By Cameron Lee
June 23, 2019
We often hear that Charlotte is a city of transplants. While many may move to the city for banking industry jobs or the booming real estate market, 22-year-old rapper Cheeno Ghee found herself in Charlotte in 2016 to be closer to her family and attend UNCC.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Brooklyn, Cheeno Ghee is a rapper and poet that has been turning some heads. Her distinct voice and introspective rhymes offer something refreshing for hip-hop fans. In September of 2018, Cheeno released her debut 7-song EP “Child,” and many were perplexed by the barrage of tongue-twisting bars from the project.
Rapping for most of her life, Cheeno dialed into her craft at UNCC after joining a poetry club on campus. The practice of poetry reignited Cheeno’s creative passion resulting in the impressive debut outing for the now Charlotte-based artist. “That got me into a few doors with some poets…and I got the support of some Charlotte creatives…I started using those shows to perform my music,” Cheeno said. Her name started to buzz on campus and the boost from the poetry club helped Cheeno find her lane. “I started just noticing as I was writing, my songs were connecting…I just write going through these things as a college student, as a black woman…a queer woman, tieing all of these thoughts into a project.”
In October, when the Butler High School tragedy happened in Charlotte, Cheeno’s emotional instincts inspired her to start writing a song that transcends sadness and turns it into something promising in despairing times. Six months later, before the concept of the song was complete, another tragedy struck close to all of us when a UNCC campus shooting left two students dead and four injured.
Cheeno’s perspective and spiritual conviction allowed her to express a different thought to such a tragedy: “Things now just ain’t safe for the living / Imma have to pray for the sake of the villain.” A verse from the song “Off Tha Strength,” hints at the alternative mindset of the rising rap artist. “What was the victim suffering that God saved him from? The hero who jumped on the gunman… what did God bring out of him to stand up in that moment? Those are things that start going through my mind.”
Produced by Yondo, “Off Tha Strength” has a Spike Lee-esque soundtrack with classically subtle piano brushes that eventually meld into a symphonic street poem. Paired with Cheeno’s gravelly voice and effortless delivery, the song definitely strikes a spiritual chord with lyrics like: “I just want love and I’m glad I have that / I don’t want to change that / I could be signed for the rhyme but the time isn’t mine, believe that God said listen / What I put inside the divine is mine so you better have faith, you better have vision.”
While tragedy is hard to cope with through any form of expression, Cheeno’s “Off Tha Strength” offers perspective: “It’s a lose-lose situation, you gotta feel for the victim the same way you feel for the villains. The demons they may be battling. Hate creates more villains and outcasting people creates more of that energy, whereas forgiveness will start the healing process.”