Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mark Anthony Neal on Meshell Ndegeocello

A great essay on the one and only.

‘Hearing’ Meshell Again
by Mark Anthony Neal

Part of the initial appeal of Meshell Ndegeocello, one off the first artists signed to Madonna’s Maverick label, was her effortless exoticism. Arriving on the scene in 1993 with Plantation Lullabies and seemingly from a nether post somewhere between Trey Ellis’s “new black aesthetic” and Biggie’s “Big Poppa,” it wasn’t difficult for Ndegeocello, like Dionne Farris or PM Dawn’s Prince Be, to be easily cited as that other-type Negro—whatever that happened to be on any given day. But baby-gurl could pluck it with the best of them—Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Nathan East, Larry Graham, and of course Bootsy—so the regular, round-the-way Negros took notice. Wasn’t a black radio station in the country that wasn’t featuring “Outside Your Door” on their Quiet Storm program in those days. For the white folk not likely to venture down the radio dial, there was that duet with John Cougar Mellencamp, flipping the old Van Morrison classic “Wild Night” into an MTV staple. It was the only whiff a pop chart that Ndegeocello would ever get.

When Ndegeocello returned in 1996 with Peace Beyond Passion, courting controversy with a decidedly innocuous indictment of homophobia—by contemporary standards at least—on “Leviticus: Faggot,” her sound was lean, fierce and muscular, driving originals like “The Way” and her gender-bending cover of Bill Withers’ “Who is He and What is He to You?.” Folk might not have known what to do with the message and even less with the messenger, but it was clear that if you gave the woman more than a few moments, you too would be moving your ass.

With a winning formula in the mix—an old adage really, “free your mind and your ass will follow”—Ndegeocello played against expectation, making the first of several artistic statements. Bitter, her 1999 follow-up to Peace Beyond Passion, wasn’t so much a recording as it was musical brooding session and with it she had my ears and my heart. I have not listened to anything quite the same since, finding disparate passions in the music of Terry Callier, Laura Nyro, Alana Davis, Chocolate Genius, Lizz Wright, Bill Withers (quiet as it’s kept) and a host of others whose most common resonances were in registers far beneath the surface. What has been clear over the last decade is that Ndgeocello herself, has been most comfortable when she trust her ears instead of her body, so that even when she made that last stab at other-chartly and political relevance with Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, it was the darker hues of “Jabril” and “Earth” that told on her—and on us for that matter.

Seems as if 2003’s Comfort Woman—an overlooked gem in any era, like Robert Marley’s Kaya—marks the beginning of Ndegeocello’s loss of faith in her ears, though as the primary composer and conductor of Dance of the Infidels (2005) she conjured, with Lalah Hathaway, beauty unrequited on the slow as death cover of “When Did You Leave Heaven.” With Devil’s Halo, her new recording on the Downtown/Mercer Street label, Ndegeocello’s faith in her ears and our ability to 'hear' her is renewed.

While there are still hints of the Emo rock that marked 2007’s The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, Devil’s Halo settles on a mood somewhere in between The World… and Bitter. The bassist remains lyrically provocative throughout—Ernest Hardy notes this ditty from “Lola:” “a wife’s just a whore with a diamond ring”—but here is wordless quality about Ndegeocello’s vocal performance. Tracks like “Tie One On” and the twangy (in the tradition of Craig Street’s work with Lizz Wright and Cassandra Wilson) “Crying in My Beer,” are simply beautiful in their starkness; the lyrics largely served as adornments. Tellingly, the title track is an instrumental that Ndegeocello wrote when she was a teen growing up in Washington, DC.

Though Ndegeocello has long distanced herself from mainstream contemporary R&B, her most striking artistic statement on Devil Halo comes from the R&B world of the 1980s. Ready for the World’s classic slow drag, “Love You Down” was ripe for a post-auto-tune update, but Ndegeocello gives the song a breathtaking new edge—dreamy and urgent. Ndegeocello tells music journalist John Murph, “Love You Down” is a song that “brings up fond memories. It has a great melody. Also I had a great time trying to put the song through my [artistic] filter. I hope people hear the love in my version.”


  1. Ours is an envionment where evil is perceived to be rewarded while good is punished. As with everything the Gods have a reason for creating this perception::::
    People who fall on the good side of the good/evil scale have more favor, and when they do something wrong the Gods punish them BECAUSE THEY WANT THEM TO LEARN. The Gods want them to receive this feedback in hope they make corrections and begin to behave appropriately. The Gods DON'T like evil and refuse to grant this feedback.
    EVERYBODY pays for what they do wrong, only evil people must wait until their next life before they will experience the wrath of the Gods, manifested in their reincarnation as a lower form of life into environments with increased/enhanced temptations.
    Sadly, this allows the Gods to position this perception of evil rewarded as temptation, one which they use as an EXTREMELY effective corruptor.

    Both Africa and the Medittereanean are regions which have sexual issues. This is a sign of morbid disfavor once you understand that females are the God's favored gender. Muhammad's (Mohammed's) polygamy halfway through his life as a prophet was preditory. Now a huge percentage of Muslims believes in male superiority and that the abuse of women is God's will. Female genital mutilation is still practiced in Africa. Black misogyny is the most eggregious example in the recent past.
    Black member size is temptation to a predisposed population.
    The patriarchal cancer spread throughout Europe because of Christianity, of which the majority of policy makers were Italian men. Expect the largest landowner in Europe and the continent's original superpower also played a major role in African slavery.

    Militancy in Africa is consistant with the Iraqi example, as was slavery and the KKK here in America:::Fear enforces proper behavior. Without it we see what happens as a result of gross/morbid disfavor:::::AIDS, crack babies, dead young men in gangland retaliation killings. This is the purpose behind many black's historical tendancy towards resistance.
    The same principle was true in Europe and throughout the world for centuries:::People whom lived under iron fists were conditioned to think the right way. As a result they experienced higher numbers of children accend into heaven because they were taught to think and behave appropriately, which they passed on to their children. Our preditory envionment of "freedom" was the primary purpose the Gods had when implimenting this strategy that is the United States, one which they used to spred the cancer of democracy and westernization throughout the world. And the Gods use this tool that is America to prey on the disfavored both at home and abroad:::Much like the ghetto, America in general experiences a heightened level of temptation due to the people's disfavor.

    Even the Old Testiment is not to be taken literally, but the Gods do offer clues throughout to help the disfavored:::The apple is a tool of temptation used to corrupt Adam and Eve and cast them out of the Garden of Eden.
    There is another lesson to be learned from this passage, and it is quite similar to the vailing issue and the discourse over women's attire which ultimately died in the 70s:::Women are responsible for and control the fate of mankind.

    Think about what I say. Consider what I teach. Society is going to become disturbingly ugly as we approach the Apocalypse due to spiralling, runaway disfavor.
    I do not know when this will occurr, but it is the God's way to grant some time before they end on Planet Earth.
    Make the decision to always be good and never look back. Until you do this technology will employ tactics to test your resolve:::Ridicule, beligerance, doubt and refusal to abandon what people perceive to be their "investment".
    Pray daily. Think appropriately. Too many are confident, unaware of the God's awesome powers or their status as antients. Others may fall prey to their positioning.
    Be humbled, God-fearing and beware of the God's temptations, for everyone is tested to evaluate their worthiness.
    Search rest

  2. why are the longest ranters always nameless?