Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape
On her fourth release, Me'Shell NdegéOcello embarks on an intimate musical odyssey, taking the old axiom "The personal is political" to new heights of awareness. Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape
is all about how NdegéOcello came to be the person she is today -- a bisexual black female and mother as well as a musician with outspoken views on some rather taboo subjects. In particular, she addresses the way traditional roles and beliefs regarding race, sex, and religion have warped our self-images.
Daughter of jazz saxophonist Jacques Johnson (she adopted her Swahili surname, which means "free like a bird," as a teen), NdegéOcello earned her chops on the D.C. go-go circuit in the '80s. She's done session work with everyone from the Stones to Herbie Hancock to Madonna and is the first female to grace the cover of Bass Guitar Magazine. She describes her music as "improvisational hip-hop-based R&B," but soul, blues, and rock-and-roll feature in her mixtape as well.
True to form, Cookie contains some controversial material. She rants about everything from the complacency and materialism of some African Americans (she lists "priorities 1 through 6" as "gaudy jewelry; sneakers made for $1.08 but bought for $150; wasted weed, wasted high; the belief that we are legendary underworld figures being chased; sex like in the movies; a mate to pay bills, bills, and automobills") to Christianity and its links to corporate sponsorship ("If Jesus Christ was alive today, he'd be incarcerated like the rest of the brothers, while the Devil would have a great apartment on the Upper East Side and be a guest VJ on Total Request Live"). She also celebrates loving women in sexually explicit detail framed by sweet soul music.
NdegéOcello has put together a hypnotic musical collage interspersed with words of wisdom from black activists and poets. "Akel Dama (Field Of Blood)" is a beautiful piece -- sheer poetry set to a pulsating heartbeat rhythm. "Earth" is a dreamy paean to Mother Earth with a signature Stevie Wonder harmonica riff, while the remix of "Pocketbook" by Missy Elliott and Rockwilder features a guest rap by Redman and background vocals by newcomer Tweet for some seriously righteous in-ya-face funk.
In a sense, the music here is more a soundtrack to NdegéOcello's search for selfhood than a cohesive musical statement. Her last two albums flowed better musically than this work. Yet Cookie is still a mesmerizing glimpse into the psyche of a woman struggling to break through the artificial boundaries of race, sex, politics, and religion. As she sums it up so beautifully in her liner notes, "No longer do I search for a messiah. I believe salvation and truth will come in the form of Spirit, not in flesh, not with melanin, not man or woman, from east or west, neither great nor powerful. Freedom is not given or taken, it is realized." Amen!