Shareefa, whose full name is Shareefa Cooper, has drawn comparisons to a young Mary J. Blige, partially due to her voice, but more because of her upfront, take-no-mess attitude on some of her songs.
"Need a Boss"Case in point: on Shareefa's first single, "Need a Boss," she talks about her affinity for rough and rugged men:
Come wit' it, need somebody that's real gangsta/Ain't a toy soldier, a real gangsta/Playa, holdin' me down like an anchor/I need a pappy, somebody I call daddy.
Although she sounds incredibly natural - powerful, even - shot calling on the song, just a few years ago, a song like "I Need a Boss" was quite possible the last thing on her mind.
Running WildBack when she was in her mid-to-late teens, 'Reefa got caught up in a bad situation and found herself on the verge of spending time in prison. Shareefa, who was raised between Newark and East Orange, New Jersey, moved with her family to North Carolina.
And that's when her problems began. And they didn't come to a head until she was appearing in a courtroom before a judge, who told her that if she didn't straighten up her act, there was only one place she would end up.
"I was just a wild teenager," she explains. "Getting into things, trying to get some attention."
At 16, she got in trouble for car theft. "The judge said I was on my way to prison," she said. "I damn near couldn't breathe."
After hearing those words from the judge, Shareefa straightened her life out.
Complete Turnaround"I did a whole 360," she said about what happened after her court appearance. "I just stopped stealing cars, stopped doing stupid stuff. Stopped hanging with the wrong people."
One thing that helped her find the right path was her love for music - a love that she said goes back most of her life.
"I used to be a (music) video freak," she revealed. "I used to tape the Soul Train Awards, anything. I would be rewinding them all the time, practicing those routines until I knew them by heart."
Eventually, she wound up under the tutelage of a well-known, legendary music producer who was putting together a girl group.
"Teddy Riley was the first to discover me at 16," she said. "I worked him for two or three years, but it never went anywhere."
Later, after she and Riley went their separate ways, Shareefa was fortunate enough to get her demo heard by Disturbing Tha Peace co-CEO Jeff Dixon.
Distrubing Tha PeaceEventually she wound up becoming a member of the rapper Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace clique of artists, becoming the second singer (after Bobby Valentino) and second female (after the rapper Shawna).
Despite being one of only two women in a clique dominated by rowdy male Hip-Hop males, Shareefa says she's treated well. She's even moved to Atlanta to be closer to her adoptive musical family DTP.
"I'm good," she said of being a DTP member. "I'm spoiled. They treat me like a sister." And on her upcoming album, Point of No Return, Shareefa keeps it all in the family. Other than Shareefa herself, the only other artists who appear will be the aforementioned 'Cris and Bobby V.
"I wanted to show people I could stand out on my own," Shareefa explains about the limited number of guest appearances.
Point of No ReturnAs far as what else people can expect from Point of No Returns when it hits stores on Oct. 24, Shareefa says the album's a mixture of uptempo songs like "Need A Boss" and mid-tempo tracks like her current single, "Cry No More," which is about getting over a former lover and moving on with one's life.
Among the producers contributing to the project are Chucky Thompson, Salaam Remi, Rodney Jerkins (who produced both "Need a Boss" and "Cry No More") and production newcomers the Justice League.
"It's like a bowl of your favorite gumbo," Shareefa said, explaining the album's musical diversity. "It's raw, it's uncut, it's straightforward."
Or in other words, it's just like Shareefa herself.