Sharissa, R&B/hip-hop’s hottest new diva, isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind, and that, she admits, often intimidates men.
Get over it, guys.
The native New Yorker is no wallflower, as evidenced on her debut Henchmen/Motown album, “No Half Steppin’.” With a refreshing air of honesty and vulnerability, she recounts failed relationships and a growing self-awareness in such tracks as “All These Years,” “Any Other Night” and the title cut. Some men have done her wrong, but she’s not taking it anymore, and she wants to tell other women that they have the power to take matters into their own hands: Simply walk away.
“I wanted to be honest to myself and everyone else,” Sharissa said recently. “Initially, I was thinking about just basing everything on issues; I took a lot of situations we go through with relationships, and we did songs about those different things – every aspect, and not just from a female point of view. If that person isn’t making you happy, step off. What’s the deal in whining about it? Just step off.”
Better still, people better step back and take notice of this dynamic singer dubbed “Lil’ Stevie Wonder” by her father. Hollywood already has: She and Toni Braxton were the only female cast members in last month’s VH1 film, “Play’d: A Hip Hop Story.” The story of greed and ego between two male rap artists starred Rashaan Nall, Merlin Santana and Faizon Love.
Even on the movie set, Sharissa had to deal with misperceptions about her.
“The star was asking me, ‘How does your man deal with your dominance?’ ” she said. “I’m like, ‘I’m not like that at all. I get it from my momma, I just say what I mean. Step off, buddy, if you’ve got a problem. Go act, aren’t you supposed to be acting?’ ”
A lot of Sharissa’s toughness and fearlessness comes from growing up in the Edenwald Projects. There, she blossomed in the spotlight, often bellowing out songs in the school cafeteria.
“I did the choruses and the glee clubs and the talent shows,” she said. “They just knew me as Sharissa, the singer. Then I started doing background singing for Father MC; then I started getting paid gigs, working with Beanie Sigel, Dino.”
Soon she attracted the attention of Jimmy and Mario Henchmen, who signed her to their fledging Motown-distributed Henchmen label.
“If it wasn’t for the Henchmen, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Sharissa said. “They’re management, they do production, they have their own studio. They took me under their wings.
“I worked toward everything, but I credit Jimmy Henchman for taking me under his wing and teaching me a lot of things I didn’t know about the game. He let me know I had a family and that I came from somewhere. You need that; you need a family, you need a crew when you’re coming up.
“And it’s great being involved with Motown. I’ve been watching Motown, of course, all my life. I used to watch Motown at the Apollo. Just to be a part of that is exciting. I used to study Diana Ross’ eyes and all the performances.”
Now Sharissa’s own star is on the rise.
“When I would walk down the street and people would notice me, that’s when I knew,” she said. “And that’s only recently – ‘You’re the one with the video.’ Even the older people – ‘Girl, I love that song.’ They know me from that blond hair.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “My mom used to buy my New Editions and stuff. The first one I got with the money from my first job was the first album that Joe did, ‘Everything.’ There was a record store around the corner from our place, and I was there in a minute.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “New Edition at Madison Square Garden, and I remember Cherrelle opening with Alexander O’Neal. (singing) ‘Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday …’ And I remember the shoot-out afterward; I was waiting across the street from the Garden for my father to pick us up in front of that Pennsylvania Hotel, and we saw people shooting and running, and my mom rushed us into the revolving doors of the hotel.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “May she rest in peace, but the worst job I had was working for this nitwit designer named Barbara Kodo. All she wanted me to do was send out her Christmas cards. She loved my penmanship. She kept me even longer than after the Christmas season to write things for her. She was too rich to do it herself; she paid me well. She was a nice woman, though.”
ON THE WEB: www.sharissa.com.