By Stephanie Collazo
Cocoa Sarai has been on the fast track to stardom since her big win at the 55DSL Has Talent Too competition. A New York native, Cocoa draws inspiration from her character-shaping past and present life. While in high school, she had the opportunity to take part in the Hip-Hop Project where she learned how to hone her craft, as well as the business side of the music world. In March of 2010, Cocoa released a 15-track CD via iTunes titled 1/2 Past Seven, penning every track herself. Two years later, she is now ready to release her second album in January 2012. Cocoa took some time out to tell us about what her life has been like since winning 55DSL Has Talent Too and what we have to look forward to in 2012.
YRB: You refer to your sound as pop-soul, so can you describe some of your influences?
Cocoa: Prince, Billie Holiday, Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin [and] Gladys Knight. Those are mainly my influences. Growing up, I always liked the latter. Now it’s moving towards… I don’t even know what to call it, it’s hard for me to categorize it now, especially when I am in the middle of creating a project. I definitely think it’s not what it used to be. “Raining In My Room” is very different from my first project – it’s grander, it’s greater. I love it!
YRB: You took part in a program called the Hip-Hop Project. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
Cocoa: The Hip-Hop Project was an after-school program lead by a guy named Chris ‘Kazi’ Rolle. There was a movie about it; it was produced by Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah. ‘Kazi’ was at a high school and he put together an after-school program where kids could come and basically express themselves. It wasn’t an average program where you got to rap and sing; he taught you about business, artist development, performing, giving back and about taking your life experiences and putting it into your music – making it real, making sure to touch the soul. I’m from the third generation of it; I’m the baby, I came really late, but by the time the school year started I was with the first generation traveling with them doing shows. I kind of skipped through the program but only because I was with ‘Kazi’ every single day, so I got to soak up all that knowledge.
YRB: What was it like being in the 55DSL Has Talent Too competition?
Cocoa: It was interesting. I was actually shocked when I got there, it was a really simple go in for me. I remember my choreographer, Heidi, sent me an email saying, ‘Hey they’re doing auditions you should go,’ and I said all right, cool. So I get there and I see a bunch of people outside and they’re all, ‘I’m so scared to perform,’ and for me, I perform so much that I’m not necessarily scared to perform – I want to know more about what it is. I didn’t even know what the prizes were, I didn’t know anything. I just knew it was something to get into and something to spread my name and be a part of musically. So I went and when I got there I saw that I knew Ray and Dave, so I was like, oh, they’re judging this? They didn’t treat me any different, they were like, ‘Ok, Cocoa, what are you going to perform today? Give it your best shot.’ I turned that store into a stage for the audition. It was an awesome experience. There was a lot going on, my mom was really sick and passed away three days after the show. I got to the show that day really late because I was in the hospital with her. As soon as I walked through the door they were like, ‘Are you ready to go on stage?’ I was all messed up, I wanted to cry, I was scared and nervous and a bunch of things. I was really shocked and happy when I won. I hadn’t seen the other performers so I didn’t know what I was up against. I was just thankful to the audience who chose [me] and the judges who were there. It was a great opportunity! I mean, YRB Mag, who gets that? [Laughs]