When Meshell Ndegeocello started to become well-known for her music in the early ’90s, she was the antithesis of what was expected of successful female musicians at that time.
The openly bisexual woman with the shaved head was not just one of the fiercest bass players in any genre of music, but she also wrote provocative songs about race, politics, misogyny, feminism, and yes, stealing another woman’s man, in her notorious Grammy-nominated song "If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)."
Give her a break — she was only 18.
Photo credit: Jampi Samyn
Currently on tour in support of her eighth studio release, the 10-time Grammy nominee and multi-instrumentalist recently found a moment (her partner Alison just gave birth to their baby boy) to talk to us about how things have changed in the music industry and her new independent release, Devil’s Halo.
"I don’t like to sing old stuff," she recently told AfterEllen.com. "I’ll never do ‘Boyfriend’ again. Or I don’t think I will, but you never know. I wrote those songs when I was 18 and 19 and 20. I’m 41 now. Would you wear your favorite outfit from 1989? I respect the fact that people love some old tunes and I’ve started playing some in the set, but the first two records are pretty much expired."
Those albums, 1993′s Plantation Lullabies and 1996′s Peace Beyond Passion were both released by Maverick, but Ndegeocello made the jump from major to indie labels in 2005 and said that if she were getting her start now, she probably would not have been signed to a major label.
"I’m too far left of center to save anyone’s sinking ship," she said, referring to the overall state of the music industry and economy. "The industry was so different when I was with Maverick … It’s like the fall of Rome. The excesses are few and far between. All the nonsense and showiness, the flaunting and fabulous charade is gone. And hopefully the music will be better for it."
Photo credit: Mark Seliger
But don’t take Ndegeocello’s word for it. Just listen to Devil’s Halo, which has done away with all such
"nonsense" and excesses (i.e. the over-production to which many major label releases fall victim). It’s an organic production, sounding more like a live performance than a beat/synth-laden record full of backing tracks, sound effects and the ubiquitous Auto-Tune. It was recorded in just seven days — an almost unheard of feat and certainly a first for Ndegeocello.
"I just was really inspired by the musicians I played with," said Ndegeocello. "We can make these songs, noises, notes come together. That never ceases to amaze me. I appreciate technology, but sometimes there’s no competition for natural ability."