This isn’t an introduction in the sense that Meshell Ndegeocello’s career is just beginning. It’s more of an in media res introduction to a career that you might have had the misfortune of missing. Meshell recently sat down with us (at her computer) to tell us how her career developed and where it’s going, among other things. Here’s your chance to catch up.
First, it is important to note the “musician” in Meshell Ndgeocello’s title. Though she’s frequently associated with the genre “neo-soul,” Meshell eschews that category and all musical categories in general. For Meshell, neo-soul is nothing but the vapid result of record labels trying to comprehend an unfamiliar sound. Accordingly, she doesn’t identify as a neo-soul artist. She is simply a musician.
Typically, artists who shun categories in order to play up their creative licenses are either delusional, dishonest, or both. Meshell isn’t affiliated with any of those groups. As indicated by multiple Grammy nominations, several genre-defying albums and an openness regarding her personal views, her career has been characterized by experimentation, honesty and acclaim.
Though Meshell has enjoyed this freedom and the opportunities it has brought her, she acknowledges its costs. In fact, she openly admits, “I have had to compromise commercial success… I chose music over money.” Some might consider this compromise a poor decision, but Meshell views it as enabling: “Music is a creative, meandering, soul-searching experience and pop music is dilution and mass and broad. It’s great too, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t what I do and I guess I was just lucky enough to know that from the get.” Without the compromises she made at the beginning of her career, Meshell wouldn’t have had that career in the first place.
In a word, openness has certainly characterized Meshell’s career. But as she’s gotten older, this openness has changed just as much as her music. For instance, while sex and relationships are still common themes of her works, her newer songs approach these themes very differently than her older ones. “I wish I never had to play an old song,” she says, acknowledging her changing outlook. There’s one particular song that she’ll never, ever play: “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night). Meshell attributes both her distaste for old songs and her mercy (up to a certain point!) towards the fans who love them, as a product of change. The Meshell of 2012 is different from the Meshell of 1993. To consider them one entity would be limiting and we all know how she feels about limits.
That being said, the Meshell of 2012 and the Meshell of 1993 are not distant relatives. They are more like estranged cousins. Though she feels uncomfortable when she sings it, Meshell’s song “Fool of Me,” a track from her third LP, Bitter, continues to make her setlists because she loves to perform it. Another thing that the estranged Meshells have in common is a continued drive to make music. In fact, Meshell says that they both make music with the same frequency. Some things never change.
In the end, Meshell Ndgeocello is an artist that you definitely want to get to know. While many artists continue to make music because of a desire to “stay relevant,” Meshell makes music because she wants to. In her words, “the prize is in the process.” Once musicians and the music industry process those words of wisdom, Meshell predicts we’ll see some changes. In fact, she already sees those changes manifesting in artists like The Quakers. Wow, look at yourself. You met one artist and you’re already meeting more. This introduction is over. You can take it from here.
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