting albums and then they see a person perform live and then maybe that person doesn’t sound like the record. I’m not sitting at home like ‘this is what’s going to make me different than Rihanna or Beyonce or Keyshia.’ I think that we all have different qualities about us and I think that there’s a lane for everybody.
Q: You really have a beautiful voice and at times we feel like you’re too underrated. What has been your biggest obstacle since you were signed to Bad Boy?
I always say that the music industry is not always about how talented you are. It’s a business and there are a lot of industry politics going on and the most successful is not always the most talented. But I like being the underdog. It’s crazy because I’m cool with that. The biggest disappointment for me is that people never really get to hear what I can do in terms of music. I take the creative side of what I do very seriously and for people not to really be able to hear my music or not be aware that it’s out there is the most disappointing part for me. I don’t really care about being famous. I think that once people start having access to your music and they love it and they support it—you become famous.
Q: At one point I read that your album was being pushed back due to image conflicts among other things. Why do you feel that an artists’ image is so important?
This is show business so I definitely feel like the visual has to match the music because it is a visual industry. But for me, if you’re very passionate and you’re very stuck on a vision that you have for yourself, it’s really hard to have people come in and try to change what you see for yourself. I think that a lot of artists have issues creatively because they always have their own vision. A lot of times a label feels like you haven’t sold any records so who are you to be telling us that you shouldn’t look like this and that you shouldn’t sing that. If I fail and it was because of my vision, then I can accept it because I was comfortable with it. But if I was uncomfortable from the beginning and I failed then I’m like “wow, that was your vision and it failed my opportunity to succeed.” Sometimes that has hurt me more than helped me, but at the end of the day I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t succumb to the pressures knowing that you wanted me to sing that or you wanted me to wear that.
Q: So pretty much when we see Cheri now, it’s Cheri?
Not always, but I think that I’m such a bugged out person and a bugged out artist that they’ve just kind of given up on giving me an image. I think that they have brought people in to enhance what I am. In an ideal situation I would have all creative control but I think that we’re 75 percent there.
Q: We knew you were confident once we heard how you approached Diddy at a party and sang for him to get your record deal. Where does that confidence come from?
I’ve never really been a shy girl—ever. My confidence that night came from the fact that I wanted a record deal. I knew that the opportunity was sitting in front of me and that I might have not ever gotten that opportunity again. My hunger from having wanted a deal superseded any nervousness that I may have felt. I don’t know where that confidence comes from. My grandmother always taught me to love myself, so I’m not always the most secure, but I’m comfortable in my skin.
Q: How would you describe your fashion style?
It would definitely be like a sexy tomboy. I like things that speak to my personality and I like a little bit of edge. So everything being perfect and put in place is so not me.
Q: I remember when you first stepped on the scene with that crazy, hot asymmetrical bob. You had every chick running to the salon with a picture of you saying, “I want this cut!” How are you wearing your hair now?
You know what? Let the world tell it, Rihanna started it—but it’s ok. But if you check the records, I was the first one with it. I appreciate the fact that you took the time out to notice it because I have that argument with people all the time. But shout out to Rihanna, she’s a beautiful girl and she’s doing her thing. We have let the asymmetrical cut go and we’re doing something a little bit shorter and a little bit more razor cut. Hopefully, I’ll always be a person that can set trends and even if I don’t set trends, I’m hoping that I can always be a little bit different. I don’t want to look like everybody else and I definitely don’t want to sound like anybody else and if I can do that, that’s cool with me.
Q: Lastly, you’re headed out on a night on the town with your girls—what’s in your clutch?
My MAC lip gloss, a comb, mascara, whatever shadow I’m wearing that night I usually take it with me because at the end of the night the shadow tends to get a little dull. Money and gum. Always because the industry I’m in I’m always running my mouth and talking to somebody so you gotta make sure the breath is on point and that’s pretty much it. I keep it simple.