Finally made it/ underrated/ they couldn't contain it/I'm elated.../For so long they doubted me/ for so long they abandoned me/ but now I've made it through/ uh huh/ and now you see it too.../ surviving through the storm now I came up/ pushed on and on and on...--Cheri Dennis, "Finally Made It"Welcome Cheri Dennis. The new female soloist hailing from the Midwest is ready to prove that Cleveland is not only the home of the Rock & Roll Museum, but also the home to some serious hip-hop soul. Although she is a girl with plenty of rhythm and blues, Cheri is a cool departure from the R&B norm.As the first solo female release from the Bad Boy camp since Faith Evans, Cheri has been anxiously waiting in the wings for many years-all her to life be exact. "I grew up in a very spiritual and religious household, so I've always known music," she explains. "I can't even think of my first experience where I said, 'Oh I want to sing.' It's just always been there. It's who I am."Today, as a wise-beyond-her-years twenty-something, Cheri has gracefully navigated the tangled web of record deals and other sundry pit stops while steering through Cleveland's working class to New York's bright lights. Her self-titled Bad Boy debut offers up a refreshing mix of sweet melodies and wide-ranging tempos, bound to solidify her as a music mainstay.As Cheri proclaims in one of her jazzy, sexy interludes, she's "Finally Made It". Singing at the age of eight in her grandmother's church choir, Cheri always possessed the burning desire to become a singer and was fully confident that one day she would achieve her dreams. When people would inquire about her plans after high school, 'College or work?' she'd reply with much conviction, "I'm a singer. I'm going to be a star!" There was never a moment she thought about anything else."It was just meant for me to be a singer," Cheri says referring to her signing to Bad Boy Records. She was in New York chasing her dream for no more than 2 weeks before randomly running in Sean "Diddy" Combs at a party. While at the party Cheri seized her opportunity and began an impromptu performance singing solid vocals over the song the DJ was playing. The hip hop impresario instantly became enamored by Cheri's vocal capabilities and in only a matter of weeks, without even thinking twice, Diddy had her paperwork drawn up for the record deal.But after commanding the coveted ear of her label Chairman and producer Sean "Diddy" Combs, Cheri spent what felt like an eternity in and out of studios recording tracks for her album. She blessed Mase's album, and a few years later made feature appearances on two Bad Boy releases "The Saga Continues" and "We Invented the Remix.", that whet fans' appetites and made them anxious for the melodic, sweet voice's own album. But Cheri knows all about timing; she understands that the pot don't whistle 'til the water's boiling and now, finally, it's all about her debut, and Cheri totally gets the significance of it all."I cut school to buy the first Faith album back then," she admits with a sly smile, knowing the irony of her words. "She's someone who has influenced my sound because she has such an amazing voice." Cheri has a distinctively different vocal quality and feel to her music than her predecessor, but with a close listen to breathy songs like "Matrix" (produced by Diddy) and feel-good remake produced of The Notorious B.I.G.'s famous "Sky's the Limit", by Harve Pierre, real music buffs will undoubtedly hear the special connection. Cheri describes her sound as "hip-hop soul, R&B with an edge." She blends together the grace of gospel with a rock and roll edge, R&B soul and a little pop style.Cheri's most meaningful musical influences were Prince and Madonna. Says the budding starlet, "I'm a very sensual person, so I connect with that in Prince. And with Madonna, it wasn't so much the music as it was her power and presence." And yes, in the most subtle ways Cheri reflects what she has learned from the both of them. She also reflects on inspirations that have come from Minnie Ripperton and Aretha Franklin, "when you think of those singers, the first thing that comes to mind is their voice. Their voices were so powerful and moving, I just hope that my singing moves people. I want people to hear me live and realize that it is not just about a studio for me, rather it is about singing well."But all hers are the little, yet important things on this CD, for example, the special treats like those raspy finishes that she lends to adlibs on the standout "So Complete," a substantial, yet simple track produced by Bucwild. It's easy to also get a sample of her pretty harmonies on "Finally Made It," a song for anyone who accomplishes their goals. "Caught Up," a sure hit-co-written by Cheri-is one of those rare "all year long, any time of day" joints. She's deliberate with her phrasing in her songs, too, check out "Something," it's just more evidence of her impressive vocal control. Control she definitively proves with one listen to her sharp soprano lilt, which Cheri favors especially on the hooks like the fun and catchy "Remind You," and throughout the oh-so-alluring, up-tempo "I Love You" her smash first single produced by Ryan Leslie.There is truly something for all types on this album. People who live for dance tracks will flock to the dripping wet single "Ooh La La," the theme song from the hit show MTV's Making the Band 3. Listeners will also find themselves seeking out more of the fly girl flow Cheri teases on her "Act Like You Know", and they'll most certainly be stuck on the drama-induced, hip-hop flavored vocals of the Mary J. inspired "All I Wanna Do".Cheri has a rawness that's all her own. She's journeyed a long way to get where she is but this is only the beginning. And she promises, this debut not withstanding, that she has much more to offer. She stays passionate in her delivery and crisp vocals and, the best thing about her (not including her funky, high-end downtown fashion sense) is that she's a new artist with a real sense of self. She doesn't gush over folk, not Diddy (even though she calls him a legendary leader)-not anyone. Instead, Cheri remains focused on work, her work. "This is all I do, I'm focused" reveals the songstress. And after this is completed, we ask, "what then?" "I look forward to more, and more," She answers "I expect to have a long career in this industry." Cleveland stand up!