Me’shell Ndegeocello is one of modern music’s most underrated artists. She’s fringed along the pop margins for almost a decade, creating a string of classic albums. She is an unabashed artist who doesn’t compromise her art for huge record sales, nor does she cater to the devices of the mainstream. A multidimensional singer, songwriter, musician and producer, Ndegeocello is one of the last of the true “revolutionary soul singers.” Often considered to be the predecessor to the current Neo-Soul boom (a la Jill Scott, D’Angelo, Maxwell), her music is innovative yet nonconforming. She is an artist who would much rather blind listeners with a message than “bling, bling.”

Controversial in her subject matter, but always real, Ndegeocello talks exclusively with The Michigan Daily from the Chelsea Hotel in New York about her life, politics, the human condition, the “gay” thing, the upcoming tour and her forthcoming studio album Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, released on June 4.

The Michigan Daily: What’s behind the title of your upcoming album Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape?

Me’shell Ndegeocello: There’s a song by Stevie Wonder called “Misstra Know It All.” Tyrone Cookie Goldberg is the modern day Misstra Know It All. He reflects the record industry as I see it, as this sort of do anything, do whatever you can to make money. That’s how I came up with the title. Also, there’s a great book by Oliver Sacks, which influenced me to look at my life “anthropologically.” I’m also from the generation where my friends made mix tapes all the time. That’s how you kept up to date with information, and I wanted this record to have that vibe. Hopefully, people who are afraid of Napster will see. My album is a “mix tape.” I want you to copy it for your friends and let them check it out because that’s communal, that’s life.

TMD: The larger themes of your first three albums dealt with race, spirituality and love, respectively. Would you say your newest album is an amalgamation of all three?

MN: Yes, it’s the last chapter in the memoir. It sums up everything I was thinking. My album discusses where I am in my life now. It’s just trying to figure out where I fit in the world.

TMD: Your album was created almost a year ago but still hasn’t been released. Do you feel about the numerous pushbacks it has faced?

MN: Yeah, somebody blew up some buildings, made things difficult, but I understand. Everything happens for a reason and you can’t really question it because that’s how you create your own suffering. I’m sure I could get upset my record wasn’t coming out, but instead I wrote more tunes. It’s hard, but I just have to believe waiting was good.

TMD: In a song on your new album you say we’re “suffering in a world trade paradise,” which is ironic since you wrote this album months before the Sept. 11 Attacks.

MN: Yeah, I did. That was kinda deep for me. I think that definitely hampered (“Hot Night”) from being the first single. I’m fine though. People are going to hear it regardless.

TMD: Name some artists you’re currently into.

MN: The Anti-Pop Consortium is probably one of my favorite groups right now. System of a Down is incredible. I listen to a lot of old stuff, old BDP. I’m listening to a lot of Miles Davis, but more of his eclectic things with Jack Dejohnette. I’m totally a Dead Pres fanatic. I just bought the Tweet record and love it. I buy music all the time; I try to listen to everything.

TMD: Your work rarely gets played on MTV, BET and VH1 are you disappointed by that? Would you try to cater to them?

MN: Not really. It’s cool. Those are just marketing tools. I’m an artist. I want to make art. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan. It’s not who I am. I just do what I do – it’s really that simple. I can only hope for the best. People will find the record and have found it. I just try to be confident in those things.

TMD: Threaded within your album is spoken word, rock, R&B, soul, go-go, etc. How would you label your music?

MN: Oh, I don’t. Labels wouldn’t really work for me, and I think we’re finding out it doesn’t really work for the world.

My grandfather’s Irish, so am I just black? Am I just this? I listen to all kinds of music, so you can’t really put me in the black demographic. Those concepts are limiting. You can’t easily define people – I’m a mother, I’m a writer, I’m a human being. Our psychology is too vast to give ourselves one label that sums us all up.

TMD: On your album you talk about being a “revolutionary soul singer.” Define it.

MN: Aretha Franklin was a revolutionary soul singer. The original revolutionary soul singer though was Roberta Flack. I’m trying to make music we can make love to and hang out, but I got to tell you what’s going on with the peoples. “Revolutionary” I feel is a misused word. To me, I’m using it as “revolving.” I’m a revolutionary; I’m revolving around a particular moment and providing a social critique.

TMD: On your new album you sung about having a “romanticized idea of revolution” and no longer holding that to be true. Explain.

MN: One day I woke up and I really started to be a critical thinker. I read more deeply into things. To me, the best history books are novels more so than nonfiction. It really tells you the historical facts and events more than any history book because this is a person who’s trying to supplant his idea into the world through the novel. I had this idea: There’s never going to be another Malcolm X or a Martin Luther King — there’s too much fear involved. Most of our black leaders are murdered. There’s not going to be a JFK; the political thing is under wraps too much, that can’t happen in today’s society. I saw this incredible documentary about Bob Marley and it was amazing. He said the messiah we’re all looking for will not be of the flesh, but of the mind, and until you can persuade people to change their frame of min,d there will always be suffering. That’s why I said that. I realized that revolution begins within one’s self. You find it when you realize all that’s good can’t be taken away from you. If they can take it away from you, it’s probably not worth having.

TMD: What’s your take on the state of music in general?

MN: It’s on its way up. On June 4 (her new album’s release date), music is definitely on its way up! (laughs)

TMD: What’s on your mind right now, how do you feel right now?

MN: I feel good. I cut on the news and get a little worried about the world though.

TMD: You talk a lot about race, and same-sex relationship issues on your new album.

MN: Yeah, I think we’re all just trying to figure out how to be decent human beings. Something hit me one day: We’re all suffering. Everybody. There is no hierarchy in suffering. None. For example, the little white kid who brings home his black friend and his father goe,s “why’d you bring home that nigger?” Imagine the suffering that white child is going through when his parent just embarrassed him and treated him hardly. Everybody is suffering. The white man with a million dollars, who has everything in the world, is probably suffering. Once you get out of this idea that “oh, no one’s suffering more than me,” or “black people, they’ve got it so hard,” everybody is suffering, everyone.

TMD: In a recent interview you were quoted as saying, “race is performative” and “gay is dead.”

MN: Yeah, “gay shit,” that shit is dead. It doesn’t even really exist anymore. It’s totally defined by white gay males. I’m sorry, I can’t really understand why there’s a difference between who I love. Now, if I’m going out and getting my dick sucked in bathrooms the problem is not that I’m gay, the problem is the shame I feel that makes me do that because if you’re heterosexual and doing it, that’s a little problematic. We get wrapped up in this rhetoric of “you’re gay and you’re sinning” – that’s absolutely ridiculous. We all want to be loved. When you’re 80 and your sexual thing ain’t working, the most important thing is are you with somebody you love and like to have a conversation with and is going to be there with you through the transition. I don’t harp on it anymore. People say my career “got messed up because I was gay” – No. I’m just a human being – and people didn’t “get” my music. No, that is bullshit.

TMD: So you don’t accept labeling yourself black or gay?

MN: Yeah, of course I’m black because that’s all anyone else knows on this planet is that I’m black. But, I’m kinda tired with black history and “we were slaves” – I need a new story, you know. Talk about Cornel West, Lorraine Hansberry and all the great writings of our time. Let’s talk about Bayard Rustin, a gay man, he put together the 1964 March on Washington. Let’s talk about Basquiat. Let’s talk about Miles Davis and Prince and all their great innovations in life. I’m kinda tired of the “we were slaves” and “oh, it’s so hard” and reparations, reparations for what? Everybody is suffering. Everybody. You can’t pay back suffering, you can’t reparate -that’s just absolutely ridiculous.

TMD: What do you think about affirmative action?

MN: I’m not versed enough in the political aspects of affirmative action. But I did read, “Losing the Race,” by John McWhorter, it’s a fascinating book that tries to challenge what it is we are holding onto. It’s just a shame that a lot people of color can’t afford to go to a university. That’s the real issue. I’m not all about giving favors, but if there’s a muthafucka whose mind is ready for college and he literally can’t go just because he can’t afford it, that’s sad and that’s an America problem. It’s funny, we judge people by their education and intellectual prowess, yet you can only evolve your mind and tap into the canon of education if you have enough money.

TMD: What is the main reason you’re still apart of the music industry to this day?

MN: ‘Cause I’m an idiot (laughs). It’s just what I do. I have the best life in the world. I ain’t got no Bentley or no house, but I’m far from poor and really, really far from being rich. I was sort of ignorant. I just wanted to make some records, I didn’t want to be a star. I just wanted to make music. That’s why I’m still here, because I have an outlet that allows me to do so.

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