Any local may be surprised to learn that New Orleans is a more openly sexualized city than its continental counterparts. While not nearly as over the top as the oft parodied Girls Gone Wild vids that make Mardi Gras on Bourbon nigh unbearable, you’d be hard-pressed to have too many conversations without learning some new way to talk about sex. Live in the city long enough and you may think you’ve heard them all. If so, you probably haven’t spoken with Cheeky Blakk.
“I’ll tell ya this: I eat turkey legs, turkey necks and I don’t do pickled tips.”
“Which one of those you like?”
“Turkey legs, I guess…”
“Oh, so you eat turkey legs? You get what I’m saying?”
“Turkey legs are huge [euphemism for male reproductive organs that we’ll just call ‘balloon animals’]. Turkey necks are big balloon animals and pickled tips are little wee-wees. I only do turkey legs and turkey necks. I love ‘em.”
“. . .”
“Ahhh, I got him twisted off that one!”
Ladies and gentlemen, Cheeky Blakk.
But before we get to Cheeky, let’s talk about Angela. Angela Woods is a registered nurse who works at a retirement home in the New Orleans area. There isn’t so much turkey neck talk there.
“When I’m at work I try to tell them that I’m Angela,” Cheeky (or Angela) explains. “But they still see me and say, ‘Hey, Cheeks!’ ‘No, no, no, I’m just Angela here.’”
That said, this particular Mardi Gras season called for Cheeks to peak out from the carefully crafted Angela veil. Her nursing home threw a Mardi Gras ball for its residents, complete with Mardi Gras Indians and a band. It was time for Angela to emerge. As the band began and the Indians started to chant, one nurse could be heard above everyone—her distinct, heavy drawl careening off every wall in the room, her coworkers taken aback by the sudden transformation. They’d known Cheeky existed somewhere in that nurse’s gown, but they’d never seen it in person. Once the party loosened up, Angela grabbed one resident in his mid-seventies and danced with him. The crowd grew more raucous with each hip sway and playful sashay. Angela was gone for the day—the Queen of the South had clocked in for duty. After a 20-year career, Cheeks is still going strong no matter her venue.
Cheeky Blakk’s career began rather serendipitously. Though she used to tell her grade school friends that she’d be famous one day, it wasn’t until she enrolled in an alternative high school and met rapper Cicely “Ju’C” McCallon that her dreams began to take shape. McCallon performed around the city and enlisted Blakk as one of her dancers in the early ‘90s.
“I was 14 and they’d sneak us into the clubs,” Blakk starts. “And she’d have me on stage popping and they’d go crazy.”
RUMORS AND RHYMES
A night at Club Rumors changed her life. While performing there she met 17-year-old Cash Money Records upstart Edgar “Pimp Daddy” Jenkins. They were soon an item, and Blakk became pregnant with Pimp’s son at the age of 14.
Blakk and Jenkins maintained a relationship that resulted in her big break. No, Pimp Daddy didn’t just bring her to the booth to make music, using his connections to help Blakk get her foot in the industry door. Instead, a huge fight led to Blakk’s success.
“One night we were having an argument because he wanted to take the baby with him on the road and wanted me to stop dancing in clubs,” Blakk remembers. “And he got so mad that he said he was going to make a song about me.” The song, “Boo-koo Bitches,” features the line, “Here’s another ho by the name of Cheeky Blakk.”
She was livid.
“I said, ‘I’m gonna show you.’ I’m gonna show you about making a song about me.”
Blakk responded with her own rap about Pimp Daddy: “Well, Pimp Daddy, it’s about that time / Cheeky Blakk tell you ‘bout your funny, fake-ass rhymes.” Eventually the pair took their dueling show on the road, airing out their domestic issues for rabid fans.
“Pimp had that ‘master’ personality,” Blakk explains. “He was always talking down to women, so people wanted to hear someone coming back at him like that. It was real crazy for people to hear.”
Blakk’s single “Twerk Something,” off of her debut album Gotta Be Cheeky, ranked among the city’s biggest songs in 1994. She became a local household name but found rap politics difficult to navigate.
“You know, I always wondered why all of those rappers like Mia X and Ghetto Twiinz wouldn’t reach out to do a song with me when they were blowing up. I mean, they had record deals and would speak to me, but they didn’t ever want to reach out to me to do a song.” Blakk pauses for a moment. “Why do you think that is? But now that they’re not as popular they want to do something together. I just think it’s messed up [that] they didn’t want to work out something when they were on major labels.”
Hip-hop is rarely a realm for women to work together, often instead cultivating feuds whenever any two successful female artists hit the same stratosphere. New Orleans was no different. Not only did Blakk find her peers unenthused to help her pen record deals, she got involved in a nasty spat with Ms. Tee over who would reign supreme in the city.
“Pimp Daddy was making songs for both of us,” Blakk says. “And the rivalry just grew from there. It was an Uptown vs. Downtown thing. We made songs about each other and… it was just a lot of drama.”
If there’s any truism in hip-hop, it’s that feuds garner attention and notoriety. The Blakk vs. Tee rivalry became the stuff of legend as it elevated both their stocks on the local and national scenes.
In 1994 — as Blakk was ascending as the the Queen — tragedy struck> Pimp Daddy was shot in the face and murdered on his couch, leaving Blakk to fend for herself as a mother and a musician. Blakk’s drive wouldn’t let her stop hustling.
That same year she released Gotta Be Cheeky, with its massive dance hit “Twerk Something.” Still, while her career was taking off, Blakk could be found working shifts at Rally’s, KFC, Circle K and Walmart. She used that income to support her family; she used the money she generated from music to invest in the Cheeky Blakk brand.
After the success of Gotta Be Cheeky, Blakk moved to Tombstone Records to release Fuck Being Faithful, powered by the singles “Let Me Get Dat Outcha” and “Bitch Get Off Me” produced by Mannie Fresh. These hits propelled Blakk to a rightful claim to the Queen of the South title.
Despite these triumphs, Blakk continued to clock in 9 to 5 to supplement her income and provide for her son. She never quit her jobs to do music on a full-time, exclusive basis. Professionally, she worked closely with producer Elton Wicker. But when he was killed in 1998, Blakk found it hard to trust anyone else with her business deals. If you talk to her long enough, that reluctance to trust will surely come up.
“I don’t really like people knowing that much about me, my money and what I’m doing,” she begins. “I mean, you never know who’s out there so I don’t want people asking too many questions or getting in my business.”
Blakk maintains a modest living that betrays the fact she was once among the biggest rap acts on the scene. Her house, though, is a veritable mini-museum of personal achievements: plaques and awards opposite her couch, photographs from Jazz Fest performances by her television and a giant image of her grabbing a guy’s package through his jeans.
“That’s all part of the Cheeky Blakk show,” she says. “That’s Cheeky being Cheeky. Angela is very professional but Cheeky likes to go in and entertain. Yeah, it gets raunchy but that ‘s part of the fun.”
The fun took a backseat in 2002, when Cheeky had to focus on a sustainable career to tide her over whenever her performance schedule waned. She enrolled at Delgado Charity School of Nursing and earned her degree as a registered nurse. The music hasn’t stopped, however—she still gigs across the state, riding the renewed Bounce wave to a level of prominence she hasn’t seen since the mid-‘90s.
Most recently, she was able to adorn her bedroom wall with two new memories: a royal proclamation and a bedazzled microphone on the end of a branch attached to a bagel. Both additions came courtesy of the Krewe Delusion parade, which named Blakk its queen this year.
A satirical look at the powers that be, the parade enlists its own political parties and representatives who would run a world that revolves around the Big Easy. Thanks to the resurgence of Bounce—and Blakk—she was selected as its presiding officer. She was even asked to pen a governing proclamation for the Krewe. The decree is classic Cheeks, calling for a nonstop party leading up to her birthday (April 3), shorter work days, more government accountability and a lot more booty shaking.
“The whole thing was crazy!” Blakk gushes. “I’d never been on a float like that and gotten carried. Even now they still refer to me as ‘your majesty’ whenever I talk to them.” Though humbled by the attention, she sees it as an opportunity to remind people why she’s the Queen of the South.
“Right now I’ve got my own label, Blakk 1 Entertainment,” she adds. “I want to do Cheeky dolls and open up a restaurant. Basically, I’m always hustling, you know? It don’t stop.”
Two decades into her career, Blakk hustles like a hungry rookie, even heading to SXSW in Austin this month to hit the streets and build more of a fan base. She still performs late night shows before waking up in the morning to punch in at work. Some of those gigs even feature former rival Ms. Tee. Blakk and Tee have patched things up, even appearing on songs together for Total Respect Records in the late ‘90s.
Everything seems to be coming full circle for Blakk, her career blossoming like it did in 1994. And just like back then, she has a rapper named Pimp by her side—her son, Lil’ Pimp.
If you didn’t know any better you’d think her rise was inevitable, even prophesied. Especially if you ask Blakk.
She quotes a Bible verse, Luke 11:31, that hit close to home: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them.”
“That talking about me, I feel,” she says. “I believe in numbers and all of that, and I really relate to that verse.” As she should. In a male-dominated genre, Blakk pushed back, taking aim at the prominent men in the rap scene and daring women to demand respect.
Recently she was asked by a church-going friend if she would give up all of her success and career for God. Blakk’s response was swift.
“Fuck no! I’m trying to hustle, bitch! They should know who they’re dealing with when they hear my lyrics. Still, people who know Angela are surprised to see Cheeky perform.”
She pauses for a moment.
“Maybe it’s because I touch people’s penises when I go on stage.”