June 10, 2002 12:00 PM

The Anthropological Mixtape
Meshell Ndegeocello (Maverick)

Album of the week

Long before neosoul sisters like Alicia Keys, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu made it fashionable to fuse funk, jazz, hip hop and retro R&B, Meshell Ndegeocello was there. Ahead of her time in 1993, when she released her visionary debut, Plantation Lullabies, Ndegeocello (Swahili for “free like a bird”) continues to defy convention on her progressive, provocative fourth album. As the subtitle suggests, she deftly integrates influences from her black-music forebears, ranging from the psychedelic soul of Jimi Hendrix to the prerap spoken-word commentary of Gil Scott-Heron (who is sampled here). Her powerful lyrics—which she alternately speaks and sings in her sultry, husky timbre (think female Barry White)—veer from sharp social observation to sexual candor informed by her gay experiences. The music—anchored by Ndegeocello’s thumping bass—constantly challenges with its tempo shifts and multilayered arrangements that are anything but Cookie clutter.

Bottom Line: Masterful Meshell

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