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In an age when everything from fashion to furniture reeks of prefabrication, it is rare to find a genuine realness even in soul music. As the one genre of music that should send shivers through ones body while still managing to touch your heart, much of today's R&B feels as though more thought has gone into the choreography than the songs. And then, there is Shareefa.
The first soul woman signed to Disturbing the Peace/Def Jam, this Newark, New Jersey native introduces her special realness on the debut disc Point of No Return. Recruiting studio vets Chucky Thompson, Salaam Remi (How Good Love Feels), Rodney Jerkins and newcomers the Justice League (Butterfly), the mature voiced twenty-three year old Shareefa has created something special.
"From the first time I stepped into the studio, it was my goal to try and make classic material, " says the singer. Indeed, with one listen to Shareefa's vocal styling and production, it is obvious that Point of No Return stands-up next to such stellar debuts that include What ' s the 411 (Mary J. Blige) and Faith (Faith Evans).
Raised between Brick City (Newark) and East Orange, young Shareefa was a fan of legendary singers from the time she was a child. "I can remember taping the tributes to Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight that were on the Soul Train Awards," Shareefa says. "I would be rewinding them all the time, practicing those routines until I knew them by heart. In the same way Patti LaBelle could make the hair stand-up on my arms with her voice, I wanted to be able to do the same thing."
Coming on strong with her first single "Need A Boss," it's obvious Shareefa has something to say. Produced by Rodney Jerkins, who has constructed past hits for Beyonce and Brandy, this track is the bass heavy jam that is destined for summer song greatness. Riding the rhythm with the confidence of a veteran songstress, "Need A Boss" also boldly displays Shareefa's talents as a budding songwriter.
"There are times when I can just feel the beat talking to me and I need to talk back," Shareefa laughs. "From the first moment Rodney played me the track, I felt an instant connection." Label-mate and DTP CEO and co-owner Ludacris also makes an appearance on "Need A Boss." More than pleased with his contribution, Shareefa says, "Luda told me he was going to come hard, but when I heard how good it was, I knew I was blessed."
Though Shareefa has cute childhood memories of dressing-up like 90s femmes TLC and Xscape, as well doing household chores with Mikki Howard and Donny Hathaway as her soundtrack, her teen years were a little bit rockier. Moving with her mother and two siblings to Charlotte, North Carolina when she was fifteen, Shareefa remembers, "I just started acting out and being disobedient."
"I needed to have a reality check. I woke up when I was seventeen."
Shareefa was then introduced to new jack swing innovator Teddy Riley. "At the time, Teddy was putting together a girl group, but he decided to work with me as a soloist instead." Teddy also taught his protégé much about the craft of songwriting. "All the love, frustration, betrayal or any other emotions that I feel sooner or later finds its way into my songs."
Later, when she and Teddy decided to go their separate ways, Shareefa was blessed to get her demo heard by DTP co-CEO Jeff Dixon. "Jeff liked what he heard, but he still had me audition for him," she says, smiling. "Right on the sidewalk on 114th Street in Harlem, and I sang on the spot." Later that same day, after meeting Ludacris over at MTV studios, Shareefa was welcomed into the family.
While all the collaborators on Point of No Return bring something special to the project, there is a definite connection between Shareefa and producer Chucky Thompson. "There is something about Chucky that is just eternal," she explains. "From M